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A bit of anti-racism history

Sister Alma Louise Mescher teaches children in Georgia in the summer of 1965 through the Freedom Schools suported by SCOPE (Summer Community Orgazination and Political Education), founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo credit: Library of Congress/LOOK Magazine)

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods have a long history against racism and issues of discrimination.

The Congregation’s foundress, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, was concerned about the welfare and freedom of a group of slaves she saw in Louisiana in 1843, and she was interested in learning more about Native Americans upon her arrival here from France three years earlier.

In 1868, African Americans were banned from schools in Jeffersonville, Ind. Sisters of Providence provided classes for them after Liturgy on Sundays. In 1937, African American students were accepted at St. John Academy in Indianapolis for the first time. The Congregation also helped open St. Bridget School and St. Rita School, both schools in Indianapolis neighborhoods highly populated by African Americans.

During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Sisters of Providence helped educate African Americans, provide health care for the economically disadvantaged and assisted minorities with voter registration.

Today, they continue with educational programs in disadvantaged regions in the South and in Mexico.

The Congregation also has personal experience with discrimination. In the mid-1990s, sisters were denied access to housing in Chicago because one sister happened to be African American. Legal action was pursued successfully.

After winning the lawsuit, the Congregation’s leadership promised to use the financial settlement for educating members of the Congregation and others against racism.

Extensive training began in 1997 for Sisters of Providence, their staff members, and friends who were interested in addressing the issues brought forth by acts of discrimination.

By mid-2001, the Sisters of Providence Anti-Racism Team had been organized, and had created a 20-year vision, five-year goals and two-year objectives. Team members offered workshops in the Chicago, Indianapolis and Terre Haute areas.

Since then, the Anti-Racism Team has provided numerous training programs for members of the Congregation, the Congregation’s staff and several civic organizations, including high school counselors and law-enforcement agencies.

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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  1. Avatar Meghan Groeger DeVito '70 on June 2, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    Sister Alma Louise was my biology professor and advisor freshman year at the Woods. She always was inspiring and I so enjoyed her class . She gave great advice as wel.

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