Statement by the National Black Sisters’ Conference on the Murder of Tyre Nichols
We encourage you to read this powerful statement from the U.S. National Black Sisters Conference on the murder of Tyre Nichols. We, the Sisters of the Holy Names of the U.S.-Ontario Province, stand with our Black Sisters as they speak publicly about Tyre’s death and the urgent need for systemic reform.
A Statement by the National Black Sisters’ Conference on the murder of Tyre Nichols
The New Year is barely a month old. We have just celebrated the national holiday honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the warrior of peace, and the world sadly commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In a few days, we will celebrate Black History Month as we honor the achievements and contributions of African Americans in the struggle for freedom.
Yet here we are again grieving the death of another young Black man, Tyre Nichols, whose life was taken at the hands of five Black police officers on a night in a quiet Memphis neighborhood.
Tyre Nichols’ life at the age of 29 was taken before he had a chance to fulfill his purpose. This young man was not a person to be feared or perceived to be a threat. He was a son, father, and contributor to society; respected and loved by all who knew him. His only crime was being Black in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Violence against African Americans has been a fact of life in this country since the first slave patrols were created in the 1700s to apprehend runaway slaves. Historically, the system was designed to institutionalize terror against Black people.
The five Black police officers who brutally took Tyre’s life as he cried out for his mother; were indoctrinated into a corrupt system and freely chose to perpetrate violence against other Black people in the name of institutionalized racism.
Unfortunately, police violence is not new. The video of the incident is no different from other police footage, and the only difference is that the majority of the officers are Black!
In speaking to this fact, Mr. Nichols’ mother, RowVaugh Wells, stated:
“…And what they are doing to black communities is wrong. We’re not worried about the race of the police officers, and we’re worried about the conduct of the police officers. Policing in this country is focused on control, subordination and violence…society views black people as inherently dangerous and criminal…”
The National Black Sisters Conference is worried too! When will we wake up as a nation?
How many lives will it take? How often must we bear witness to the senseless killing of African Americans by the police? Where is the collective voice of our religious communities, African American organizations, and Church? The prophet Micah’s words speak to what the righteous are called to do: “The just God demands justice!” God demands a change of heart.
As we move into Black History Month, how will we answer a mother’s prophetic words on the sad occasion of her son’s death? What will we remember? How will this modern-day Black genocide be eradicated? Where do we go from here?
With righteous indignation, we all must act! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes in his book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? “Freedom is not won by passive acceptance of suffering. A struggle wins freedom against suffering.” Let this be our rallying cry for justice!
As the National Black Sisters’ Conference, we are demanding JUSTICE FOR TYRE! and calling for:
- Immediate passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 by Congress
- More progressive oversite and accountability of police departments by the Justice Department
- Local and State reform of policing, and
- The end to police brutality that continues to plague Black and poor communities
Finally, we call on our Church to speak out in the name of the Gospel. This killing is a pro-life issue that is just as important as protecting the life of the unborn.
Tyre’s spirit cries out for justice, and we will continue to stand in the gap, crying out in the name of justice for our people.
United in the struggle for justice,
The National Black Sisters’ Conference
January 30, 2023
Ministering Where There Is a Need: Trinity Catholic School in Spokane, WA
School support for students without stable homes.
Trinity Catholic School in Spokane, WA, is in one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods. Students who live in poverty often experience trauma and emotional distress that disrupts their education. “Many of these students do not have a stable home life at all,” says Sister Irene Knopes, who secured a grant for Trinity to hire a part-time school counselor.
As the new counselor began supporting students and their families, the impact was profound. “Having a counselor has made an astronomical difference in the social-emotional learning that we’re able to provide to the students,” said Principal Stacie Holcomb. This much-needed service is improving the educational experience for young people in Spokane.
Listen to an interview with Sister Irene Knopes and Trinity Principal Stacie Holcomb:
Ministering Where There Is a Need: Friendship Office of the Americas
Empowering women seeking human rights.
In 2014, Pope Francis wrote that migrants provide “an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society.” That message reverberates at a ministry supported by Sister Carol Ries seeking to counteract forces that lead desperate people to flee Central America. The Friendship Office of the Americas has worked for years in Nicaragua and Honduras to document rights abuses where women have faced danger when they seek restoration of lost land or information about loved ones who have disappeared. “The quest for human rights is probably what is most visible and accompanying that is the leadership of women that is empowered by this project,” says Sister Carol.
Listen to an interview with Sister Carol Ries and Jennifer Atlee from Friendship Office of the Americas:
Ministering Where There Is a Need: St. Andre Bessette Church in Portland, OR
The joy of this places shines like a light.
This past spring, Father Tom Gaughan, CSC related how six homicides occurred within walking distance of St. Andre Bessette Church in Portland, OR, just since Christmas Eve. “It’s saddening. In the midst of all that, the joy of this place shines like a light.”
