The following continues our series of reflections on our Parish Statement on Racism:
“We are inspired by the perseverance and courage of St. Louis Catholics like Sister Mary Antona Ebo in confronting this sin. Sister Ebo affirmed her identity as “a Negro, a nun, a Catholic” when she declared her support for African Americans’ right to vote, and marched in Selma, arm-in-arm with other Catholics, to secure that right. We heed the call to action she made during the Ferguson uprising when she proclaimed, ‘You want to really, actually learn about peace? Get busy doing something for justice.’” (from St. Margaret of Scotland Parish Statement on Racism)
My first thought, on being asked to heed Sister Antona’s call to do “something for justice,” is: “How?” How do I, caught up in the frenetic pace of life and mired in responsibility, find the time to speak up and speak out? How do I, as one individual in the midst of a polarized society, risk the rebuke—of family, friends, and colleagues—to take a stand for justice? How do I, as I struggle to gain an understanding of the issues that confront us, summon the courage to act?
It’s comforting to know that Sister Antona Ebo was not always SISTER ANTONA EBO. She was Elizabeth Louise Ebo, whose friends called her Betty—a poor, black, motherless child from
Bloomington, Illinois. A child with bleak prospects who, with the aid of a few caring adults and by the grace of God, grew to womanhood managing to cling to a few dreams. A dream to finish school, to become Catholic, to serve others, to realize a religious vocation. Apprehension was her companion on each fraught step of that journey and, at each juncture, racism and rejection awaited.
She heeded a call, going to Selma despite her fear. She knew the danger—Bloody Sunday had just happened. She spoke at Brown Chapel, asking the Holy Spirit to give her the words. Then, as police threatened nearby, she spoke to the world. In Ferguson, an older woman—fragile from illness—Sister Antona’s spirit for justice remained strong.
So how can I respond to Sister Antona’s call for action? I can recognize that she was just like each of us, that she was one of us. I can emulate her faith in God and in others. I can—though fear, uncertainty, and worry accompany me—take steps toward justice in my own small sphere. I can ask the Holy Spirit to give me the words.
Winnie Sullivan co-chairs the Antiracism Team and serves on the Pastoral Council at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church.
Over the course of nine weeks, the SMOS Living Justice Ministry – Racial Equity Team will present reflections from various parishioners on the Parish Statement on Racism. To read more about the Statement, please go to the front page of the Parish website at stmargaretstl.org.