Feature Story

From R to L: Sisters Josita Colbert, Gwynette Proctor, Teresita Weind, Patricia Chappell and Martin de Porres Coleman

This past July, New Orleans was the site of an important event in the life of the Catholic Church in the United 'States – celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Black Catholic Sisters' Conference and the National Black Clergy Conference.

Sisters Patricia Chappell, Josita Colbert, Martin de Porres Colemen, Gwynette Proctor and Teresita Weind joined other NBSC members in New Orleans for this golden anniversary celebration, where Sister Teresita was the keynote speaker. Although Sisters Jo Mary Davis of the Ohio Province and Sister Dolores Harrall of the former Connecticut Province, founding members of the NBSC along with Sisters Josita, Martin and Teresita , passed away several years ago, they were very much present in spirit and remembered with gratitude.

The following are the reflections of the five sisters who participated in the 50h anniversary event:

We've Come A Mighty Long Way is what echoed throughout the 50th Anniversary of the Joint Conference of the National Black Sisters' Conference (NBSC) and the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.

It was a great privilege for me to talk with, listen to and experience the 'JOY" of being with the foundresses of the National Black Sisters' Conference. I must admit that I felt a great pride surging within me knowing that Sisters Martin, Dolores, Jo-Mary, Teresita and Josita contributed so much to the founding vision of NBSC. It was clear then as it is now that the work of empowering the Black Catholic community, supporting vocations from the Black community and inviting our religious congregations to fully accept the gifts of Black women religious is what will sustain us as the National Black Sisters' Conference prepares for its 100th anniversary!
Anniversary! To God be the glory!

Sister Patricia Chappell
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Our Founder Dr. Patricia Grey and Dr. M. Shawn Copeland's presentations were ones of excitement and challenges. The tours of New Orleans with its rich history and the contributions of Black Catholics to that history were inspiring. We honored and remembered Sisters Dolores and Jo Mary and all who had passed on since 1968. Those of us who were founding members received a special pin and blessing. It thrilled my heart to hear Sister Teresita's keynote address and to hear Sister Martin sing the spirituals", Ride on King Jesus"( no one can hinder me) and " My Soul's Been anchored in the Lord". It was energizing and empowering to so many of us who were there in 1968. Indeed We've Come A Mighty Long Way!

Sister Josita Colbert
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June 1968 was a momentous time in many ways. For me, it was the first time I had ever seen another 'Negro' woman religious and the opportunity to meet another "Negro'" Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. (I used the term "Negro" here, because it was later that the term black or African American became the term used.) It was at this meeting that I met Sisters Dolores, Josita, Teresita, and Jo Mary. The gathering was electric, educational, intensive, invigorating, and a bonding of friendships that would last for many years.

The Joint Conference Meeting in New Orleans, LA, was a great time for renewing of friendships that had begun 50 years ago and remembering those who have 'fought the good fight' and no longer need to fight the "on-going struggle" that we all share – the "fight for freedom and respect" here and now at this time.

Sister Martin de Porres Coleman
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Experiencing the 50th Anniversary of the Joint Conferences this past July was both humbling and grace-filled. My spirit has been renewed as I walked among the "trailblazers" who at great risk, carved a path forward through the racial hatred, injustice and dehumanizing conditions that permeated our church and society in 1968. Now, 50 years later our communities are plagued with the same racial hatred and injustice. Being in the presence of the founding members of the National Black Sisters' Conference (NBSC) and the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC) continues to inspire me and strengthen my commitment to remain steadfast in the struggle for justice and peace in these troubling times.

Sister Gwynette Proctor
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"God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray."

-- Segment of 3rd verse from James Weldon Johnson's poem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
(Johnsons' brother, John set the poem to music in 1900).

Gratitude for the past and present rang out in prayer: spoken, sung, and liturgical dance. Beams and rays of light revealed some of the path we trod during the 50 years since beginning the National Black Sisters Conference (NBSC). In 1968 more than two hundred Black Catholic Women Religious gathered and focused on the need to accept ourselves and our contribution to and gift for the Church and the world. The current path of 2018 revealed a clear focus beyond us and the determination to be Women Religious for the far too many children, women and men of color who are still cast down and out, ignored and persecuted. Some people in this country do not respect people of our race. Some people act from the conviction that our "lives do not matter"!

Members of this year's Golden Jubilee of Black Catholic Clergy and Sisters departed from the Conference with renewed courage to move forward together "in the path" of affirming with our own lives that the dignity and worth of African Americans matter now and wherever the future calls us to serve!

Sister Teresita Weind
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Congratulations, Sisters! We are grateful for the gift that you are to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the Catholic Church and the world.

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