Sister Linda Patrick is a long-time volunteer at the parish, helping to serve visitors who come seeking coffee, a meal, clothing and – most importantly – a welcome respite from the harsh streets. Father Tom shared that the SNJM Ministry Grant and the dedication of Sister Linda has helped the church “nurture community, restore hope and share God’s persistent love.”
Listen to an interview with Sister Linda Patrick and Father Tom Gaughan:
Ministering Where There Is a Need: Santa Chiara Children’s Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Sister Vera Ruotolo’s voice strains with emotion as she reads aloud a mission description of Santa Chiara Children’s Center in Haiti: “In our humble, very limited way, Santa Chiara is a kind of field hospital for kids, who come to us weary from their battle with extreme poverty, hunger and emotional neglect.”
The center’s mission aligns with the life work of Blessed Marie Rose Durocher – a pioneer in education for the poor and neglected – by providing a safe place of hope for at-risk Haitian children. Sister Vera has become a stalwart supporter and friend of founder Gerry Straub, OSF. Gerry has been able to use SNJM Ministry Grant funds to care for children at the clinic.
Listen to an interview with ministry partner Sister Vera Ruotolo:
Sisters Pray for Healing After Mass Shooting in Buffalo
As Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, we pray for healing in the wake of lives lost or shattered by the ghastly mass shooting in Buffalo, NY on May 14. We grieve for each victim, and for the United States, a nation torn by racial fears and divisions that have, again and again, resulted in the nightmare of deadly gun violence.
We call on people everywhere, especially those in positions of political leadership, to turn away from the sins of racism and violence. It is abhorrent that another Black community has been subjected to trauma and loss by a person proclaiming white supremacist views. We must completely reject baseless claims about “replacement theory” and fear-based conspiracies. As a society, we must learn to live in peace with one another, with respect for our common humanity and reverence for the gift of life.
Community Gives Thanks for the Life of Sister Kay Burton
There is much to be grateful for because of the life of Sister Kay Burton. Sister Kay died on March 18, surrounded by the prayers of her Holy Names Sisters and the countless friends she made during more than three decades of ministry in the Mississippi Delta.
Near the end of her life, Sister Kay realized she’d have to leave Jonestown, Mississippi to return to Washington state, where she was lovingly cared for by family members and the Sisters in her last days. But Jonestown never stopped being home to her. It’s the place where she lived, loved, taught and built beginning in the late 1970s. Before her departure, Sister Kay visited with residents of Jonestown so they could say goodbye and thank her for her transformative work with children, teens, families and the town itself.
“Sister Kay loved being in Jonestown with the local people,” said Sister Maureen Delaney, leader of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary U.S.-Ontario Province. “She loved developing enriching programs with and for the children, teens and families, and they in turn enriched her life with their love and friendship.”
Sister Kay first came to the Delta in 1979 to teach summer school at Immaculate Conception in Clarksdale. She, along with several other Sisters of the Holy Names from the West Coast, came to love the warmth and dedication to community among the people they met. During the couple of years that Sister Kay stayed in Clarksdale, she got to know the family of a student from Jonestown. The child’s family urged her to come to Jonestown to help students there who were struggling with their lessons.
It was a perfect match for Sister Kay’s energetic and visionary talents. She had already spent years developing peace education and anti-racism programs as an inner-city teacher and administrator in Seattle, Washington. However, her Holy Names community called her to a leadership role in 1983, and that five-year commitment had to come first. But she purchased a house in Jonestown and continued to support the ministries of the other Sisters who went to Mississippi to teach — including Sisters Rose Monica Rabdau, Mildred Hein, Anne Skok and Teresa Shields.
“I will be forever grateful that Sister Kay chose me to live and minister in Jonestown for 32 years,” said Sister Teresa. “My life has been changed for the better.”
As soon as her term in leadership ended, Sister Kay drove to Mississippi in a van named “Old Yeller,” bought a second house and immediately started remodeling it to make appropriate space for tutoring. She reached out to the community to find out what people wanted, which led her to organize garden projects, softball teams, life skills classes and GED programs. A major emphasis for her was music — despite not being a musician herself, she recruited others to come to Jonestown to teach music, including Dolores Fields Mason, who passed away earlier this month. The result was joyful singing at annual Christmas celebrations and Black history presentations, as well as piano recitals and other wonderful gatherings.
Her successful volunteer recruitment campaigns led to innumerable home repair and Habitat for Humanity projects to benefit Jonestown residents. Volunteers also helped upgrade facilities for basketball, baseball and track, as well as creating a playground for younger children. Sister Kay also took young people from Jonestown on trips to meet Sisters and other people involved in service work in places ranging from the Native American community in Wapato, Washington to the Holy Names convents in Lesotho, Africa.
As difficult as it was for Sister Kay to say goodbye to a place she loved so dearly, she knew that God’s faithful presence in the Mississippi Delta would continue through the many ministries she and the other Sisters brought to reality.
