The U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph condemns the violence at the U.S. Capitol yesterday. As members of the Federation, we join them in this public statement.
The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph joins with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in praying for peace after witnessing the violence and terrorism yesterday in our nation’s Capitol. We are deeply concerned about the state of our country and the future of our democracy. Our hearts ached as we watched white nationalists participate in these despicable actions that threaten not only to destroy our government but to rend the bonds that unite us. We commend and thank the members of Congress and staff who courageously continued their service to the nation last night even amid the chaos, as well as the law enforcement who helped protect and secure the building so the members could resume their responsibilities.
In our increasingly divided nation, we are saddened but not surprised by the predictable outcome of yesterday’s events. The Federation renews our Gospel Charism and commitment to being a unifying presence in the world through appreciation of diversity, transformation, and healing.
At this time, we feel each of us are asked to pause, reflect, and grapple with the history and legacy that brought us to this historic moment of white domestic terrorists attempting to take over our legislative branch. As Christians, we cannot ignore the images of the cross and flags bearing Jesus’ name that peppered yesterday’s scene. We cannot ignore the juxtaposition of the law enforcement response to yesterday’s violence at the Capitol versus the violence inflicted on Black Lives Matter protestors in June. We invite all people of good will to reflect on the next steps we must take to repair our democracy, eliminate white privilege, and contribute to the work of building a more perfect union.
The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph congratulates the president-elect and recommits to building God’s “Beloved Community.” As members of the Federation, we join them in this public statement:
The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph joins with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris and promise to work with them to build a society worthy of the values to which our imperfect union aspires.
We pray — as Sisters of St. Joseph and their partners — dedicated to the mission of healing and reconciliation, to repair the fractured relationships that have divided us during this difficult election season and reclaim our essential unity as a nation.
The people of this pluralistic nation form a diverse community characterized by different beliefs, experiences, and interests. We know that our differences can be our greatest strengths; our disagreements, opportunities to seek the truth. Our challenge is to embrace those differences and together seek the common good lest we rend the bonds that unite us.
Our Gospel mandate as Sisters of St. Joseph is to unite neighbor to neighbor and neighbor to God. Now is the time to make space in our hearts and our communities for the needs and concerns of all God’s people, the undocumented mother, the Midwest farmer, the unemployed steelworker, the suburban businesswoman, and the children and elders consigned to live in poverty. It is time to tear down the walls — real or imagined — which divide us by gender, race, class, geography, lifestyle, ideology, political party, and religious belief and to make room in our body politic for all who have been disaffected, disenfranchised, and discarded.
Now is the time to banish the fear that infects our souls and diminishes our hope. There is no room in this nation for fear of the other; no need to fear change; no reason to fear the future. This is a nation built on the dreams of our ancestors and the visions of our children. Our task is to make room at the table for every voice and every vision.
We thank those who turned out in record numbers to exercise their right to vote in a peaceful and respectful way. Their clear commitment to this democratic experiment of ours bodes well for the success of the difficult task that lies ahead.
We know that the work will be slow and arduous, and yet we join with Catholic sisters and their partners across this nation as we renew our commitment to exercise courage in the face of injustice, fear, and division. We will not shrink from the challenge before us to protect the sacredness of all human life, to dismantle white supremacy, welcome the stranger, care for creation, and to stand with those who have been exploited and marginalized by our throwaway culture.
We promise once again to be the healing presence of God. We pledge to hold the needs and concerns of all in the heart of a loving and ever-faithful God. We recommit ourselves to the sacred task of building the “Beloved Community” of which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke so eloquently, and we invite all people of goodwill to join us.
With the continued and increased use of the death penalty, we the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet are impelled to boldly oppose the use of the death penalty and end “the cycle of violence perpetuated by the death penalty.” In this stance, we look to the way of mercy and forgiveness exemplified by Jesus’ own life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and our CSJ charism. As a congregation of religious women of the great love of God, we value “respect for the sanctity of human life, the protection of human life,” and the sanctity of all life.
Pope Francis calls the use of the death penalty an attack on the dignity of the person and deems capital punishment “inadmissible” in all cases. These words are reflected in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, which the Vatican updated in 2018.
