Voices of Change: Sr Theresa Perry

In honor of Black History Month, the SisterStory podcast producers have created a mini-series inspired by the voice of black sisters throughout history. The monologues presented in this series were derived from the interviews shared by author Dr. Shannen Dee Williams and of sisters who attended the first National Black Sisters Conference in 1970.

At 25‐years‐old, Sr Theresa was a doctoral student in theology at Yale University. Addressing themes such as the colonization of whole peoples within Christian theology was her focus. This monologue explores her connection to Catholicism, as a sister, and the potential links between black liberation and faith.

Transcript:
Rocky:
The National Black Sisters Conference (NBSC) was established in August 1968. NBSC was organized by Sister Martin de Porres Grey, R.S.M to confront racism in the Catholic Church and in society by supporting, communicating, and educating Black Catholic women religious. What began as a support system for Black women religious has turned into a national support and communication system for members of the Church, congregation, and surrounding society.

Pa Ying:
As an organization, the National Black Sisters Conference uses its platform to speak and act on social justice, educational, economical, and religious issues in the United States and the world. As a collective, NBSC promotes a positive image of the Black community, and serve to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the communities that they serve and live. As an organization, National Black Sisters Conference vows,

Maakwe:
“As women religious and associates, we draw strength and courage from God, support one another in the faith; and hold our elders in high esteem. We study, speak and act on issues that impact the social, educational, economic, and religious milieu of the United States and the world community. We promote a positive self-image among ourselves, and all African Peoples. We believe that through the power of the Spirit working in and through us we can be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the communities where we live and serve.”

Rocky:
This is SisterStory Presents! And, I am Rocky.

Pa Ying Vang:
And I am Pa Ying Vang.

Rocky:
In honor of Black History Month, we at NCSW will be doing a special limited series focusing on the untold stories of Black Catholic Sisters.

Pa Ying Vang:
The stories from this series were discovered with the help of a news article from Global Sisters Report that was highlighting the dissertation of Dr. Shannen Dee Williams. Dr. Williams’ dissertation documents the history of Black Catholic Sisters.

Rocky:
Through further reading of Dr. William’s dissertation and further research, we learned of the National Black Sisters Conference. And, as we read, we found wonderful interviews with and commentary from sisters who were part of the conference. Their words provided powerful insight into their experience as sisters and the importance of this conference.

Pa Ying Vang:
Inspired by their words, we set out to create a very unique kind of podcast project. We read about the sisters interviewed, and, from that, wrote monologues inspired by them.

Rocky:
As these are monologues, they are best heard as they would be performed. So, we recorded them as they were performed on a stage.

Pa Ying Vang:
And, unlike our other series, where Rocky and I are the main voices, we have invited other women to participate.

*break*stage curtain opens and footsteps start*

Rocky:
In her dissertation, Dr. Williams’ wrote, “...black sisters are the forgotten prophets of American Catholicism and democracy.” This is performance inspired by one of those sisters. Performing as Sr Theresa Perry, this is Kymberlyn Booker.

Kymberlyn Booker:
I’m 25 years old. I’m a doctoral student in theology at Yale. And, I am a Catholic sister. Doctoral student in theology and a Catholic sister. These titles seem to go together, and in many ways they do. But, not too long ago, just last semester, I began to wonder if they are really all that related. I even wondered if they went together at all.

As a sister, I’ve learned to discern. And, as a theologian, I’ve learned how to ask academic questions. Discernment is personal. I ask questions like, “Is this the right place for me?” Now, academic inquiry feels much larger. I ask questions like, “how does Christianity liberate people?” Well, my history lessons and my experience has taught me that Christianity has been the arm of oppression since early times, and that is the way blacks have experienced it. So, now, I discern again. “Is this the right place for me?” Now, I’ve been lucky, I think I fit in with my fellow sisters. We get along and we share the same ideals and we work in service to our people. But, I’ve heard from many others who say that this is not their experience. They feel alienated from their white community members. And, because their peers tell them that their blackness is wrong, they are even alienated from themselves. And, I remember what I have learned. Christianity has been the arm of oppression since early times.

So, is this the right place for me? And, my gut says, “yes.” In fact, for reasons I didn’t understand, it screamed it. Yes! I am a sister, and this is where I belong! So, I discern again and I ask myself why. Why do I so strongly feel like I belong here? Why do I feel at home in a place that history would tell me to flee from? Why am I happy here?

Well, I love my mission. I love my community. And, my community allows me to serve people. And, I have my faith. I believe in the Word of God. And, you know what, my sisterhood allows me to help people. It allows me to help free people. And, the Word of God? The Word of God can also be used as a force of liberation.

So, what did I learned from my inquiry? I learned that the Word of God is good, and it is liberating. And, being a sister should be too. So, be thoughtful and loving. Discern, and respond to revelations with actions. We cannot afford to see theology as simply an Intellectual exercise.

 

Research:

NYTimes Article: https://www.nytimes.com/1970/08/15/archives/finding-identity-black-nuns-...

Global Sisters Report: http://globalsistersreport.org/news/trends/forthcoming-book-documents-hi...

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About SisterStory Presents:

SisterStory Presents: is a collective podcast for work without a series for a home. One-offs, mini-series, short audio clips, and anything in-between; this podcast serves as a point of connection for SisterStory and the various audiences we serve.