Gratitude and Justice: Remember Sister Mary Antona Ebo
This past Monday, the church lost one of its remarkable leaders, Sister Mary Antona Ebo, one of the first African American nuns in the U.S. who is often best known for as one of the Sisters in Selma that marched for civil rights. In today’s gospel, we see a different side of Jesus, we see Jesus as an activist as he drives out the merchants who were selling goods in the temple. As I reflect on today’s gospel and wonder how we are called to be activists in our word, I think that Sister Mary Ebo’s life teaches us how to be critical lovers of our institutions and how to live a life of social justice in a peaceful, loving spirit.
Sister Mary Ebo’s was born in 1924 in Bloomington, Illinois. Her mother died suddenly when she was only four and during the height of the depression, her father lost his job and their home so she was sent to live in the McClean County Home for Colored Children. There she met a young boy who introduced her to Catholicism and she converted in 1942. She joined the Sisters of St. Mary (now known as the Franciscan Sisters of Mary) in 1946 and spent her life working in health care and advocating for social justice issues. She was the first African American woman to administer a hospital in the U.S, and went on to run hospital administration in three different states, earned two masters degree, and was awarded six honorary doctorates.
When Sister Mary Ebo was asked by her superior to join other religious leaders for the march in Selma, she agreed, despite the very real threat to her life. When she arrived, she was thrust to the front of the march and in an interview said, “I am here because I am a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness.”
Sister Ebo’s advocacy did not stop at Selma. Throughout her life she continued to advocate for social justice issues, particularly to end the injustice of racism, and even at age 90 she led a prayer vigil for peace after the events in Ferguson. In an interview with the Missouri History Museum she said, “The one thing that I didn’t want to do was to become a sweet little old nun that was passing out holy cards and telling people, ‘I’ll pray for you.’”
Sister Ebo reminds us that we are all called to take a stance against injustice. Her favorite scripture text comes from Isaiah 55, “come, listen, live, and witness.” Those words she reminds us are our universal call to come together, to get to know one another, to listen to one another, and in unity, then bring forth new life, a new kingdom, a new dream for our world.
So today, let’s remember the beautiful witness of Sister Mary Antona Ebo, and take the courage to stand up for social justice, particularly to stand against racism, by listening to our neighbors, bearing witness, and coming together for a more just world.