This issue of capital punishment “challenges our consciences and requires us to act.” Understanding that the death penalty does not provide easy or simple solutions, we continue, as we have for decades, our opposition to the death penalty. Our community, with our partners in mission, has long ministered to and advocated for our siblings on death row including praying, visiting, and writing personal letters.
Enlivened by our charism to move always toward the profound love of God and love of neighbor without distinction, we recommit to peace, nonviolence, and upholding the sanctity of all life. As a community, we reaffirm our opposition by committing to action to end the use of the death penalty locally and nationally.
Approved by the Congregational Leadership Team, October 26, 2020
We, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, commit to:
 “Additional Chapter Actions,” Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, 1997 Acts of Chapter, p. 20.
by Kim Westerman
As police shootings and immigration policies have shined a spotlight on racism in the United States recently, our congregation has made confronting and dismantling racism a priority. While we advocate for change in our society and work to examine our personal biases, we have also been grappling with our own congregational history.
Many organizations are taking similar steps through introspection and research. National news media covered other Catholic organizations that have sought reconciliation with or made reparations to the descendants of enslaved people in recent years.
This reckoning can be painful. “Recent calls for the Catholic Church to confront and make reparation for its long-standing histories of slavery and segregation have been met with genuine shock and confusion by far too many Catholics, religious and lay alike,” wrote historian Shannen Dee Williams, Ph.D. for Catholic News Service.
As we call ourselves to go deeper, journey farther, and respond boldly, our congregation and sponsored ministries are taking a hard look at our history and engaging in tough discussions about what we find.
“Racism — both overt and hidden — affects all of us; and it is the unrecognized racism lying deep in our unconscious that is the most insidious,” said Angela Faustina, CSJ, one of our African American sisters. “The role of the prophet today, involving some personal risk, as confronting evil always does, is to name racism where it is overt and to expose it where it hides by challenging complacency and providing opportunities for individual soul-searching.”
Our congregation was founded in the St. Louis area in 1836, a time and place where slavery was legal. Other congregations of women and men religious who were in the United States at that time have discovered that they owned or used the labor of enslaved people.
We have found no evidence that Sisters of St. Joseph were involved in holding enslaved persons in any place they lived where slavery was allowed, including Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Virginia.
Mary McGlone, CSJ serves on our Congregational Leadership Team, and she is currently finishing her second volume of a comprehensive history of Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States. Reflecting on her research, she said, “It is one thing to look at our history — and as we do so, it is important to see it in historical context. We can’t judge the past with today’s sensitivities, nor should we ignore the effects of past actions, culpable or inculpable.”
It is difficult to know definitively what was never documented. For instance, there is an unexplained trap door in one of the parlors in the St. Louis motherhouse, and legend has it that the sisters used it as a hiding place for people seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad. However, there is no documentation to prove or disprove this story.
We do know that before the Civil War, Sisters of St. Joseph were teaching children and adults of African descent in Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and, at least in St. Louis, they were subject to so much harassment for it that they had to close the school.
Many Catholic organizations are also grappling with their histories of institutional racism, and we are no exception.
Dr. Williams recently presented her research on the experiences of Black Catholic Sisters in the United States for province assemblies in St. Louis and Albany. “It is a story of grace, of perseverance, and uncommon faithfulness in the face of unholy discrimination,” she said. “I tend to tell people that it’s the story of America’s real ‘Sister Act’ — generations of African American women who were called to religious life and fought against slavery and segregation to answer God’s call in their lives and serve in the church, in their church.”
Dr. Williams’s research, which will soon be available in the book Subversive Habits: The Untold Story of Black Catholic Nuns in the United States, has identified both the overt and unspoken exclusion of Black women by many U.S. congregations in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the stories she shared were shocking examples of blatant racism, but she also gave a sense of the insidious way that Black women were excluded from communities.
“An examination of our congregation’s archives did not find any documentation of whether or not we excluded women of color from the novitiate,” said Catherine Lucy, director of the Carondelet Consolidated Archive. She added that this type of research is difficult because there is no one place to find a definitive answer.
“Right now, our best bet and my hope for the future is that any sisters who witnessed discrimination will document those experiences and help keep the stories alive,” said Lucy. “Oral storytelling provides a unique perspective of moments in time that might not be documented in any other form.”
