Tag Archives: racism

Sr. LaKesha Church, CPPS

Black Sisters Testify: Example of Love and Healing

Black Sisters Testify: Example of Love and Healing

Briana Jansky
November 20, 2022

Sr. LaKesha Church, CPPS

When LaKesha Church was a young girl, she had a close relationship with God. As a convert to the Catholic faith and temporarily professed with the Sisters of the Precious Blood, her relationship with God is stronger than ever. For Sr. LaKesha, maintaining her close, personal relationship with God and serving others has always been central to discerning God’s will for her life.

Growing up in the Missionary Baptist church, she quickly found that she had a servant’s heart. She was heavily involved in youth ministry. Encouraged by her mother, she became involved in church ministry and worship services regularly and grew in her faith. Later, she volunteered with the Peace Corps, serving in Botswana, Africa.

This knack for service and willingness to follow God led Sr. LaKesha to begin discerning her vocation early on, even before she became Catholic. Now, as a fourth-grade teacher St. Adelaide Academy in Highland, California, she carries her servant’s heart into the classroom daily with her students to show them Christ and to help them become competent citizens.

Like most African American sisters, Sr. LaKesha experienced her fair share of rejection during the discernment process. Historically, Black Sisters have faced difficulty and resistance to professing vows within the church. Many sisters, such as Henriette Delille and Mary Lange, founded their unique religious orders after being rejected by all-white communities, and today, less than 3 percent of Catholic Sisters are African American. Most of them still experience racism, discrimination, and rejection.

Sr. LaKesha had a similar experience that led to a turning point in her discernment process. After one particularly hurtful experience at a “come and see” event, she found herself ready to throw in the towel. Although she felt discouraged, she still felt led to pray to God.

“I think I’m done, Lord. But if you’re not done, then let me know,” she prayed. No sooner than she uttered those words, she received a phone call from the Sisters of the Precious Blood inviting her to come and discern with them.

Sr LaKesha Church, CPPS, stands in front of St. Boniface Church, a place where she finds herself often praying with the saints.

While discerning one’s vocation can often be confusing, Sr. LaKesha has found ways to help with clarity. Along with meeting with a spiritual director and learning the language of discernment, Sr. LaKesha believes in the power of prayer and the intercession of the saints.

“I believe in the power of continual prayer, especially before the Eucharist,” she says. “Through those channels I have been able to hear God’s voice.”

For Black women considering discerning religious life, Sr. LaKesha confidently recommends finding support with the National Black Sisters’ Conference. Founded in 1968 by Sr. Martin de Porres Grey (Patricia Grey Ph.D.), the NBSC has offered education and support to African American religious sisters. The NBSC has extended valuable support to Sr. LaKesha during her discernment.

Sister LaKesha says that living in community “can be a challenge and a struggle, but also a gift.” As she spent time in various congregational houses, she learned more about herself and how to live in community with others. She says, “I’m still learning! Relationship building is a lifelong process.”

In addition to the National Black Sisters’ Conference and the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Sr. LaKesha has also found strength in the saints. She likes to ask for intercession from St. Teresa of Ávila and Mary Undoer of Knots.

As she continues to discern religious life, Sr. Lakesha has a few goals in mind. First, she wants to be herself fully, united through vows. In terms of being herself, she means her authentically Black self and all that her experience as a Black sister has to offer to the life of the church and others. These experiences include her suffering, joy, intelligence, wit, and culture.

Sr. LaKesha Church, CPPS, distributes ashes to her students.

Sr. LaKesha Church, CPPS, distributes ashes to her students.

She also wants to continue teaching her students what it means to be a life-giving, reconciling presence in the church. As the church grapples with issues such as racism and division, she wants to teach them integrity, unity, and what it means to respect the human person. She understands that part of her mission and calling to serve is to help guide her students along the path as they journey their way closer to Christ and with others.

For Sr. LaKesha, a healed church looks like the communion of saints: “Jesus did not judge or cast the first stone. He loved everyone. If we can truly imitate him, we will be healed.”

For her, it’s crucial to be this example of love and healing to her students. In her words, it is essential to be a life-giving example of what it means to imitate Christ. “I have to teach my students about Christ and his love. He encountered people with love, and he dignified them.”

Briana Jansky is a freelance writer and author from Texas.

Jarrett Smith, NETWORK Government Relations Advocate, is pictured at a June 16 reparations event near the White House alongside Nkechi Taifa.

