by Shannen Dee Williams
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe’s inclusion on Time magazine’s 2014 list of the world’s 100 most influential people represents a pivotal breakthrough moment for black Catholic nuns in the Atlantic world, although most people don’t realize it.
Featured alongside the likes of Pope Francis and music entertainment mogul Beyoncé, Sister Rosemary is the first black nun to be named to this prestigious list of world leaders, and this fact should not be so easily overlooked.
After all, the 2013 controversy surrounding the casting of five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald as Mother Abbess in NBC’s live remake of The Sound of Music painfully revealed that there are still plenty of people in the world (and especially in the United States) who believe that black nuns are historical and contemporary impossibilities.
Moreover, Sister Rosemary’s inclusion on Time’s “Most Influential” list is arguably as significant to the contemporary history of black nuns (and Catholic sisters more generally) as the canonization of St. Josephine Bakhita, who in 2000 became the first black woman to be declared a Catholic saint in the modern era.
Indeed, Time’s recognition of Sister Rosemary and her transformative ministry to young victims of sexual violence in Uganda and Sudan not only signals a major turning point in mainstream awareness (and acceptance) of black nuns, but also brings critical attention to one of the most significant, yet under-reported, social revolutions of black women in the contemporary era…