Last week, our Province Leadership Team in St. Paul, Minnesota, sent a letter to their local elected and church officials in the wake of the fatal arrest of George Floyd. Their letter was also published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Their letter reads:
Sadness, frustration and anger are but a few of the disquieting emotions resulting from the egregious fatal arrest of George Floyd of Minneapolis. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Again we feel the pain that the use of violent force is wreaking.
We urge elected officials and the entire community to boldly address ways in which we demean or deny people their human dignity and rights. We implore our law enforcement agencies to pursue realistic alternatives to the use of deadly force. We support police training that places, as its overarching principle, respect for every individual in order to reduce the dangerous fear experienced by and of law enforcement. Let us act in ways that demonstrate that all lives, indeed Black lives, matter.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet pray for the family of George Floyd, for all those struggling with his senseless death, the officers who must live with the results of their actions, and for the entire community. As a women’s religious community, we are impelled also to seek greater awareness of Whiteness and ways in which we contribute to the systems of oppression and division. We want to see all systems honestly and boldly address root causes of injustices. We are “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” again revealing systemic injustice causing indescribable suffering to all and disproportionately to our Black brothers and sisters.
Today, the Congregational Leadership Team sent the following letter to the province leadership team in St. Paul thanking them for speaking out:
We are writing to thank you for the letter you sent to the St. Paul and Minneapolis mayors and elected officials and to Archbishop Hebda about the murder of George Floyd and the deeply-rooted injustices that led to it. We were fortunate to be on the list of people who received the text of the letter. You could not have expressed the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet position better. We pray with you that your voice, our voice, will make a difference as the people of the Twin Cities try to recover from the trauma of this last week and move forward to a more inclusive community.
Congratulations also on having your letter printed in the May 29 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. We know how rooted in St. Paul the CSJs are. Your words brought comfort to people and also supported them in peaceful and constructive action.
Our work on the chapter directions is just beginning. Your letter identifies racism as a system of oppression which we need to acknowledge and root out in ourselves so that we can walk together with all the citizens in our cities. We look forward to going deeper and journeying farther with you.
By Jenny Beatrice, St. Louis Province Communications Director
As a friend was telling me about her routine work woes, the conversation took a turn when she attributed the problems to the race of her employees. Shocked by her comment, I was speechless. I hoped that the look on my face spoke to my disapproval, but I knew deep down it wasn’t enough. How could I have stayed silent?
Months later, at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet’s congregational chapter meeting, we recited a prayer that brought me back to that haunting moment: “When human dignity is not honored, may I speak out … When rights are not respected, may I speak out … When I am most afraid to speak out, may I speak out nonetheless.”
At that same meeting, the sisters called us to “bold conversation and prophetic action” to work toward dismantling systems of oppression. And I realized my silence was more than just a slip-up — it was part of perpetuating injustice.
In her book So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo says, “There is a good chance that you, regardless of race, have tried to have these conversations in the past. There is also a good chance that they have not gone well. So ‘not well’ that perhaps you have been afraid to ever have these conversations again. If that
is you, you are not alone.”
A relative uses a racial slur at Thanksgiving dinner. A co-worker emails you an offensive joke. A neighbor makes comments about the Black family that moved on the block. Knowing these uncomfortable situations will arise, we can better participate in “bold conversations” by being ready to respond.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s guide, “Speak Up,” recommends having a response in mind before an incident happens. “Open-ended questions are often a good response: ‘Why did you say that?’ ‘How did you develop that belief?’”
Describe the behavior, and don’t label the person. You can say, “You’re classifying an entire ethnicity in a derogatory way. Is that what I hear you saying?” Avoid labeling and name-calling (from “Speak Up”).
Oluo says, “If you hear someone at the water cooler say, ‘Black people are always late,’ you can definitely say, ‘Hey, that’s racist,’ but you can also add, ‘and it contributes to false beliefs about Black workers that keep them from even being interviewed for jobs …’”
You cannot control another person, but you can draw a line. You can say, “I don’t want you to use that language when I’m around.” Then follow through on your limits (from “Speak Up”).
