Religious congregations of women and men have been the backbone of Pax Christi USA since its beginnings almost 50 years ago. One of the Initiatives of Pax Christi USA that congregations have taken very seriously is “Economic and inter-racial justice in the United States.” For the past 8 years Srs. Patty Chappell and Anne-Louise Nadeau have been invited to do workshops, presentations and facilitation for groups of women and men religious as they face the truth of racism in their own religious congregations. One of these groups is the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (RSCJ).
Pax Christi USA is grateful that the RSCJ’s gave their permission to post the following article.
by Erin Everson
Society of the Sacred Heart, United States – Canada Province
On Saturday, November 16, 35 people, representing the various identities within our Sacred Heart family – alumnae, Associates, descendants of persons enslaved by the Society, educators, partners and colleagues in mission, RSCJ – gathered with facilitators, Patricia Chappell and Anne-Louise Nadeau (both Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur), to move forward our province’s commitment to address and act on dismantling the structural racism that is still part of our Sacred Heart community.
I was truly grateful to be present and to participate in meaningful discussions and mutual learning throughout the day. We acknowledged by virtue of our existence, as an organization and as individuals in today’s society and culture, we participate in and reinforce racist structures and racist attitudes, both consciously and unconsciously.
In addition, our facilitators stressed the work of combatting this reality can only be done together as people of color and as white people, with empathy and respect. Each group must recognize and work to dismantle its own internal racial oppression and internal racial superiority, respectively.
We gathered to confront the truth of our past, when the Society of the Sacred Heart participated in the buying and selling of Blacks and African Americans, and to combat and deconstruct our present participation in structural racism, recognizing that racism and oppression are woven into the very fabric of our culture and our society in ways both visible and invisible.
As someone close to the Society, as an alum and now as a staff member of the province, I thought, “It’s about time.”
I am grateful for our concrete response to this evil in the form of this gathering, because it is clear that racism is the root cause of the most pressing issues that plague our communities, our cities and our church. Who is most affected by climate change, natural disasters, poor water quality? Where do people in power decide to dump waste? Who is most afflicted in human trafficking? Who is on the receiving end of immigration policy? We cannot talk nor act seriously on these issues, without understanding they are all rooted in racism.
Collectively, we must stay at the table and act to combat racism in every form: what our province chooses to speak about; how we say it; where and with whom we invest our time and our resources; how we run our schools; to whom our schools are accessible; and how we interact with and work alongside those of marginalized identities in our ministries.
It is clear the Society in the United States – Canada Province includes RSCJ and a constituency who are predominantly white. It was imperative we not move or act to dismantle racism within or outside of our organization without including those who experience racism and who would be most affected by our decisions. It was equally important, we, as white people, show up and participate in this process. This meeting, because it included almost equal numbers of people of color and white people, was a step in the right direction.
The moment that stood out most for me occurred toward the end of our time together when our facilitators exclaimed, “What will your legacy be?!”
For me, I want to see our province on the frontline, wholly truthful, wholly humble, wholly committed and listening, even when it’s painful. I saw movement in that direction during this meeting. It reminded me of Sister Joan Chittister, in her recent book, The Time is Now, in which she challenges us not to repeat our past by sitting and participating in complacency. We truly only have now, today, to seize, to act, to transform ourselves and our province.
Where we go, others will follow and lead. I know I will. And while I am a disaffiliated catholic in many ways, I stay at this table, because I believe in the on-going mission of the Society. I am a product of Sacred Heart education. I have seen and continue to see how much power and influence lies in this community, especially collectively in the hands and voices of the RSCJ.
We, as a province/community, have the resources, the position and the podium to affect serious transformation and be leaders and prophets in the movement for racial equity and equality, and beyond. We have a responsibility to use this power. This I whole-heartedly believe.
This meeting was a valuable and necessary first step, and I’m motivated, energized and humbled to walk alongside women and men who care and who love, because that’s what anti-racism work is at the core – it is what true love looks like.
I urge all of us to continue to move and struggle and grow together in this time, holding each other accountable, knowing others within and outside of our community are and will be better for it. I am, and I am here for it.
Interested in having a racial justice workshop for your parish, religious community, or PCUSA group? Contact Sr. Anne-Louise Nadeau for more information, firstname.lastname@example.org.