Black women faced racism in pursuing religious vocations, says speaker

Catholic News Service
By Andrew Nelson | Catholic News Service

ATLANTA (CNS) — Black women desiring to serve a life devoted to the Catholic faith were not welcomed by religious communities with anti-black acceptance requirements from the early 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, said historian Shannen Dee Williams.

GEORGIA LCWR ASSEMBLY
Shannen Dee Williams, assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, addresses the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in Atlanta Aug. 10. She spoke about racism and U.S. religious life. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin) See LCWR-VOCATIONS-RACISM Aug. 16, 2016.

Those who could gain admittance faced discrimination from their fellow sisters, she added.

“Black sisters matter, but they constitute a dangerous memory for the church,” said Williams, assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

She was joined by Sister Anita Baird, a Daughter of the Heart of Mary, and Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, general superior of the Sisters of Providence, on an Aug. 12 panel discussing racism in religious life at the assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Atlanta.

Williams upcoming book is called “Subversive Habits: Black Nuns and the Long Struggle to Desegregate Catholic America.” It was the subject of her doctoral dissertation at Rutgers University.

Later, scores of sisters walked from the LCWR assembly being held in the Hilton Atlanta to Centennial Olympic Park to pray on the plaza outside the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which is dedicated to the achievements of the U.S. civil rights and worldwide human rights movements.

Earlier, the participants wrote on slips of paper when they and their religious communities have not welcomed people of color. The slips became a “chain of bondage,” which was later broken after prayers of lamentation and a blessing.

Williams’ presentation was titled “Shattering the Silence: Black Women and the Challenge of History.

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