by Carol Frances Jegen, BVM
BVM Center News, November 2002
Growing up in the city of Chicago meant developing a gradual awareness of racism. I will always be grateful to my dear mother who saw to it that I had a black baby doll along with a white doll in my little doll buggy.”
However, I had no black playmates, nor were there any black children in our parish grade school. When I attended Immaculata High School in the early 1940s there were no black students there. But I did make friends with some black students from St. Elizabeth’s High School, at that time the only Catholic high school in Chicago where black students were welcome. We had met at the Chicago Inter Student Catholic Action (CISCA) meetings of Sodalists from the archdiocesan high schools, colleges, and universities.
Through CISCA, some of us from Immaculata started a movement to integrate our Catholic schools. In the process, we met with considerable opposition at first. Then I began to realize how racism was tragically entrenched in our American culture. I learned that undoing the racism would involve a long struggle with much suffering.
In the past two years through our Wright Hall (BVM resident home in Chicago) project of writing to prisoners on death row, I continue to agonize more and more over the ravages of racism in our country.
The racist experiences of my two black prison friends have deepened my conviction of the tremendous responsibilities we have to be involved in the struggle against racism.
I continue to thank God for every effort we have made to educate our black sisters and brothers. I continue to thank God for all our sisters in prison ministry who are striving to undo racism there. (Seventy percent of U.S. prisoners are black.)
I continue to hope and pray we will find more and more ways to counteract and undo racism in all its forms, always in the spirit of Mary Frances Clarke, who prays for us to be “insensible to the contempt and injuries” we will undoubtedly face in this ministry.