Sisters of St. Joseph: History-making fight for civil rights

On February 29, Sister Rosemary Flanigan, CSJ, and Sister Barbara Moore, CSJ, presented “Sisters of Selma: The March to Dismantle Racism Continues” at St. Teresa’s Academy. Nearly 200 guests attended this “Linger Over Breakfast” event, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The sisters shared their experiences during the historic 1965 Selma marches, their continued focus on social justice efforts, and how to make a difference today in the continued march to dismantle racism.

In 1965, Sister Rosemary and Sister Barbara boarded planes as part of interfaith delegations traveling to Selma, AL. Their trips were undertaken in response to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s request for ministers of all faiths to come to Selma in support of the injustices that were taking place. Marches from Selma to Montgomery were organized by nonviolent activists to demonstrate the desire of African-American citizens’ right to register to vote.

When each delegation arrived in Selma, they gathered to pray, sing, and discuss their plans. But when they stepped outside to begin their march, their path was obstructed by lines of police officers. The officers told them they would not be allowed to march. Prior to the sisters' trips, state troopers and county possemen attacked unarmed marchers with billy clubs and tear gas, becoming an event known as Bloody Sunday.

At the time, television was a relatively new media, and national reporters and cameras were all over the scene. The cameras were drawn to the nuns, dressed in their traditional long, black habits. It was an unusual sight to see nuns involved in what many would say was a political cause, but the sisters were motivated to take action against injustice and basic human rights. The photo of the sisters was on the front page of every newspaper in the country the next day.

Sister Rosemary said she has never felt such solidarity during her day in Selma, and she was so sure that “racism was on its way out!” She exclaimed, “Can you believe that was 55 years ago? We have come so far, but we still have so far to go!” Sister Barbara stated, “It was one of the most impactful experiences of my life, when I think of all the implications. Afterward, I realized I could have come back in a box.”

The sisters challenged Linger Over Breakfast attendees to keep fighting for civil rights for people of all colors, races, religions, genders, and orientations. They invite others to honor the CSJ charism to “love the dear neighbor without distinction,” a calling they hold very dear.