• Steven Morano

Remembering Black Catholic Sisters and Nuns

On Feb. 25, the Mount hosted Dr. Shannen Dee Williams for the university’s Black History Month event discussing “Why the Stories of U.S. Black Catholic Sisters Matter.” Williams, who is the Albert Lepage Assistant Professor of History at Villanova University, gave her talk via Zoom and in person, in limited seating at the Delaplaine Fine Arts Center. The event was co-chaired by Dr. Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, the Vice President for Equity and Success at the Center for Student Engagement and Success and Sr. Mary Kate Birge, Associate Professor of Theology. During her talk, Williams outlined many stories of resilience that came from the Sisters from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s to the formation of the nation’s first African American convents in the 1800s.


The stories of the National Black Sisters’ Conference, Mother Mary Lange and Anne Marie Becraft are among only a fraction of the stories that highlight the resilience of African American nuns in the US. These stories and many more will be discussed in Williams’ new book, “Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle,” which is due to be released later this year.


Many of the university’s administrators attended the event, including President Timothy Trainor. “It is so important to tell these stories, as Dr. Williams said that it is about justice. To find justice, we have to tell the truth and understand the truth of what Black sisters and nuns went through in their struggle to serve the church faithfully and to live out their faith. I am blessed that we have this opportunity to hear from Dr. Williams,” said Trainor.


Whetsel-Ribeau stated that many times people don’t recognize how black Catholics fit into the American history. “It is important to know, educate yourself and understand the role of black Catholics, historically and today, particularly black Catholic nuns,” she added.


“I really hope that today’s event was an educational one and it demonstrated that empathy is needed to recognize racism and discrimination. We recognize that although things have got better, they should continue to improve,” Whetsel-Ribeau commented.


Whetsel-Ribeau also shared that the Mount hopes to plan, for fall semester, a presidential lecture series to hold courageous conversations about these kinds of topics, such as race, discrimination, socio-economic diversity, disability, religion, etc.