Today, March 8 is International Women’s Day which celebrates women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements while marking a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
This year’s theme focuses on women in the context of climate change: “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow; #BreakTheBias. Doing a quick Google Search one can immediately see that the majority of the women featured in articles and advertisements are women of color. But surprisingly, powerful women like Condoleezza Rice, currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business are nowhere to be seen. Neither is Michelle Obama or Hilary Clinton. Worse, yet, the wife of Ukraine’s President Zelensky, who has made an emotional plea to international media to report the terrible truth of Russian forces killing children in their attack on Ukraine is not even mentioned.
I would expect that with such theme, for sure Sister Theresa Chato, a Navajo woman and member of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament who serves at Our Lady of Fatima, a church built in the traditional Navajo hogan style in the heart of the reservation in Chinle, Arizona, where parishioners gather to celebrate their Catholic faith grounded in the context of their Navajo culture and traditions, would be feature front and center, right? Sister Chato is the director of religious education, ministers to families and elders in the community, upholds parish life, volunteers at the parish food bank and attends to her parishioners in their spiritual and personal needs. The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation in the United States covering northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico, as well as parts of Utah. The boundaries of the Diocese of Gallup mirror this multi-state territory.
Catholic Extension writes that Sister Chato’s leadership position within the parish aligns with the traditional matriarchal Navajo society, wherein women are the guiders of the people among the more than 100 different clans “Navajo clans are matrilineal. So, our mother’s clan is the most important one,” said Sister Chato. “Our clans tell other Navajos how we are related to one another. We are not just individual persons with our own identity.” If this does not #BreakTheBias, what does?
What about Mother Henriette Delille, a French-speaking woman of African descent, who was born in 1812 and lived a part of her life as a mistress in a social system known as placage, whereby wealthy white European men supported free women of color and who may become the first American of African descent to become a saint. At the age of 24, Mother Delille experienced a religious transformation that led to the formation of the Sisters of the Holy Family order. The community of Creole nuns cared for those on the bottom rung of antebellum society, administering to the elderly, nursing the sick and teaching people of color, who at the time had limited education opportunities. To this day, Holy Family nuns continue good works around the globe.
What about Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton? Saint Seton was born into a wealthy Episcopalian family in New York City on August 28, 1774. Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley, was a doctor and one of the first health officials in New York City. Saint Seton was the first American to be canonized as a saint. She was raised Episcopalian, but later converted to Catholicism. Through the struggles and tragedies she faced in life, she remained devout. She is the founder of the first Catholic schools in the United States and is the patron saint of Catholic schools, widows, and seafarers.
Or what about the Jesuit and Franciscan Sisters who in In 1888 started work on what would become the Red Cloud Indian School at the request of, and on a site designated by, Chief Red Cloud. Using primarily their own labor and that of local Indians, they began construction of the main mission building. All of the bricks for the building were made on the mission ground from local clay and lime. Not only did Holy Rosary meet spiritual needs, it also provided an education to Indians through its school. The following decades brought many challenges to the new school, namely poverty and disease. But it also brought growth and hope: Students came to the school from as far away as Wyoming and New Mexico, and the land began to produce enough food to feed the growing number of students and staff. A Catholic-Indian conference was held each year, drawing a large number of clergy and religious as well as Native American laypeople. Records from the Franciscan Sisters note that Masses held at the beginning of each conference featured singing in both Latin and Lakota—a telling sign of the cooperation and partnership between the Lakota and the Jesuits.
Certainly Mother Katharine Drexel would qualify. Katharine Drexel, heiress to a multi-million dollar estate, entered the convent and decided to give her life to the service of her Native and African-American brethren. while on a trip with her family out West, Katharine witnessed firsthand the terrible condition of the Native people. She also took note of the hardships endured by African-Americans, who struggled to find work, education, and fair treatment. She and her sisters dove wholeheartedly into supporting the missions that served these populations. In 1891, she took her first religious vows, and with some other sisters founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Katharine took a fourth one: “To be the mother and servant of the Indian and Negro races.” During her life, Mother Katharine founded dozens of missions and schools for black and Native Americans in sixteen states. Among them is Xavier University in New Orleans, the only historically-black Catholic college in the country.
In a LinkedIn post, Cindy Gallop suggests that women on International Women’s Day and every other day should not use words like empower or celebrate, instead use words like hire, promote, pay, bonus, fund, invest and so on. Certainly the women featured herein have a different view: More like how can I help, what do you need?
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