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.

Our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters are collaborating on a Black Catholic Project that began on January 18, 2021, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This project provides information on prominent Black Catholics who have made significant contributions to the church and society, along with reflection questions and a prayer.

Now named the Equity and Inclusion Project, it continues in partnership with creators of the 2020 Black Catholic Heroes Project. Many images used this year were painted by students employed by the College for Creative Studies’ Detroit Neighborhood Arts Corps. These images are used with permission.

 

Equity and Inclusion Project

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Dr. Lena Frances Edwards

Dr. Lena Frances Edwards

Dr. Lena Frances Edwards

Lena Frances Edwards was born in Washington, D.C., on September 17, 1900. Her father, Thomas W. Edwards, was a dentist and a professor at Howard University. Her mother, Marie Coakley Edwards, was a homemaker.

Lena graduated as valedictorian from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., and went on to earn an undergraduate degree at Howard University in three years. She completed her medical training at Howard Medical School in 1924.

In 1926, Lena and her husband, Keith, also a doctor, entered medical practice in Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City, New Jersey. Because of her race and her gender, Lena was prevented from being given a residency in obstetrics and gynecology until 1945. When she finally decided to sit for the National Board Examinations, she had to fight to garner the necessary hospital endorsements. Obstacles to her advancement were always in front of her, and with prayer and grit, she always seemed to knock them down.

In addition to her work with patients, Lena began a career speaking on public health and natural childbirth while serving the European immigrant community. In spite of this demanding work, she raised six children who would later serve in the roles of physician, social worker, military officer, and in church ministry.

In 1954, Lena returned to Washington, D.C., and took a position at Howard University teaching obstetrics. In due time she was offered the job as a department chair, but she rejected the offer because of her strong objections to abortion.

In 1960, Lena moved to Hereford, Texas, to help start Our Lady of Guadalupe Maternity Clinic for Mexican migrant women. She served there until 1965 when a heart attack cut her career short. Inspired by the ministry of the Franciscan Friars, Lena, at the age of 60, helped found Our Lady of Guadeloupe Maternity Clinic in Hereford, Texas, a mission serving the Mexican migrant families. Not only did she provide much of the funding for the building of the clinic, she also worked there without pay until her heart attack forced her to move back to Washington. After her heart attack, she went back to Washington and resumed work at the Office of Economic Opportunity and Project Head Start.

While in Jersey City, she had focused on treating the Eastern European immigrants. Now, in the nation’s capital, she turned her attention to working with African-Americans. She became part of the Urban League, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, the Social Work Advisory Committee, and the Catholic International Council. She also served on boards for unwed mothers and local maternal welfare organizations. In 1970, she was forced to retire because of a weakening heart condition.

Lena was a lifelong Catholic. She became a lay Franciscan in 1947. Her son, Thomas Madison, joined the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in 1953 and was ordained as Father Martin in 1962 as the order's first African American priest.

Lena received a number of awards during her lifetime. In 1955, she was named Medical Woman of the Year by the New Jersey district of the American Medical Women's Association. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. and was awarded an honorary degree from St. Peter's College, New Jersey (1966), and the Poverello Medal as one whose life exemplifies the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi in 1967. This remarkable woman, mother, and physician died on December 3, 1986.

 

Resources

Smith, Deborah (1994). "Edwards, Lena Frances (1900–1986)" in Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 387–388.

Article on Dr. Lena Frances Edwards for "Changing the Face of Medicine," an exhibition of the National Library of Medicine.
https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_96.html

Video: "Spotlight: Dr. Lena Edwards" by Jersey City TV, February 7, 2022.
https://youtu.be/CeqGI7HokgM

Ebony Magazine article, "Lady Doctor to Migrant Workers," February 1962, pages 59-68.
https://books.google.com/books?id=LNcDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA59;source#v=onepage&q&f=false


Reflection Questions

Why is it, do you think, that Lena Frances Edwards is relatively unknown to most Catholics?

How could you bring Lena Frances Edwards to the awareness of your church community?


Prayer

O God,

We are awed by the example of Lena Frances Edwards in her pursuit of a place in our society where she could exercise her gifts of generosity and healing.

We ask for the same gifts of perseverance and care for others as we walk our way in our world today, a world so in need of the physical and spiritual healing that she practiced so earnestly.

Give us, too, the strength and courage to be witnesses of your love and mercy as we struggle with all the injustices that still exist in our world today.

We ask this in the name of your son, Jesus.

Amen.

 

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People of African Descent on the Path to Sainthood

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

 

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