In many cases, Williams said, black women were historically barred from white religious communities or were not fully included within the community. In other cases, the stories of black religious sisters in the United States were intentionally erased from official records.
Asked about how black religious sisters view their future, Williams said like their white counterparts, the numbers of African-American sisters in the United States has “dwindled.”
“But if you include African sisters in that number, the number of black sisters in the United States has increased,” Williams said. “Many of the sisters that are going into religious life in both white and black communities are from Africa.”
“What’s clear is, the future of black women in religious life in the United States and female religious life globally may very well be in the hands of where the Church is growing, experiencing exponential growth, and that is in terms of Africa.”
One successful Catholic community of black religious was the Oblates of the Sisters of Providence, the first Catholic U.S. community to accept formerly enslaved women, Williams said.
Another successful black Catholic community was the Sisters of the Holy Family, founded in New Orleans in 1842. They “faced profound resistance,” Williams said, as they were prohibited from wearing veils in public for several decades, and fought to keep their religious habits against the protests of fellow Catholic religious.
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“These are women who have deep roots in American Catholicism,” Williams said.