The Moral Imperative of Reparations

The Moral Imperative of Reparations

Movement on H.R. 40 is an Act of Justice for Black Americans

Jarrett Smith
November 15, 2022
Jarrett Smith, NETWORK Government Relations Advocate, is pictured at a June 16 reparations event near the White House alongside Nkechi Taifa.

Jarrett Smith, NETWORK Government Relations Advocate, is pictured at a June 16 reparations event near the White House alongside Nkechi Taifa.

Last year, the U.S. government honored Juneteenth as a federal holiday. This recognition came 155 years after the first celebration marked the anniversary of formerly enslaved people and families learning of their liberation in Texas. While the majority of Congress voted in favor of commemorating this day, more is required to fully incorporate the formally enslaved into the American project following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Our national will to act and repair must not end there.

It is time to create a system that protects Black people by putting an end to economic and employment inequality, a failing healthcare system, housing segregation, and state-sanctioned police violence. The passage of H.R. 40, a bill first proposed by Rep. John Conyers in 1989, could put the nation on solid footing toward such a process. The bill would create a commission to research and quantify the persistent economic disparities that Black people continue to suffer due to slavery and the discriminatory federal laws and regulatory practices that followed in its wake, and develop reparations proposals for African Americans.

The passage of H.R. 40 would be the first accounting of the role of the federal government and U.S. institutions in the atrocity of slavery, the legalized discrimination that followed, and action needed for atonement. Despite widespread and growing support to reckon with the legacy of systemic racism, H.R. 40 has not been brought to the House floor for a vote.

This reality calls to mind how much who we elect matters. It’s also why NETWORK Lobby calls on President Biden, as a Catholic Christian and U.S. president committed to justice, to sign an executive order to enact H.R. 40 now. It is a moral imperative.

There are precedents for federal-level repair. The federal government has examined and honored claims for reparation from other communities in the past — in 1946 to federally recognized Native American tribes, and in 1981 for Japanese Americans interned during World War II.

Federal financial support to residents following a natural disaster is an example of reparations. This action happens every year. FEMA is the government’s reparations arbitrator. Repair was made because of a harm suffered. As people of all races and backgrounds grapple with the question of what our country’s history means for us, people of faith have shown up repeatedly to drive this point home. Last year, over 200 faith organizations and leaders, including the African American Ministers in Action, the American Muslim Empowerment Network, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and the Union for Reform Judaism, signed a letter to House leadership asking for legislation to study redress. In May 2022, dozens of secular and faith-based organizations and racial justice advocates sent a letter to the White House urging President Biden to sign an executive order that would create a federal commission by June 19.

Supporting such proposals should be second-nature to Catholics, whose faith believes in reparatory justice in pursuit of reconciliation. We saw this lived out boldly with Pope Francis’ visit to Canada in late July, in which he met with Indigenous people and apologized repeatedly for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.

Dr. Ron Daniels, Amara Enyia, Bishop Paul Tighe, Nikole Hanna-Jones, and Kamm Howard meet at the Vatican's Dicastery for Culture and Education on July 18 to share ideas regarding reparations for Black people in the U.S.

Dr. Ron Daniels, Amara Enyia, Bishop Paul Tighe, Nikole Hanna-Jones, and Kamm Howard meet at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education on July 18 to share ideas regarding reparations for Black people in the U.S.

That same month, a delegation from the Global Circle for Reparations and Healing met in Rome with Bishop Paul Tighe, an official of the Dicastery for Culture and Education. A leader in the Vatican’s efforts to grapple with emerging issues, including social media and artificial intelligence, Bishop Tighe suggested the time is “ripe” for the church to consider these issues and agreed to share the delegation’s findings with others.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted that America had given Black people a bad check “which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Wide support from faith-based and secular organizations today demonstrates the conviction of people in the U.S. that our country must address its original sin of slavery.

People of faith are called to carry on the legacy of working for civil rights and to use their collective power to call on leaders in Congress and the Biden administration to make good on their pledge to tackle systemic racism. Bypassing the opportunity to understand, analyze, and financially quantify this devastation would be more than a missed opportunity; it would be a moral failure.

Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS

Black Sisters Testify: To Oppressed People, Let Us Bring New Life

Black Sisters Testify: To Oppressed People, Let Us Bring New Life

Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS
November 1, 2022
Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS

Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS

When I think about my own story and the story of every Black woman religious, there is a unifying theme, whatever the congregation we have membership in: We all testify that we have experienced the hand of God laid on us and a strong invitation to follow, to surrender to being loved by God and called to love and serve God’s people and to live together in a way that generates life.

The power of God’s call has been, and continues to be, the “why” and the “how” behind the determination and courage to move into the storm, whatever it feels like, whatever its form.

I often fall back to the beautiful lyrics by Curtis Burrell:

“I don’t feel no ways tired.

Come too far from where I started from.

Nobody told me that the road would be easy.

I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.”

In 1968, when the National Black Sisters’ Conference was founded, I was 30 years old and had been perpetually professed for three years. For that first meeting I traveled from Denver to Pittsburgh, to the Mercy Sisters’ campus to meet about 100 of myself! Although I had not seen many other Black Sisters before, I knew immediately the feeling of home.

Sister Martin De Porres Grey, RSM, was the woman of vision who convened us. Together we reclaimed (or reaffirmed) our identity, with the realization that Blackness is Gift to ourselves, our people, our congregations, the church, and beyond. From that first meeting until now, I have seen NBSC as a support and resource for the continuing growth of Black women religious, an advocate for justice for all people and a voice of conscience within the structure of the Catholic Church.

Nearly 40 years after the founding of NBSC, in 2007, Dr. Shannen Dee Williams stumbled upon an old news article, with a photo of four smiling African-American nuns at the first NBSC meeting. Dr. Williams was intrigued to discover that Black Catholic Sisters existed, not to mention that this large group of them had met to strategize on how to strengthen their impact for the sake of the liberation of their people.

As historian and educator, Dr. Williams knew she needed to find out more about these women, but little did she know that her own life would be radically changed by the work she was about to undertake. Her research led her to locate and interview the hidden storytellers who knew the story of the foundation of NBSC and wanted to share it.

Dr. Williams eventually tracked down Dr. Patricia Grey, formerly Sr. Martin De Porres, founder of NBSC. Dr. Grey’s prophetic words to Shannen were: If you can, tell the whole story of Black nuns in the United States. “Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Struggle for Freedom” did indeed tell the whole story.

As I read the book, what stirred a strong and painful reaction in me was the narrative of the foundation of the three Black religious Orders: the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the Sisters of the Holy Family, and the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary. No doubt it would be terribly difficult for small bands of Black women doing works of mercy on behalf of oppressed people. To those served by the Sisters, education, health care, social services, and advocacy would serve as lights on the path to a new life.

What was so deeply painful was the description of the outrage and resistance by white nuns to the mere thought of African-American women becoming consecrated religious in the Catholic Church and offering the ministry they were called to give. That the three Black Congregations are alive today gives witness to the mighty power of God’s Spirit ablaze within these faith-filled women.

I am profoundly grateful that this book about Black Sisters has been written. Dr. Williams did more than full justice by chronicling so magnificently what has been achieved, at what cost, and that the struggle goes on.

I venture to think that most/many congregations would welcome the gifts of Black recruits. There is awareness that each congregation has an obligation to support and encourage the culture of the persons who enter, a new level of responsibility on the side of the religious communities these young people come into. Like their predecessors in religious life, I pray that young religious today feel God’s hand firmly upon them and know in their hearts that God is and ever will be a Promise-Keeper.

Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS, is a Sister of the Good Shepherd and a founding member of the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

This November, NETWORK observes Black Catholic History Month in collaboration with the National Black Sisters Conference, centering the voices of Black Sisters and sharing their testimonies with our spirit-filled network of justice-seekers.

People cast their votes for federal democracy reform as part of NETWORK’s “Team Democracy” events across the country in 2021. Voting rights, which have come under threat at the state level since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, are a key component of NETWORK’s efforts to defend democracy.

The Faith-Filled Push To Save Democracy

The Faith-Filled Push To Save Democracy

A Stark Choice of Futures Faces Voters in 2022
Melissa Cedillo
October 7, 2022
People cast their votes for federal democracy reform as part of NETWORK’s “Team Democracy” events across the country in 2021. Voting rights, which have come under threat at the state level since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, are a key component of NETWORK’s efforts to defend democracy.

People cast their votes for federal democracy reform as part of NETWORK’s “Team Democracy” events across the country in 2021. Voting rights, which have come under threat at the state level since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, are a key component of NETWORK’s efforts to defend democracy.

