Tag: black Catholics

Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, An Order of African-American Nuns in Harlem, Celebrates 100 Years of Service

Nuns in Harlem (Image: Regina Fleming)

article by Janell Hazelwood via blackenterprise.com

An order of black nuns in Harlem—one of only three original orders of its kind in the United States—is celebrating its centennial this year. It will commemorate its legacy with a gala and benefit on March 29 in New York City.

The Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary (FHM) will celebrate a century of serving the needs of the community at the New York Academy of Medicine in Manhattan, honoring its history and its unsung heroes, the co-founders of the FHM community.

Founded in 1916 in Savannah, Georgia, by the Rev. Ignatius Lissner, the early beginnings of the order were sparked from a social justice mission. It was created in the wake of proposed legislation that would prohibit white religious leaders from educating and providing pastoral care to black people in the state.

Father Lissner, aided by Barbara Williams (who would later become Mother Mary Theodore Williams, FHM), a black woman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, organized a congregation of black women to educate children of color and provide pastoral care to the black community.

In 1923, the order moved to Harlem at the request of Cardinal Patrick Hayes, where they launched one of the first pre-school educational programs in the United States. They’d later establish three schools, which count Harlem’s who’s who among its past students including Congressman Charles B. Rangel and Kevin Lofton, president of the Catholic Health Association of America.

Today, St. Benedict Day Nursery is carrying on the legacy of the order’s educational and ministerial services.

Mother Mary Theodore and Fr. Ignatius Lissner, SMA (FHM)

“We joyously take a moment to reflect on our 100 years of providing vital assistance to the community, but amid a renewed calling to revitalize our purpose and expand our mission of service for the next 100 years,” said Sister Gertrude Lilly Ihenacho, who heads up the majority black order, in a statement.

In their “100 Days of Kindness” campaign, launched last month and running until April 14, the nuns are advocating for citizens to perform a random act of kindness daily—big or small, embodying “the spirit of Ephesians 4:32, ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’ ”

To read more, go to: http://www.blackenterprise.com/lifestyle/black-history-month-order-of-african-american-nuns-celebrates-100-years-of-service/

FEATURE: How HBCU Xavier University Sends More Black Students to Medical School Than Any Other U.S. College

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Students at Xavier University of Louisiana in a pre-med class. (BRIAN FINKE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Norman Francis was just a few years into his tenure as president of Xavier University of Louisiana, a small Catholic institution in New Orleans, when a report that came across his desk alarmed him. It was an accounting of the nation’s medical students, and it found that the already tiny number of black students attending medical school was dropping.

It was the 1970s, at the tail end of the civil rights movement. Francis, a black man in his early 40s, had spent most of his life under the suffocating apartheid of the Jim Crow South. But after decades of hard-fought battles and the passage of three major civil rights laws, doors were supposed to be opening, not closing. Francis, the son of a hotel bellhop, had stepped through one of those doors himself when he became the first black student to be admitted to Loyola University’s law school in 1952.

Francis believed he was in a unique position to address the dearth of black doctors. Xavier served a nearly all-black student body of just over 1,300. At the time, most of Xavier’s science department was housed in an old surplus Army building donated to the college by the military after World War II. It had no air-conditioning, and the heater was so loud in the winter that instructors had to switch it off to be heard. But the science program had always been strong, if underfunded, and began producing its first medical-­school students not long after the university was founded in 1925.

Today, Xavier’s campus is mostly wedged between a canal and the Pontchartrain Expressway in Gert Town, a neighborhood in the western part of New Orleans. It has some 3,000 students and consistently produces more black students who apply to and then graduate from medical school than any other institution in the country. More than big state schools like Michigan or Florida. More than elite Ivies like Harvard and Yale. Xavier is also first in the nation in graduating black students with bachelor’s degrees in biology and physics. It is among the top four institutions graduating black pharmacists. It is third in the nation in black graduates who go on to earn doctorates in science and engineering.

Xavier has accomplished this without expansive, high-tech facilities — its entire science program is housed in a single complex. It has accomplished this while charging tuition that, at $19,800 a year, is considerably less than that of many private colleges and flagship public universities. It has accomplished this without filling its classrooms with the nation’s elite black students. Most of Xavier’s students are the first in their families to attend college, and more than half come from lower-­income homes.

‘‘The question always comes: ‘Well, how did this happen, and why are we No.1?’ ’’ said Francis, who recently retired from Xavier after 47 years as president. We were sitting in the dining room of his stately home in the Lake Terrace neighborhood on a sweltering day in August as he thought about the answer. ‘‘We decided we could do something about it. And what we did, what our faculty did, was just plain common sense.’’

Xavier University exists within a constellation of more than 100 schools federally designated as historically black colleges and universities. To achieve this designation, colleges must have opened before 1964 — the year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which banned racial discrimination in all public facilities and institutions — and must have been founded with the express purpose of educating black Americans, though students of any race can, and do, attend them. Continue reading “FEATURE: How HBCU Xavier University Sends More Black Students to Medical School Than Any Other U.S. College”