Oluo says, “You must get used to being uncomfortable and get used to this not being about our feelings if you plan to help and not hinder people of color in the efforts for racial justice.”
Even when we say “all the right things,” we must remember that change happens slowly. Most people take small steps and don’t change their belief systems overnight. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of speaking out. Oluo says that you may not get very far at that moment, “But it gives people something to think about. These conversations, even if they feel fruitless at first, can plant a seed to greater understanding.”
So when human dignity is not honored, when rights are not respected, when we are most afraid … may we speak out.
This article appeared in the 2020 issue of Carondelet Magazine. Find downloadable versions of this and every issue on the Carondelet Magazine page.
Our congregation, in partnership with the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph has planned a slate of events to recognize international Laudato Si’ Week and the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical.
All are welcome to join us. Attend our interactive virtual events, post about the importance of caring for creation on social media, and take action with us!
The National Catholic Reporter‘s Global Sisters Report has featured the letter our Congregational Leadership Team sent to Cardinal Dolan on May 1 in their article about various leaders of women religious sending him similar feedback. Excepts from our letter are shared along with quotes from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and Sister Simone Campbell of Network Lobby.
“We find ourselves very discomfited by your praise of [President Trump’s] leadership,” the congregational leadership team of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet wrote in a letter dated May 1 addressed to Dolan.
Guided by the Statement of Future Direction from our most recent congregational chapter, which calls us to work toward an inclusive church and society, the Congregational Leadership Team has sent a letter to Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, asking him to reconsider his well-publicized praise and support of President Trump.
May 1, 2020
Timothy Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York
452 Madison Ave
New York, New York, 10022
Dear Cardinal Dolan,
We write to you as the Congregational Leadership Team of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. Aware that you shoulder great responsibility as the metropolitan of one of the largest archdioceses in the United States, we assure you that we remember you in each Eucharistic prayer when we ask God’s guidance for our Church leaders.
As your sisters in Christ, we also feel impelled to say that we are concerned about your unqualified praise of President Trump as demonstrated during your appearance on Fox News on April 26. We have read various reports and listened to your Fox interview, and we find ourselves very discomfited by your praise of his leadership.
This is not a political disagreement. We know that good and faithful people have very different political opinions, and that people in opposing camps can explain their positions on the basis of Gospel principles. But the current president of the United States is notorious for his consistent lying to the public and for poor judgment. His stances on immigration and migrants are directly opposed to what the USCCB espouses in documents like Welcoming the Stranger and recent pronouncements by Archbishop Gomez and Perez, and Bishops Tyson, Cantú, and Doronsville, among others. Instead of welcoming or even simply tolerating the “other,” our bishops themselves have said that the president sows “polarization and animosity.” Instead of offering moral leadership, he is a philanderer whose business activities like Trump University have taken advantage of the poor and vulnerable. The current president exemplifies much of what John the Baptist condemned in the ruler of his day—a prophetic task for which he lost his head but not his integrity.
The Congregational Center of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet is in your hometown, St. Louis. You may therefore be aware that we have served the People of God in the United States for 186 years. We are sure you know how we and other apostolic women religious built the educational, health, and social welfare institutions of the Catholic Church in the United States. We are faithful women of the Church. Because of that, we believe we must ask you to reexamine your public pronouncements in favor of a president whose verbal support of one or two religious causes is designed to create the impression that he supports Catholic values.
As your sisters, we ask you to reconsider your well-publicized praise and support of this president. It gives the impression that the Church itself stands with him. The scandals of the past few decades call us to a much higher standard. May God bless you with the wisdom and courage necessary to serve in these times.
Congregational Leadership Team
CORRECTION: Cardinal Dolans remarks aired on April 27, not April 26.