Upholding a democracy is a daunting task this year. According to the elections data website FiveThirtyEight, 195 out of 529 GOP nominees on the ballot this year “fully denied” the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Dozens of others “raised questions” or accepted the results “with reservations.” Only 71 respondents say they accept the results fully.

As statistics like these surface the vulnerability and fragility of the system, faith groups in Washington and around the country are attuned to the moral urgency that this moment requires.

As the 2022 midterm elections grow closer, the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice is just one entity among this patchwork of organizations, interfaith coalitions, and campaigns are coming together to respond to election deniers, Christian nationalism, and all the forces that currently threaten democracy in the U.S.

A Particular Threat

Anthea Butler, chair of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania

Anthea Butler

Anthea Butler, chair of the department of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a historian of African-American and U.S. religion, notes that one of the long lasting threats to democracy continues to be Christian nationalism. Butler has written and studied the intersection of race, religion, history, and politics extensively. In her book “White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America,” she outlines the long history of Christian Nationalism and racism in the U.S.

“The first thing to understand about a lot of Christian nationalists is that they don’t want democracy,” Butler says. “Because at [Christian nationalism’s] core, it really wants to set up God’s law, rather than the Constitution, as an operating document for what this country is supposed to be.”

Butler says this form of nationalism poses a threat not only to people who immigrated to the country to flee religious persecution, but also to Christians who do not follow the same political beliefs. Denying the separation of church and state, ignoring the fact that many people who are not Christian live in the U.S., or simply not taking the outcome of the 2020 election seriously are some of the ways Christian nationalism erodes the foundation of a country that celebrates religious freedom.

One group responding to the threat of Christian nationalism is the Center for Faith, Justice, and Reconciliation.

Sabrina Dent of the Center for Faith, Justice and Reconciliation

Sabrina Dent

“The ideology that is being promoted by a small group of people that identify as Christians that causes great harm and moral injuries to the community as a whole,” explains Sabrina E. Dent, president of the center.

The center is a community of scholars, faith leaders, organizers, and citizens working to expand the idea of religious freedom in the U.S. The center also works to put on educational programming. The center has worked on immigration issues, LGTBQ+ issues, reproductive health issues, voting rights, environmental issues, criminal justice issues, church and state issues, and voting rights. Whenever the center feels that there is a justice issue, especially when looking at racial and religious minorities, they are willing to speak up and support these groups.

“A lot of our work is done in collaboration with other groups as well because, like I say all the time, this is not work that we could do by ourselves, “ Dent explains.

The Range of Issues

Others, including NETWORK, also see the work of protecting democracy as extending to other freedoms, especially voting rights. Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, himself a Baptist minister, has explained the political as a way to embrace the dignity of all of humanity in his case for expanding voting rights.

“There is no question that voting rights is a moral issue. I have often said that democracy in a real sense is the political enactment of a spiritual idea. This notion that each of us is a child of God, and therefore we ought to have a vote and a voice in the direction of our country and our destiny within it,” Warnock told NPR at the beginning of the year.

“If we don’t have democracy in this country, all human rights in this country are going to be denigrated. We need to fight for democracy,” says Barbara Hazelett, a member of NETWORK’s Virginia Advocates team.

Her group attends public town halls to make comments about justice issues like paid family leave or eliminating practices like solitary confinement. She has attended the local events to hand out leaflets on different topics and talk about state legislation with Virginians. She has also traveled to Washington to advocate for bills.

The comprehensive nature of this work, focusing across a range of issues, exposes a friction that is especially prevalent in Catholic circles, the issue of single-issue voting. Pope Francis, in his 2018 letter Gaudete Et Exsultate, spoke against this approach when he spoke of poverty and human life issues as being “equally sacred” to one another.

He revisited this rhetoric in a June 2020 general audience, in which he noted that “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Min. Christian S. Watkins, government relations advocate at NETWORK, is quick to tie the work of defending democracy to the hyper-racialized rhetoric happening in the U.S. The risk that poses to a healthy democracy is that it continues to feed racist policies that only benefit a few and which intentionally suppress others, especially Black and Brown people. In other words, the system has to live up to its own ideals to protect it in the future.

For the structure of democracy in the U.S. to be authentic, says Watkins, it must include the people that have historically been — and continue to be — left out of democracy: “We have to realize our common bonds, our mutual experiences, our interconnectedness.”