This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.
Day 9: Mary Antona Ebo
By Tom Mulloy
I have this good friend, and my conversations with her frequently end up being the history lessons I never knew I needed. A while ago she was once again telling me all I didn’t know about something — this time Selma, Alabama — and she mentioned Sr. Mary Antona Ebo. Who? I found myself sheepishly admitting I had never heard of her.
Sr. Mary Antona is one of those people we should all know. Her life was a litany of firsts, foundings and determined leadership. She integrated her high school, was one of the first African Americans admitted to her order, became the first black female to run an American hospital, and co-founded the National Black Sisters’ Conference. She did most of this in the face of persistent, “unholy” discrimination. As I learn more about her, she has become a model for me for the Ignatian principle of responding to God’s call to be an active participant in his work.
She was perhaps at her most courageous, however, as the only black Catholic nun to march with Martin Luther King Jr. After witnessing the racist violence of Bloody Sundy, Sister Mary Antona expressed ambivalence about joining the march. God called her bluff, she said, when she was urged to join a group of nuns heading down to Selma from St. Louis in solidarity.
Of the episode, she later said, “I didn’t want to be a martyr. But it was either put up or shut up.” This quote weighs on me. It shines a light on the paralysis that I sometimes feel about racial justice work. I like to think that I have done and continue to do good racial justice work. But Sr. Mary Antona not only fought for racial justice in our country (and in our Church), she also consistently chose to take real risks. As a white man, I literally cannot fathom those decisions, but I — all of us — nonetheless am called to “put up” when situations arise requiring real risk or sacrifice. Will I? I’m praying this Advent that I will have the courage and conviction to stand with the Sr. Mary Antona Ebo’s of today in the struggle for a more just and equitable world.
Reflection: Do I hear God’s call to respond to racial injustice in my life? What do I need to summon the courage and conviction to walk with all our brothers and sisters?
Thomas Mulloy is the director of Government Relations for the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology. Previously, Tom was the director of Poverty Programs for the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and he worked for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a domestic economic, labor, housing, and social welfare policy advisor. Tom resides in Philadelphia with his family.