Memorial gifts may be made to Sisters of the Holy Names Ministry Fund, PO Box 398, Marylhurst, OR, 97036 or online here.
Sister Lois Finds a Way to Serve Unsheltered Neighbors
Sister Lois MacGillivray’s journey – including years as an educator, a researcher and the director at the Holy Names Sisters’ Villa Maria del Mar Retreat Center – is a story of making connections and impacting lives. Today, Sister Lois makes connections as she seeks to meet the needs of people who are homeless in the Santa Cruz, CA area.
When she arrived in Santa Cruz, she learned that a serious issue in the community was the number of people who were unsheltered. With a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, she studied local efforts to find affordable housing for unsheltered individuals and families and interviewed formerly homeless people to learn how they found permanent housing placements.
During this time, Sister Lois began volunteering with the St. Vincent de Paul Pantry at her parish. The Pantry serves a diverse group of people providing cereal, protein, milk, staples, fresh vegetables and fruits.
Collaborating with the Association of Faith Communities in Santa Cruz, Sister Lois secured an SNJM ministry grant to support Footbridge Services Warming Center in Santa Cruz. Besides shelter and food, the Warming Center provides many basic elements that are critical to unhoused people, such as a safe organized place to store belongings, do laundry, take showers, charge devices, receive clothes/blankets/hygiene items, etc. The Warming Center is open twice daily, seven days a week. This Grant from the Sisters has expanded the Center’s ability to serve people without limits on the number of persons served or qualification of a person’s need.
In addition to these projects, Sister Lois will be an ESL tutor for a local woman who aspires to attend community college. She brings communion to the home-bound on behalf of her parish. During the COVID year, she worked with Marge Webb, a benefactor of the Sisters and programs at Villa Maria del Mar, to organize a gathering in a local park to pray the rosary each Friday morning. Sister is also a spiritual director.
Sister Lois says “This is a blessed time in my life. I am driven by the effort to go out, to serve people on the margins in ways that I can do now.”
Building a Bridge for Immigrants
Sister Susan Wells, while working in Washington’s Skagit Valley north of Seattle, witnessed the needs of the immigrant community every day. She got involved with Immigrant Resources and Immediate Support (IRIS), serving on its Community Advisory Board and volunteering. She saw first-hand the positive difference the organization made for people who need help.
Last spring, with Sister Susan’s recommendation, the Sisters of the Holy Names provided a grant to IRIS to fund the Immigrant Bridge Support program. The goal of the program is to provide immediate assistance to immigrants facing a temporary crisis. Many of the IRIS clients are women and children fleeing violence in their countries of origin. Some are recent arrivals; others have been in the U.S. for a longer period of time but are experiencing a temporary economic crisis, such as a job loss or medical issues.
COVID-19 has made struggles for immigrants even more significant, causing lost income, loss of childcare and health emergencies. SNJM funding provided assistance with rent, food and household needs for more than 60 people.
One asylum-seeking mother and her three children, including a baby with Down syndrome and a heart condition, could not find housing. Local shelters were at capacity due to COVID restrictions. IRIS, thanks to SNJM support, provided interim housing and a bridge to a better future. The family moved into their own apartment in January 2021.
The SNJM Immigrant and Refugee grant program is made possible by benefactors who want to “welcome the stranger” by caring for newcomers to our country. Sister Susan said, “I am excited by our SNJM collaboration with IRIS and to see firsthand how that collaboration is providing urgently needed resources for our immigrant sisters and brothers.”
IPJC Honors Linda Haydock, SNJM with Thea Bowman Award
The Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center has established an award in the name of pioneering educator Sister Thea Bowman, and Holy Names Sister Linda Haydock is the first recipient.
At the center’s spring benefit event on May 2, IPJC Board chair John Hickman recalled how Sister Linda, the center’s founding executive director, led the organization for over 25 years “to speak truth to power with love in chanceries and boardrooms (and) gathered youth in community and women on the margins to act for social change.”
When IPJC had its second convocation in 2001, Sister Thea, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, was part of its celebration of significant women in Catholic history. They were, Hickman said, “women who have shared their dreams for our church, trusted their vision, tended their faith and lit the fire of transformation.” He added, “We raised up Thea Bowman, a voice for justice and racial understanding. Tonight, we raise up and honor Sister Linda Haydock, a voice for justice who believes and lives, ‘If you dream it, you can do it!’”
Sister Linda gave the keynote address at the spring benefit, and Holy Names Sister Mary Rita Rohde joined with Franciscan Sister Pat Millen to open the virtual gathering with prayer. A recording of the event is available on YouTube.
In the 1980s, Sister Linda brought Sister Thea to Holy Names Academy in Seattle to meet and inspire her students. The students learned about her influential work to advance the education and life of black Catholics in a society dominated by white-controlled institutions and frequently racist attitudes. Sister Thea became a national presence as a teacher, preacher and powerful voice for multiculturalism and educational opportunities for disadvantaged Black people. Global Sisters Report published this story about her legacy in 2015.