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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Sister Theresa Maxis Duchemin

Drawing of Sister Theresa Maxis Duchemin in habit

Sister Theresa Maxis Duchemin:
Woman of Color, Pioneer of U.S. Religious Life

Theresa was the first U.S.-born African-American woman to become a religious. The child of unwed parents of mixed racial lineage, she still received an education far superior to most women of her time, thanks to the kindness of her adoptive family, the Duchemins. Her upbringing in their Haitian refugee community enabled Theresa to attend a school established for the children by Elizabeth Lange and Magdalen Baras, also of Haitian origin.

In 1829 these women formed the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first congregation of African-American women in the United States. At age 19, Theresa was one of the founding members. While serving as General Superior of the congregation, Theresa came into contact with Rev. Louis Gillet who was seeking women religious to teach in the new state of Michigan.

Theresa agreed to help Gillet found a new congregation in Monroe, Michigan: the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. After a decade of successful ministry and growth in Monroe, a dispute over the congregation arose in 1859 between the bishops of Philadelphia and Detroit. The bishop of Detroit blamed Theresa, deposed her as General Superior, and sent her to a Pennsylvania foundation, which then became a separate branch of the IHM congregation.

Theresa struggled for years to reunite the two congregations. In an effort to remove herself as an obstacle to reunion, Theresa spent 18 years in exile with the Grey Nuns of Ottawa. During this time, the bishops of Detroit and Philadelphia forbade the IHM sisters to communicate with Theresa. Writings from both bishops indicate scorn for mixed race people and their male dominance over women’s congregations. In 1885, Theresa was allowed to return to the IHM community in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where she lived her last seven years.

What happened to Theresa is representative of the experience of thousands of women in the past. Vilified and banished for her assertiveness, for her lack of social respectability, and for her determination to remain faithful to what she believed was a God-given mandate, she saw her intentions and her community co-opted by men who thought they knew better than she what the community should be about. All this happened in the 1800s. Yet in some ways, the story and the situation are still occurring in our 21st century.

 

Resources

Our Founders page of IHM Sisters' (Monroe, MI) website - ihmsisters.org/who-we-are/history-and-archives/our-founders

History section of IHM Sisters' (Scranton, PA) website - www.sistersofihm.org/who-we-are/ihm-history/theresa-maxis.html

Pilgrim: Let Your Heart be Bold by Margaret Gannon (Scranton, PA: Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 2018).

Paths of Daring, Deeds of Hope: Letters by and about Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin edited by Margaret Gannon (Scranton, PA: Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 1992).

"Dangerous Memory: Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin and the Michigan Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary" in Building Sisterhood: A Feminist History of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Marita Constance Supan (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997).

"Sharing a Co-Founder, IHM and Oblate Sisters Work on 20-Year Reconciliation," Global Sisters Report article by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins, September 3, 2015.

 

Reflection Questions

Read the poem "Christ in the Margins" by Edwina Gately (from her book, Christ in the Margins). In this poem, Edwina Gately has effectively described founders of present-day congregations.

Racism, sexism and clericalism challenged Theresa Maxis' intense call to serve God. How do we handle the tensions between church authority and congregational discernment? How do we resolve this?

Theresa Maxis had every reason to feel betrayed by church leaders and even some of her sisters. How do we rise above criticism, betrayal, and hypocrisy and stay focused on the mission?

Theresa was a true pioneer, daring to travel to new frontiers for the sake of mission. How are we breaking new ground today?

 

Prayer

Gracious God, may the heritage we have received from our foremothers be like water flowing from a source that seeps into every part of us, touching every part of our lives, giving us life. In turn, may we become life-givers to everyone we meet.

May we burn with zeal for the call of our charism. In the spirit of our founders may we be active in our preaching so as to feed the hungry, heal the sick, make peace and challenge racism.

May we remember the spirit and courage of Theresa Maxis and Catherine of Siena as we model their service, their identification with the poor, and their commitment to the mission of Jesus.

Let us treasure always the perseverance and great faith of Theresa Maxis and all women leaders of the church.

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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