Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Amazing Story of Early Louisiana Black Sister- Mother Theodore Williams

This is a rather sad but in the end uplifting story at Patheos today about a Louisiana born Nun that struggled to get her vocation recognized. See : From Savannah to Harlem: Mother Theodore Williams -During her lifetime, Elizabeth Barbara Williams, foundress of the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary, was associated with three different religious orders. In the face of racism and doubt within her own church, she fought for her vocation, and won. It is all rather sad because of the racism that she got from fellow Catholics!! That being said this caught my eye:

During her lifetime, Elizabeth Barbara Williams was associated with all three groups. Born in Baton Rouge, she was the oldest of nine in a devout Catholic family. (Her cousin John Plantevigne was one of America's first Black priests.) Around age 19, she joined a contemplative community in Convent, Louisiana, an offshoot of the Holy Family Sisters. Taking the name Sister Seraphim, she stayed there until New Orleans' Archbishop James Blenk dissolved the community in 1913The official reason given for the dissolution was the Mother Superior's death, but a more potent factor may have been Southern racism. Many—Catholics included—found Black women in habits to be a threat, and Blenk wasn't one to challenge such objections. (He banned Elizabeth's priest cousin from working in New Orleans, alleging "a negative reaction from whites." It was said Plantevigne died of a broken heart.) .

Well that very well could be true. Also Pat McNamara knows more about Church History in America than I ever will. However I am not sure Louisiana white Catholics feared black Catholic women in habits. At the time of Archbishop Blenk the Sisters of the Holy Family was going strong and growing in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

So Black women or women of color Religious would not be some foreign concept to white Catholics that were in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Though Convent , Louisiana was a more much more rural town. There attitudes in the rural areas might have been different than NOLA. However I am not sure if Holy Family might have been operating in the area too with Black Catholic schools and parishes . My main knowledge of that Order is in the main cities. Why that partiular community that she was was part of was dissolved would be of further interest to research.

Regardless it is quite a story and one must think the Saint she was to endure all that and still prove to the Catholic powers that be that she was to be God's instrument. Its really does put in perspective the Catholics that leave the Church because they got so easily offended. Something that can happen to all of us in varying degrees ,even if we don't leave the Church officially when we are hurt. Would our Faith be as strong as hers.

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