This article was originally published in CELEBRATING NATIONAL BLACK CATHOLIC MONTH: TRACING OUR ROOTS, by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati African American Pastoral Ministries. Re-published with permission. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati African American Pastoral Ministries.
Before my father died, he was the first to purchase a home in an Italian neighborhood, in Columbus Ohio, in 1941. Our home faced the playground, Convent and school of St. Dominic. The Church and Rectory faced 20th Street, which was the corner of our block: Devoise and 20th Streets. I began education at age five, in St. Dominic Grammar School.
My formation through Catholic ritual, celebration, education and worship gradually climaxed in my transfer from Shiloh Baptist Church to St. Dominic Catholic Church at age 12. By the time I graduated from St. Dominic’s Grammar School, the neighbor had changed from Italian to Negro.
Two years later the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were replaced by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The SBS hired me to prepare their evening meal. Naturally, this brought me a little closer to “inside-convent-life.”
Following graduation from St. Joseph Academy in Columbus, I entered the Sisters of Mary of the Presentation in Spring Valley, Illinois. This Congregation had two Negro women: the Dietician at St. Margaret Hospital, and the Principal at a Catholic School in Canada. These two women and all the Sisters were welcoming and encouraging as I continued formation toward full incorporation into the Congregation.
After first Vows, I was assigned to St. Andrew School of Nursing, Bottineau, North Dakota. There was only one negative experience through all of Nursing School. One family refused to admit me to their home during my Public Health rotation. At the time I was wearing a Black Habit for Public Health calls. The Caucasian family referred to me as a Black Witch. The Sisters and Nursing Staff were quick to affirm me and filed a complaint against the family for the treatment I had received.
While wearing the Habit, I received preferential treatment because of my affiliation with the Religious Congregations. After we changed from religious garb to secular dress, the deferential, preferential acceptance was no longer the norm. I have often had to discover ways to “prove my worth” in the face of suspicion, doubt, and mistrust. Even though I am not pleased with the way any of us minority people are treated, I am grateful for every opportunity to experience and share the same reception/rejection colored people endure in society today.
A set of clothes is neither protection, shield, nor set of entry into favoritism. Character, inner conviction, truth, and self-esteem are the pillars of authentic relationships. Sometimes the rejection prompts the inner searching that strengthens true character.
Living as an authentic and conscious African-American, Catholic, Religious Woman in communion and solidarity with other human beings is both call and mission. I am deeply grateful for every year of Catholic Education: Kindergarten through Masters in Theology.
I treasure the gift of living with committed religious women in the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. I am challenged every day by these women to be faithful to a way of life that continually witnesses to justice and peace.