Identifying as a Child of God, and A Woman of Color

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By Sister Jackie Nedd

As I reflect on my experiences of being black, Catholic and a Sister of Mercy, several things come to my mind. Coming from Guyana, South America, I have always considered myself a Guyanese woman of mixed race or a cosmopolitan—that is, until I came to the United States and learned that women with my skin color/pigmentation are considered women of color.

I never dwelled on being black until I found myself in the U.S. and even more so in the community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. I started the journey of soul searching when I was invited to attend an Alliance of the Sisters of Mercy of Color gathering.

I came to realize that even though I am from South America, have a uniquely Caribbean cultural experience and identify as Guyanese, members of my community identify and treat me as a woman of color.

As a child, my awareness of my multiracial background led me to have many questions. Unlike some of my friends, I could not say I was Portuguese, Amerindian, White, Black, East Indian or Chinese. So, who am I? What do I call myself? It was later, as a young adult, that I embraced my ethnicity and nationality, realizing that I represented the six peoples of Guyana.

Like our Mercy foundress, Venerable Catherine McAuley, I learned from my family at an early age to recognize the needs of others and to serve the poor and needy. As Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” (Matthew 26:11). I feel that the greater poverty is the failure to recognize the image of God in the faces of people of color, thus limiting or failing to love them as one of God’s most precious creations.

I grew up in the Catholic tradition of my maternal great-grandmother, who was from Madeira, Portugal. Being Catholic is very much “a part of my DNA.” I am not only Catholic by birth, but by choice, as many of my aunts and cousins are practicing in other denominations. My Catholic faith has nurtured and sustains my spiritual journey and my relationships with God, family, friends, colleagues and the church itself.

Reminiscing on my childhood, I realize that like Catherine, my mother’s virtue is charity. A woman of faith, she always reminded her children that “charity begins at home,” suggesting that we needed to love ourselves and treat our brothers and sisters with loving kindness before we could truly love others. She frequently said, “Never put off for tomorrow what could be done today,” similar to Catherine’s saying that, “The poor need our help now not tomorrow.”

Sister Jackie and her mother Jenny in 2008 on a cruise to the Bahamas.
Sister Jackie and her mother Jenny in 2008 on a cruise to the Bahamas.

It is no coincidence that I was attracted to the charism of the Sisters of Mercy. I love being a sister because it gives me many opportunities to love and serve God’s people, my brothers and sisters. It is a blessing and an honor to do so at a time when we are working to address critical issues such as racism, the role of women in the church, gender inequality, care of the Earth and the increased violence affecting our world.

I became a Sister of Mercy in response to God’s call to “act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). Thus, I strive to live my life as a sister and friend to all. Yes, I am a woman of color; I am also a child of God, made in the image and likeness of God, and a sister to my Sisters in Mercy, Mercy Associates, Companions in Mercy and my fellow companions on this journey of life.

It is my hope, dream and prayer that as we continue on our Mercy Journey of Oneness, we will resolve to embrace each other as truly loving sisters regardless of our race, ethnicity, nationality or orientation.

My spirit resonates with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dreams and this quote: “The time is always right to do what is right.” I, too, have a dream of a just world where we are one, living in peace. It is my dream that one day my congregation will make amends to our Sisters of Mercy of color and ask forgiveness, learn from the past and embrace each woman of color as truly one. I also hope that we can be a beacon of hope in our church that witnesses to equality in our world.

Catherine was a humble woman with a deep love of God and her neighbors who used her gifts for God. The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas continue to follow in her footsteps. I stand on the shoulders of all of our sisters, of all colors and nationalities, as I strive to witness to the love of God made whole in our broken world.