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National Black Sisters' Conference receives NETWORK Lobby's 'Distinguished Justice-Seeker Award'

The association representing the nation's African-American women religious has received an award for its more than 50 years of service in the realm of social justice.

Sr Josita Colbert, SNDdeN, president of the National Black Sisters' Conference, delivers remarks at the NETWORK 50th-anniversary gala on Friday night in Washington, DC. (NETWORK Lobby)

WASHINGTON — On Friday, April 22nd, the National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC) received the inaugural Distinguished Justice-Seeker Award from NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, a DC outfit founded by Catholic women religious in 1972.

The honor was part of NETWORK’s 50th-anniversary “Justice Ablaze” gala, held at the Hyatt Regency Washington and hosted by a committee featuring Fr Bryan Massingale of Fordham University and Sr Helen Prejean, CSJ. The organization also hosted a three-day advocacy training as part of the week’s festivities.

NETWORK was the first Catholic lobbying organization founded in the United States, and awarded the NBSC for its “dedicated and persistent witness for racial justice in the Catholic Church and society”, according to a press release.

The NBSC was founded in 1968 by Dr. Patricia Grey (then known as Sr M. Martin de Porres, RSM), following her presence the same year as the only woman at the founding gathering of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus. The NBSC has since grown to include more than 150 Black women religious and associates, and is regularly engaged in social justice work and Black uplift.

Its highlights over the past year have included multiple public statements on voting rights, an open letter responding to anti-Black messaging from USCCB president Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, and a note of support for President Joe Biden’s decision to nominate an African American woman to the US Supreme Court.

The NBSC’s larger history of fostering community among Black women religious, supporting Black inculturation, and fighting for Black Catholic schools and similar institutions, has played a major role in shaping the landscape of the US Catholic Church and its witness for social justice.

“The National Black Sisters’ Conference’s faith-filled and prophetic voice for justice is both an inspiration and a consolation to the NETWORK community as we look to the work ahead,” said Joan F. Neal, NETWORK’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Equity Officer.

“Our country desperately needs credible and committed Catholic voices on racial justice and defense of democracy.”

Sr Josita Colbert, SNDdeN, a founding member of the NBSC who now serves as its president, received the award on behalf of the organization.

Also presented at the gala was the Social Poet Award, which went to a number of young activists and evokes a phrase coined by Pope Francis in October.

One recipient, Taylor McGee, is a Black Catholic and serves as a campus ministry leader at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, where she majors in Religious and Theological Studies.

“I’ve been so blessed to have a great community given to me and understanding the similarities and differences within that community,” McGee said in a NETWORK interview published in their 50th-anniversary booklet.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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