In 2005 we agreed to dismantle racism within our own congregation and in the institutions we lead. Sometimes people who hear about this commitment are shocked by it. How can Catholic sisters be racist? Understanding that takes some background, which we provide here. Take a look around; we hope that you’ll begin to understand why we easily admit to our racism, and why we are passionate for and hopeful about the work we and our partners are doing to dismantle it—within ourselves, our institutions, and our nation.
“Racism is not the same thing as race prejudice,” says Sister Marcelline Koch, OP, co-chair of the Springfield Dominican Antiracism Team (SDART). “Racism is a combination of the abuse of institutional power and race prejudice, so that, even if someone has worked to rid herself of personal prejudice against people of certain ethnic groups, she is still caught in the web of racism, which is supported by institutional structures that are designed to privilege the group with social power and disenfranchise those without it.”
Institutional systems that keep racism in place in the United States are deeply rooted in United States history. Actively working to dismantle them is a life-long commitment rooted in Jesus’ teachings of inclusivity and right relationship. Learn how you can participate!
We knew from the moment we began the journey toward dismantling racism that we couldn’t proceed without the company of woman and men who are people of color. Our antiracist team consists of about twenty Springfield Dominican Sisters and about twenty partners who labor beside us in this sacred and difficult work. Any success we have we owe to their faithfulness and commitment. Watch this brief video to hear from some of our partners.
“The work undertaken by the Dominican Sisters and other groups could have a profound effect on Springfield and the state at large. Although the work is only beginning, the trust being created between African-American leaders and this city’s institutions is a welcome change that paves the way for meaningful reforms toward equality.
“Sometimes when I read the news or watch YouTube or Congress, I can feel hopeless or defeated,” she said. “But then I go to Springfield and see all the work happening in Illinois, I really feel like I’ve helped the world change a little bit today. Maybe I’ve helped save some lives and helped save someone’s dignity. It’s really gratifying.”
Executive director, Crossroads Antiracism Organizing
Excerpted from Rooting out systemic racism, Illinois Times, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015. Read the article.
Our local partner, Springfield Coalition on Distmantling Racism, offers regular training sessions to help churches, organizations, and municipalities learn about and work to heal racism. They are a regional partner with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing. Contact SCoDR to get involved in central Illinois or Crossroads to learn about how to dismantle racism wherever you are in the United States.
We the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, are called by God to live and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a church and world suffering from the sin of racism.
As an anti-racist institution we are accountable to people of color in mutual relationships based on respect, equality and Justice.
Together we examine and redefine all aspects of our life, mission and ministry to incorporate and witness anti-racism.
We commit, as a publicly identified anti-racist congregation, to work toward an inclusive and anti-racist church and world.
(This Vision Statement was developed by the original team members of SDART during their year of training, 2004-2005)
“The focus of this work is on systemic racism. We know about prejudice and prejudice which leads to discrimination is a fact of life. It's socialized into all of us. You can't be in the United States, you can't have grown up here without being racially prejudiced. And you just don't wake up one day and become prejudiced. It's part of what we've learned, and we don't even know how we learned it. It just comes through that socialization.
Now, prejudice about race becomes racism when there is a system that uses its power to support one group over another. So that's the definition we use. Racism is race prejudice, and it's really the misuse of power of systems and institutions.
So, when we say racism is systemic and institutional, I want to be clear that we're not blaming institutions. Institutions are not evil. Institutions do good things. They create, they manage, and they distribute resources. We couldn't get by without him in society. But the harmful part is the inequality inherent in doing this creating, managing, and distributing—and that's a whole other workshop that I would be happy to share more about—but for today, I just want you to know that this is one of the things that we are involved in and we see very much is respecting the dignity of all.”
- Sister Marcelline Koch,
Catholic Social Teaching, associate candidate session, November 5, 2017