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Looking racism in the eye: there is still much to do

Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara

I believe that racism is one of the greatest evils of our time. Allow me to reflect on a few examples of racism I experienced in the Louisville, Kentucky, area while growing up.

Once I was not seated in a local restaurant because I was with a black friend of mine. I worked in a hospital with signs reading “colored,” segregating bathrooms and dining rooms. One of the aides in the hospital wanted to become a nurse and was not accepted because of her ethnicity. She later achieved a master’s degree in nursing from the Sisters of Charity School in Louisville.

My home town was a small city that did not permit African-Americans within the city limits after dark. The deed to our house did not allow us to sell our house to anyone of African-American descent.

Fighting back

In 1987 Sisters of Providence and guests
lead an anti-racism think tank at Saint
Mary-of-the-Woods. The Providence
community has a long history of working
to combat racism.

I also had some encounters with racism since entering the Sisters of Providence Congregation.

In 1996, the Sisters of Providence sued a landlord in Chicago for housing discrimination. Two white Sisters of Providence had lived in an apartment on the northwest side of Chicago for three years. One sister transferred ministry and moved out. Another sister, who happened to be African-American, moved in. Within a week the management told the sisters they needed to move, saying a relative needed the apartment. When they left, the apartment was put back on the market and an unrelated white woman moved in.

The Congregation won the lawsuit and used the $40,000 we received from it to educate against racism. We trained an anti-racism team which helped develop programs for racism awareness within our community, our staff members, schools and even the local police department.

History and future

The Sisters of Providence have a long history of working to overcome our own racism and of ministering to diverse communities. Over the years, the Sisters of Providence have ministered in African-American communities in Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina (where the local bishop later asked us to leave the area due to our not wearing the habit.)

As we move into the next five years, we acknowledge that there is still much to do in ourselves and in our world. We look forward to bringing anti-racism efforts to the forefront in our justice activities.

Originally published in the winter 2022 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Sister Ann Margaret O'Hara

Sister Ann Margaret has been a Sister of Providence for 64 years. She has ministered in education and administration, including serving in elected leadership as General Superior of the Sisters of Providence. Today she lives in Providence Hall at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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