Sr. Patricia Recalls Encounters with Racism
"So far, so good," Sr. Patricia said, describing the responsibilities of the ministry and recalling the challenges of her own faith journey to mark Black History Month (February).
These days her busy schedule includes making preparations for a conference for Black Catholic women, which will be held at Seton Hall University, South Orange, on March 21. She is also organizing a mother/daughter luncheon in June and a planning committee of lay volunteers for Black Ministry that has been formed. Last November she spearheaded a Mass and luncheon in honor of the late Most Rev. Joseph A. Francis, who was an Auxiliary Bishop of Newark (see The Catholic Advocate, Dec. 10).
Uniting Black Catholics was one of the goals Sr. Patricia stressed when first appointed to her new position (see The Catholic Advocate, Aug. 6). She has since visited Saint Mary Parish, Newark, and Christ the King Parish, Jersey City.
"Saint Mary is a very multicultural parish," she said. "There are people from Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia. Christ the King is a small, close-knit parish. I enjoyed meeting with the pastors and the parishioners there." She is planning outreach visits to other parishes in the coming weeks.
Large immigrant populations at some Black Catholic parishes can create friction for the African-African parishioners, Sr. Patricia said. "Many African-Americans are not that eager to unify with the immigrant groups. They feel there are many more Africans, especially Igbo (West African) Catholics, and there is resistance (for the community) to come together. They don't want one group to dominate."
Last year Father Anselm I. Nwaorgu, the pastor of Blessed Sacrament/Saint Charles Borromeo Parish, Newark—and the former president of the African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States—expressed the same concerns regarding immigrant tensions (see The Catholic Advocate, Feb. 6, 2008).
Along with her position in Black Catholic Ministry, Sr. Patricia is also a member of the multicultural and evangelization committees for the archdiocese. She is the regional director of formation for her order, Daughters of the Heart of Mary, where her responsibilities include Canada and the United Kingdom. Working within her vocation, she has ministered to such far-reaching places as Ethiopia and the inner-city prisons of Chicago. Now residing at Saint Henry Parish in Bayonne, and working in the archdiocese for nine years, she credits her faith with guiding her through life's most difficult trials.
"My faith has made me a stronger person," she confessed. "I could not endure the racism, even within my own Church, if it was not for my faith. It made me look beyond the atrocities and realize there is a God."
Growing up in New York City with seven brothers, she always knew religious life was her calling. One of her brothers became a priest and she professed her final vows to the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary, an all-black order, in 1965. It was while searching for an order that she encountered discrimination.
"As a young adult, I was told by many religious communities that the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary was my only option. I was not encouraged to join any other order." Sr. Patricia joined Daughters of the Heart of Mary in 1985. She is one of only three black Sisters in that order throughout the United States.
While with the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary, she ministered in prisons, including female prisoners separated from their children with nowhere to go after serving time. She worked as a prerelease coordinator and caseworker for the Cook County Illinois Department of Corrections. She founded Community Aid Inmates in Need (CAIN) in 1975. She is also co-founder of Sister House in Chicago, a shelter for women to live after released form prison.
Working in the jails with potentially dangerous inmates did not faze Sr. Patricia and she believed it was another way to reach out to those who need help the most. "I remember riding in the elevator with these men who had "D.O.C. (Department of Corrections) on the back of their shirts. They never bothered me. I was just a social worker who was there to help them. I was an advocate for them."
While working in Chicago, she joined the Daughters of Heart of Mary due to the order's versatility. The members move freely among the people whom they serve, with no external identification. "I chose the Daughters of Heart of Mary because I can work in any milieu I want to. There are doctors and lawyers who are also Sisters," she explained.
After joining the order, she was assigned as director of Nazareth School for Girls in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Being in charge of 1,400 young women, she learned the power of faith in a vastly different environment. "At that time, the president of Ethiopia had his daughter attend Nazareth School. Everyone there valued their education and viewed attending the school as a stepping stone to England or America. The students prayed so much; they prayed for peace every morning," Sr. Patricia recalled.
Due to the continuing civil war in the area that ended in 1991, she relocated to Buffalo, NY, as president of Nardin Academy. Even in the early 1990's, Sister Patricia felt discriminated against in the mostly white school.
"I sent in my résumé for the job without a photo," she said. "When I was voted in, people were definitely taken aback. I didn't see overt racism, but it was racism that was covered by a smile. People don't respect you as a person with intelligence."
After working as campus minister at Marist High School in Bayonne, deacons Marshall Andrews and Keith McKnight, liaison coordinators of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, suggested Sr. Patricia for the position of director.
Concerns of the Black Catholic community, she believes, include the threat of parishes and schools closing. In these uncertain economic times, donating to theChurch can be difficult, but she believes sacrifices have to be made for the good of the community.
"We have to take responsibility for ourselves," she said. "We have to learn to tithe. People spend money on things that are not necessary. If you give to God, God will give back to you."