Sister Cora Marie Billings, RSM Sister Cora Marie Billings has dedicated the past six decades of her life to rooting out racism, and she has no plans to slow down. She traces her roots in the church to her great-grandfather, who was a slave for the Jesuits at Georgetown University. He was raised in the Catholic faith and in accord with his wishes, Catholicism was retained through generations of her family. Eventually the family moved to Philadelphia where Sister Cora Marie was born and grew up. Sister Cora Marie's upbringing in the Roman Catholic Church was at times very challenging due to the treatment she received within her white Catholic school and community as an African American Catholic. Withstanding these obstacles, her faith did not waiver; she responded to her call to religious life and in 1956 she became first African American woman accepted for membership within the Mercy Sisters of Philadelphia. She had been encouraged to become a woman religious because of the example of two of her aunts who were already members of the Oblate Sisters of Providence of Baltimore, Maryland, a religious order established by, and for, women of African descent to teach enslaved children. In 1968, Sister Cora Marie became a founding member of the National Black Sisters' Conference , which brought together Black nuns nationwide to assert their voices in the Catholic Church — and to urge it to confront more effectively "the sin of racism." Serving as the campus minister of Virginia State University, she began working full time in the Diocese of Richmond under Bishop Walter F. Sullivan in the mid-80s. It was Bishop Sullivan who appointed her in 1990 to the pastoral position at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, a predominantly black parish that had lost its priest. After 61 years, Sister Cora Marie remains active in the Sisters of Mercy’s reconciliation and social justice ministries. "If there is ever a chance for me to impact or help people to see what I feel is justice and the rights of people, then I will do whatever I can," she said. "I will always say 'yes' if I can, if I feel I can effect change." Resources Articles “ First African-American nun to serve as a pastoral coordinator, Sister Cora Marie Billings continues to serve ,” by Mark Robinson, Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 25, 2017. “ Challenging and Healing Racism: Two Black Sisters of Mercy Share Their Stories ,” by Catherine Walsh, Features Writer, November 16, 2021. “ Q & A with Sr. Cora Marie Billings on Black Catholicism and her life of 'firsts’ ,” by Sydney Clark, Global Sisters Report, November 30, 2021. “ Nonviolence Critical Concern Community Feature: Sr. Cora Marie Billings ,” by Kelsey Steines, Catherine McAuley Center, March 21, 2021. Videos “ An Evening Conversation with Sister Cora Marie Billings, R.S.M. ,” Villanova University, February 12, 2019 - A "fireside chat" with Sister Cora Marie Billings, who received her B.A. in Humanities from Villanova in 1967. “ Sister Cora Mare Billings - Finding Tomorrow: Experiences in Black Leadership ,” Finding Tomorrow Project (FindingRVA), June 15, 2014. Interview directed by Marc Cheatham and Darrian P. Mack. “ Sister Cora Marie Billings' reflection for Black Catholic History Month ,” Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, November 25, 2019. Reflection Questions Cora Marie Billings speaks of her experience of racism in church and society. 1. Have any of your cultural-racial ancestors been the targets of bigotry or discrimination? 2. What forms of institutional racism have you witnessed and/or participated in? 3. What have you done to root out anti-Black, anti-Hispanic/Latino, anti-Asian racism in your interpersonal and institutional experiences? Prayer " Shake Us From Our Slumber " Prayer adapted from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When our eyes do not see the gravity of racial justice, shake us from our slumber and open our eyes, O Lord. When out of fear we are frozen into inaction, give us a spirit of bravery, O Lord. When we try our best but say the wrong things, give us a spirit of humility, O Lord. When the chaos of this dies down, give us a lasting spirit of solidarity, O Lord. When it becomes easier to point fingers outwards, help us to examine our own hearts, O Lord. God of truth, in your wisdom, enlighten Us. God of hope in your kindness, heal Us. Creator of All People, in your generosity, guide Us. Racism breaks your heart; break our hearts for what breaks yours, O Lord. Ever present God, you called us to be in relationship with one another and promised to dwell wherever two or three are gathered. In our community, we are many different people; we come from many different places, have many different cultures. Open our hearts that we may be bold in finding the riches of inclusion and the treasures of diversity among us. We pray in faith. Amen.