Local nuns continue to work towards racial justice
They brave the heat in wheelchairs and walkers, and hold signs visible to passing cars that read, “Racial Justice Now”, “Black Lives Matter,” or “End Gun Violence.”
The city of Kalamazoo has seen numerous protests and demonstrations for racial justice since George Floyd’s death. Nearly every weekend, community members flood the streets and march to support the cause. However, not all advocates for Black Lives Matter are able to march in the hot sun for equal rights; they find other ways to join the cause.
Every Friday starting soon after Floyd’s death, a group of nuns from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph have been gathering outside the congregation's retirement center on Nazareth Road to witness for racial justice. They brave the heat in wheelchairs and walkers, and hold signs visible to passing cars that read, “Racial Justice Now”, “Black Lives Matter,” or “End Gun Violence.”
“It is one thing to be outside with a sign,” said Sister Mary Ellen Gondeck, of the Congregation of St. Joseph, “but it’s equally efficacious to be in prayer.”
In addition to the center on Nazareth Road, the Sisters also gather to hold witnesses for racial justice at the end of the long driveway of the original Nazareth Campus on Gull Road.
Around 65 sisters reside at the retirement center, with the median age of about 92. These sisters are Black Lives Matter supporters, even though they may not be how most people envision a BLM advocate. You won’t see these retired sisters marching in protests, but Gondeck says they essentially hold the same role as the youth in this movement.
“Even for an 82-year-old sister in a wheelchair, that's her calling to be about this kind of work,” Gondeck said. “She can’t do what a 35-year-old sister is doing, but it’s the same motivation, the same commitment.”
The sister’s commitment to social justice doesn’t stop at Black Lives Matter. Since their founding in France in 1650, the Sisters of St. Joseph have committed themselves to serving the needs of the people around them, whom they call the “dear neighbor”. In addition to racial justice efforts, the sisters are also involved in justice work related to immigration reform, human trafficking, the death penalty, and the care of Earth and the environment. The sisters can also be found in numerous settings internationally; from soup kitchens and prisons, to the U.S./Mexican border and the United Nations.
“Over the past 10 to 20 years, I am surprised that people don’t understand that (social justice) is part of what we do, because we have been doing it our whole lives,” Gondeck said.
People may not automatically connect the church with social justice issues, but Gondeck says that every religious organization has a responsibility to be part of these movements.
“If religious movements say that they believe in Jesus Christ and the gospel, then this is what they are called to do. It is their responsibility,” Gondeck said.
Whether you are marching down the street and shouting the names of those we have lost, donating money to worthy causes, or holding a vigil for peace and equality, every action is contributing to the end goal of justice. Gondeck says that she is grateful for all of her fellow social justice activists who are contributing to change all throughout the globe.
“We all need to be doing what we are doing in order to bring about the change that needs to be made in our world,” Gondeck said.
The Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph continue to sit witness at the end of their driveway every Friday to fight for racial justice. When asked how long this would continue, Gondeck replied: “until black lives matter.”