Racial justice was focus of 2019 Theological Institute

July 23, 2019 by

Racial justice, both in the Catholic Church as well as in the United States in general, was the topic at the July 18-21 Theological Institute at the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia. The title of this year’s Institute was “The Long Struggle to Desegregate Catholic America.”

Dr. Shannen Dee Williams was the instructor and facilitator for the four-day event. She is a U.S. historian with research specializations in 19th and 20th century African-American history and religious history. She has done award-winning research and currently is an assistant professor of history at Villanova University.

“This July’s Institute with Shannen Dee Williams, PhD, was an eye-opener, to say the least. Possibly, it opened our consciences even more,” Sister Marcia Allen, a member of the Institute committee, said. “Dr. Williams, a brilliant historian of African American history, presented a stunning and profound picture of our United States history from the beginning of our nation to the present. Her lectures were made even more accessible through her use of names and faces.”

The keynote address was, “America’s Real Sister Act: Confronting the Uneasy History of Racial Segregation and Exclusion in Female Religious Life.”

“This project began 12 years ago when I was in graduate school,” Dr. Williams said.

“When I started researching and looking (for black sisters in history), I learned that two of the nation’s historical black sisterhoods had been founded in Savannah, Ga., in my mother’s home town. And yet she didn’t even know that there were black nuns,” Williams said. “Indeed, the schools she attended had been founded by these black nuns, and yet by the time she was in those schools in the 1950s, their history had been erased to her.”

“And I had to ask myself a very difficult question. Why? And also, how? How does that happen?” Williams said. “Historians on the African-American experience have always argued that the greatest weapon of white supremacy has not been its violence, but rather its ability to erase the history of its violence.”

“What didn’t I know about the history of these black nuns? What was so potentially dangerous about their historical memory that it had been erased from us? And I started on my path,” Williams said.

Dr. Williams is currently revising the manuscript for her first book, “Subversive Habits: The Untold Stories of Black Catholic Sisters in the United States,” to be published by Duke University Press.

Her research has been supported by a host of awards and fellowships, including a Scholar-in-Residence Fellowship from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, a Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellowship for Religion and Ethics from the Woodrow Wilson National Foundation, and the John Tracy Ellis Dissertation Award from the American Catholic Historical Association.

“Her thesis was that because of the erasure of African-American names and faces our U. S. history itself has been erased and thus missing a key ingredient of what makes our nation what it is today,” Sister Marcia said. “She gave participants in this year’s Institute a new understanding of our U.S. history and thus our place in it — today. ‘We,’ she said, ‘are today’s history!’”

In addition to the keynote address, additional topics and group sessions included, “Reckoning with Christian Slavery,” “Confronting the Silenced Past,” “Slavery by Another Name,” Reckoning with American Segregation and its Legacies,” “Confronting the Contested Past,” and finally on Sunday morning discussing “What Must Racial Justice Entail.”

“Having attended the Theology Institute on racism, I am more convinced of how little we as Catholics have been exposed to Catholic Social Teaching,” Sister Jodi Creten, an Institute attendee, said. “What one doesn’t know, one cannot hope to understand.”

“This institute also opened my eyes to a history that has not been taught in our schools in the past,” Sister Jodi said. “For us to heal as a society, we need to know the sufferings of so many by unjust institutional laws that have kept people ‘in their place.’”

Members of the Theological Institute committee are Sisters Cathie Michaud, Janet Lander, Betty Suther and Marcia Allen, and Susan LeDuc, administrative coordinator for Manna House of Prayer.

Plans are already underway for the 2020 Theological Institute.

“It will feature Anthony Gittins, Holy Spirit missionary, who has through decades of experiencing other cultures come to understand the concept of interculturation, the subject of the 2020 Institute,” Sister Marcia said. “It is an important follow-up of this year’s racism and assumed white supremacy. Mark your calendars for the 2020 Institute on July 23–26. Be prepared to come away with 2020 vision!”

The Sisters of St. Joseph established the annual Theological Institute a way to continue their long-standing educational tradition, exemplified by the schools they founded and staffed, including Marymount College in Salina. The program is held each summer in Concordia. Over the years the Institute has featured a wide range of well-known theologians, historians and social justice advocates.

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One Response to “Racial justice was focus of 2019 Theological Institute”

  1. lNIWYmEdUCRO on October 5th, 2019 7:58 am

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