Equity and Inclusion


In response to the proposal from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that congregations focus on the dismantling of racism, the Adrian Dominican Sisters began by identifying resources that can assist us in raising our consciousness of white privilege and white supremacy, both personally and systematically.

Since January 2021, our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters have collaborated on a project to provide information on prominent Black and Indigenous Catholics who have made significant contributions to the church and society, along with reflection questions and a prayer.

In May of 2022, Kevin D. Hofmann was named the founding Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Congregation. With the goal of normalizing conversations about race and culture and discussing what it means to feel included and excluded, Kevin began contributing to this blog in June of 2022 and shares his unique experience of growing up Black in a white family in Detroit.

 

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Black Catholic Project: Irmandade de Boa Morte (Sisterhood of the Good Death)

Samuel Henderson

Irmandade de Boa Morte
(Sisterhood of the Good Death)

by Cheryl Liske, OP

In 2013, at the Con/Vida exhibit Bandits & Heroes, Poets & Saints, organized by Sister Barb Cervenka, OP, and Mame Jackson, I spied a small video screen playing a news reel on the "Sisterhood of the Good Death." I must have watched it through several times.

Who were these women and why had I never heard of them before?

I checked Wikipedia:

The Sisterhood of Our Lady of the Good Death (Irmandade da Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte) is a small but renowned Afro-Catholic religious group in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Founded in the early 19th century as a (Catholic) Church-sponsored beneficent Sisterhood for female African slaves and former slaves.

What I remember from the video was that this was one of the first "sisterhoods" birthed in the New World (early 1800s) and that one of their original and most subversive missions was to pool resources to buy persons out of slavery and hence provide for them the "good death as a free person."

Their three-day celebration of Our Lady of the Good Death (August 13-15) came to have social significance as it allowed slaves to gather, maintain their religiosity in a hostile environment and shape a corporate presence for defending and valuing of individuals. It became, for all of these reasons, an unrivaled means of celebrating life.

However, in 1989 the local bishop forbade the local priest to allow the Sisterhood access to the images of the virgin used in the festival. The Sisterhood did two things. First, to maintain their Catholic religious connection, they sought priests from the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Brazilian National Catholic Church. Second, they hired a lawyer and sued the church – and won. In 1999, with legal victory in hand and with a change in bishops, the local priest welcomed the sisterhood back into the parish church where they remain to this day.

Sister Barb said this:

"… the sisterhoods were Catholic and the women in them were also believers in the African practices. They celebrated for generations in the Catholic Church (until a few clergy got uptight) and they always conclude their celebration with the Mass of the Assumption of Mary. I have many photos of the women with rosaries in their hands. I think we are the ones that keep thinking that you can’t hold two precious things in your mind and heart at one time."

 

Resources

Video

"Our Lady of the Good Death: Afro-Catholicism and the Brazilian Cultural Heritage” - Lecture by anthropologist Stephen Selka, given October 23, 2013 at the College of the Holy Cross. This lecture tells the Sisterhood story, including the 10-year struggle with the institutional Church.

Articles

Intimate Portraits of Boa Morte, Where the 'Sisterhood of the Good Death' Honors Afro-Brazilian Ancestors” by Tarisai Ngangura, September 6, 2018. Beautiful photographs, a bit of the history and the sisterhood today, still involved in justice work.

The Sisterhood of the Good Death – Black female resistance and entrepreneurship in the 19th century,” interpreted by Jess Vieira. An online slide show. 

Sisterhood of the Good Death” – July 16, 2019 post on the blog Nomadic Noni: Connecting Africa + Diaspora

Fighting Poverty, Plagued By Violence: Why 10,000 Black Women in Brazil Marched for Their Rights” by Kiratianan Freelon, posted on the website of American’s Black Holocaust Museum on November 24, 2015.


Reflection Question

Are we of a mindset that Catholic and African are mutually exclusive? Or can we hold two precious things in our minds and hearts at one time?


Prayer

Mary, your daughters of the Irmandade da Boa Morte celebrate the Feast of your Assumption as God’s affirmation of your grace and Earthly life.

Their sisterhood from the earliest days was dedicated to the liberation of the enslaved of their time.

Teach us to liberate our minds from prejudice and fear and show us the glory that is in all humanity lived in the liberation of Christ.

Amen.

 

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Printable bookmark of African Americans on their Way to Sainthood (PDF)

U.S. Black Catholic History Links

Black Catholic History page by Seattle University

Timeline from the National Black Catholic Congress

Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP, discusses Black Catholics in America with Dr. Paul Lakeland for Fairfield University's "Voices of Others" video series

News report on one of the oldest Black Catholic parishes in the U.S., St. Elizabeth Catholic Church (formerly St. Monica) in Chicago, Illinois