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Pearl Ceasar | Catholic Nuns Today

Sisters of Divine Providence

I grew up in Louisiana in the 50’s and was the grandchild of immigrants. Divisions in our society had always disturbed me. I attended Catholic schools and was taught by the Sisters of Divine Providence. They became my role models. I saw them as teachers, principals, people who cared about others regardless of their ethnic or economic backgrounds, women who made a difference. I wanted to be like them and dedicate my life to God. After entering the congregation, I thought my life was set. I would teach. What I did not understand is that life is not that simple.

Filling the gap: I was sent by the congregation to teach in an African-American public school in rural Louisiana. I had 22 students. I had already taught in a white upper middle class school where first grade students came to school reading. In Louisiana, I had 11 year olds in 2nd grade that could not read. I realized at that time how unfair the whole system was and searched for a ministry where the Church and other institutions would address what was happening to families in our country.

I found that ministry when I began organizing in San Antonio with Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS). COPS is part of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a leadership development institute, that engages citizens in public life based on their Judeo-Christian and democratic values. For over 25 years I have organized in Texas with IAF organizations. Through this work, hundreds of thousands of families now have clean water and adequate sewers, tens of thousands of adults have been trained and have family wage jobs, hundreds of schools have changed their culture, thousands of immigrants have become citizens and, most importantly, thousands of leaders through their parishes are engaged in the public life of their communities. These leaders have defied the way that our culture defined them. They have become participants, not clients; citizens, not consumers; actors, not victims. Through organizing with the IAF, I have been able to live out the commitment of my religious congregation. I have found the vehicle to live the way that Jesus taught us.