One such story is that of Barbara Moore, CSJ, who joined the congregation in 1955. She was the first African American Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet that we know of; others who identify as women of color but could “pass” as white may have chosen not to be identified.
“I have been blessed in having strong and supportive women in leadership positions during my entrance in community, formation, and ministries,” said Sister Barbara. “Also, most of the young women with whom I entered were gracious and kind. I am aware that some of the professed sisters had reservations about my entering; however, none ever confronted me personally nor was I aware of any overt discrimination.”
She found an additional support network through membership in local and national organizations for Black Catholics. “My membership in these organizations has been supported throughout many years,” she said.
Archivists and historians may scour our historical documents, but the best way to examine our past and move forward in hope is to talk about it. All four of our provinces have been focusing on racism by hosting workshops, presentations, film and book studies, and by forming racial justice committees. At the center of all of these actions is deep listening and discussion.
That is exactly what Dr. Williams urges the Catholic Church to do. “I would hope that people see that the Catholic Church has within it a beautiful, vibrant, and a central tradition of confronting and rejecting racial discrimination and segregation. And that the church has left us a powerful blueprint to be able to confront the challenges that we face today. But critically, if we want to face and find that blueprint, we have to tell the stories of Black Catholics. And so I think that is the biggest takeaway: that the church has within it everything that it needs to confront the challenges that we are facing with regard to racism, with regards to discrimination, with regards to becoming the true beloved community. And I think one way to do it is to tell the stories.”
This story appeared in the 2020 issue of Carondelet Magazine, which was published May 1, 2020. Find downloadable versions of this and every issue on the Carondelet Magazine page.
The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph calls us all to dismantle racist systems and work to be antiracist individually. As members of the Federation, we join them in this public statement:
“The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph strongly condemns the police-killing of another Black man on the streets of our nation. Our hearts are breaking as we mourn with the family and friends of George Floyd, as well as Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, and all the others who have lost loved ones to law enforcement violence.
“The continued killing of Black people; the constant harassment of people of color; and the denial of the rights and dignity of our Black American neighbors must end now.
“Racism is America’s original sin. It is a virus every bit as deadly as COVID-19 that has infected our nation since its inception and until we address it, people of color will continue to die, and our nation will never heal. Racism, whether the institutional racism which privileges some at the expense of others or the daily acts of microaggressions, hate, and discrimination, diminishes us all.
“The resilience and well-being of humanity depend upon us dismantling these systemic, structural, and cultural realities of white supremacy, endemic to the fabric of our country. We commit ourselves to the creation of the ‘One Sacred Community,’ where all people are treated as the sacred creation that they are. Racism denies that most profound truth, that all of us are created in God’s image and each of us is entitled to dignity and respect.
“As women religious and their partners in mission, we acknowledge our own complicity in institutional racism. We pray for our nation’s healing, yet we know that is not enough. We ask forgiveness from people of color – without expecting or requiring it – to move into action. It is time for bold, decisive action – it is long past time to dismantle white privilege and rededicate ourselves to building God’s beloved community.
“As a Federation, we vow to turn our words into precise actions addressing the institutional racism that lives within our institutions and within ourselves. We vow to support criminal justice reforms, including a call for independent bodies that conduct investigations of police misconduct and broad, sweeping reforms to policing, incarceration, and the judicial system. As part of the reconciliation for the death of George Floyd, we urge Hennepin County Attorney, Mike Freeman, to pledge a just and timely adjudication of this tragedy.
“We call on the people of the United States to work with greater urgency to eliminate the systemic racism that infects the very soul of our nation. For the U.S. Federation, that requires us looking at all of our institutions and introducing guidelines to ensure that we are working to a more just society. This includes an honest look at the hiring and promotion practices at all levels, including the Federation, congregations, our schools, hospitals, and ministries.
“As we continue to work to dismantle institutional racism, we are all asked to do the deep, ongoing inner work that antiracism requires of us. This includes listening to, learning from, supporting, and elevating the Black voices from within our sisters, partners in mission, and more broadly.
“We ask God’s blessing on the struggle that lies ahead. We, as a Federation and as individuals, must do better.”