NEWS

The first African American Roman Catholic sisterhood: Mount talk chronicles growth of Oblate Sisters during the Civil War

October 10, 2017
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -

Diane Batts Morrow, associate professor of history and African American studies at The University of Georgia, presented “The Civil War Experiences of the Oblate Sisters of Providence” on Thursday, October 5 at Mount Saint Mary College.

Diane Batts Morrow, associate professor of history and African American studies at The University of Georgia, presented “The Civil War Experiences of the Oblate Sisters of Providence” on Thursday, October 5 at Mount Saint Mary College.

 

They were the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first African American Roman Catholic sisterhood, and their ingenuity and devotion to God carried them through the Civil War, explained Diane Batts Morrow, associate professor of history and African American studies at The University of Georgia.

Marrow kicked off this season’s Catholic and Dominican Institute speaker series at Mount Saint Mary College with “The Civil War Experiences of the Oblate Sisters of Providence” on Thursday, October 5. 

Morrow’s first book – Persons of Color and Religious at the Same Time: The Oblate Sisters of Providence, 1828-1860 – chronicles the origins of this unique sisterhood, which was organized in Baltimore, Md. in 1828. The book won the 2002 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize from the Association of Black Women Historians. 

Based on the second volume which she is currently writing, Marrow’s talk continued the story of the Oblate Sisters of Providence through the critical interval between 1860 and 1877, encompassing the Civil War and Reconstruction periods in American history. 

“As did all communities of women religious, the Oblate sisterhood followed the abstemious lifestyle which their commitment to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience prescribed,” explained Morrow. “However, the burden of the systemic racism pervading the slaveholding society of Baltimore compounded the difficulties this black sisterhood had confronted…the sisters continued to defy such social derogation by defining themselves as women of virtue who exercised agency in service to others.”

The Civil War created new obstacles in Oblate life, ranging from the disruption of lines of communication to the imposition of martial law.

“Nevertheless, the sisters responded to these difficulties with characteristic Oblate resourcefulness,” Morrow explained. “Not only did the Oblate Sisters of Providence survive the Civil War as a viable and functioning community of black women religious educators, but during the Reconstruction era, they expanded the services they offered to their people as they encountered the realities of freedom in postwar American society.”

Morrow graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore College with a bachelor’s degree in history, earned her master’s in social science education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and her PhD in history from the University of Georgia.

The talk was sponsored by the Mount’s Catholic and Dominican Institute (CDI). CDI promotes the Mount’s heritage of St. Dominic, advances the Dominican charism of study and service, provides a forum for discussion of contemporary ethical issues, and enhances Catholic and Jewish dialogue. The Institute welcomes persons of varied faiths and acknowledges different religious traditions as essential to the college’s intellectual and spiritual life.