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The hidden history of Black Catholic nuns in the U.S.

Black Catholic nuns have made manifold contributions to the Church in the United States, and theirs is a story that needs to be told, one historian says. 

Generations of black Catholic women “fought against racism in order to answer God’s call in their lives.” said Dr. Shannen Dee Williams of Villanova University, at a virtual Wednesday event hosted by the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

The event was titled “The Real Sister Act: Why the Stories of U.S. Black Catholic Sisters Matter.” The 1992 film “Sister Act,” starring Whoopi Goldberg, highlighted the story of Sister Thea Bowman–one of three African-American sisters under consideration for canonization–who worked to combat racism within the Church. 

Williams said on Wednesday that Bowman’s story is not accurately reflected on screen–evidence of ignorance of black Catholic history, both within the Church and in wider society.

“What does that say about Hollywood and its imagination, that in the hands of Hollywood, Sister Thea Bowman is not a nun, but a morally ambiguous black woman hiding from this white, married mobster boyfriend after he kills someone?” she said. “Thea spent the vast majority of her life as a nun.” 

“There are many within our society and certainly within Hollywood that are not yet ready to grapple with the reality of black Catholic nuns in this nation,” she added. 

Williams is the author of “Subversive Habits: The Untold Story of Black Catholic Nuns in the United States.” She said that the stories of black Catholic sisters offer lessons about the U.S. Church and about the fight for racial equality. 

In many cases, Williams said, black women were historically barred from white religious communities or were not fully included within the community. In other cases, the stories of black religious sisters in the United States were intentionally erased from official records. 

Read more at Catholic News Agency

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