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A historical snapshot of the SP human rights efforts

16-11 Sisters in South for web

Sisters Alma Louise and Mary Jean set out to register voters in Albany, Ga., during the civil rights movement.

The Sisters of Providence join people around the world in celebrating Martin Luther King Day on Monday. Through various ministries and outreach programs, the sisters support human rights, anti-racism and other social concerns. If you have a chance, visit our Peace & Justice section for additional information on ongoing efforts.

Whether it was Saint Mother Theodore Guerin who, returning from a trip overseas in 1843, traveled through Louisiana and wrote about the horrific treatment of slaves, or the SPs who currently serve at 8th Day Center for Justice, helping to change injustice at the systemic level, the sisters work for a better tomorrow.

In the newly published Sisters of Providence History Volume IV: 1926-1966 entitled “New Lights from Old Truths,” written by Sister Maureen Abbott, we learn how the SPs took an activist role in the south.

The struggle for civil rights during the 1960s ignited during the summer of 1964 with riots in larger cities. In 1965, Sister Marie Perpetua, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College president, received a letter from civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., asking colleges for their help in recruiting faculty and students to assist that summer with his education program SCOPE (Summer Community Organization and Political Education).

The council gave the College permission to participate and two sisters on the faculty volunteered: Sister Mary Jean Mark and Sister Alma Louise Mescher. The two sisters recruited three student volunteers from SMWC and three from ISU and then solicited donations to support the combined Terre Haute delegation. The delegation received a week of preliminary training at King’s headquarters and then went to work in Georgia.

Sister Alma Louise said of her time in Albany, Ga., “As soon as school was over, we’d go around to the houses and collect people to go and get registered to vote. Our students would take them to the polls because otherwise they would have been intimidated. And at night, we taught people to read.” Read more in the new history book, beginning on page 531.

Catholic colleges were represented but the two SPs were the only nuns who participated, gaining national attention with a five-page spread in Look magazine.

You can order this book online from our Gift Shop or stop by in person.

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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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