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Catholic nuns and civil rights history in Selma

Podcast Recorded: September 10, 2021
Catholic nuns, voting rights, Rep. John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luther King

Sister Patricia Flass describes her religious community’s experiences in Selma with voting rights, Rep. John Lewis, and Dr. Martin Luther King. Hear the full In Good Faith episode IGF049 at aNunsLife.org.

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Show Notes

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About our Guest

Sister Patricia Flass, In Good Faith podcastSister Pat has ministered for over 20 years in small towns around Selma, Alabama, in some of the most impoverished areas of our nation. She offers perspectives about poverty, justice and hope.

Transcript (Click for More)+

Sister Maxine  
This podcast is brought to you by A Nun's Life Ministry. I'm Sister Maxine, and my guest is Sister Patricia Flass. Sister Pat is a familiar face in small towns around Selma, Alabama, where she has lived and worked for over 20 years in some of the most impoverished areas of our nation. She currently leads the new Rural Program, where she introduces other Catholic Sisters and associates to Selma area residents and opportunities for service.

Sister Pat, when you were at Catholic Social Ministries, working with the Edmundite Missions, your connection with them goes beyond you individually. Your congregation has a long connection with them and with the Selma area.

Sister Pat  
Yes, that's correct. We have been here working alongside the Edmundite Missions since 1941, when the first sisters came down.

Sister Maxine  
And since then, I think there have been over 100 of your sisters have been there?

Sister Pat  
Yes, over that 80-year span of time, many, many sisters have served either as nurses at the hospital, teachers at the school, or in social minister areas that have developed over the years.

Sister Maxine  
Your congregation, having been there since 1941--were your sisters at the Selma marches in 1965? Such a pivotal moment in history.

Sister Pat  
You know, this is an interesting point because the Archbishop of Mobile would not allow our sisters to march--any religious in the diocese, they were not allowed to march. So our sisters here in Selma were not allowed to march. Many religious came from other places around the country. The Diocese of St. Louis actually charted a plane to bring in religious from the Diocese of St. Louis. But our sisters worked at the hospital, took care of those marchers who were beaten on the bridge, and had housing for people who needed it, and medical services for those who needed it. And Representative John Lewis, when he was beaten, he was brought to the hospital and has always been a friend to our congregation ever since right up until his death. He always remembered the Sisters of St. Joseph from Rochester, who helped him at that point in his life when he almost was killed after having been beaten so badly on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Sister Maxine  
Do your sisters recall being scared at that time? What was the feeling in the congregation while that was occurring, since they could not be out there?

Sister Pat  
I don't think that they were actually afraid of what was happening. There was some violence around the voting when they finally were given the right to vote. The sisters were considered to be black, because they worked with the black people. And so there was discrimination and they had a difficult time getting registered to vote. They never received any physical violence addressed to them that I know of.

Sister Maxine  
Do you know if any of your sisters had the privilege to meet Dr. Martin Luther King?

Sister Pat  
Yes, he came to the hospital to thank the sisters for what they had done. And there's a wonderful picture of him that was a big billboard in town a couple of years ago and we were celebrating one of the anniversaries of Dr. Martin Luther King and one of our sisters with a newborn baby at the hospital. It was just a beautiful picture. And there are many sisters who do remember Dr. Martin Luther King at that point.

Sister Maxine  
To hear full episodes of A Nun's Life podcasts, visit the podcast page at anunslife.org/podcasts.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.

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