Four members of the Sisters of the Holy Family will profess vows in New Orleans today, including a young African-American becoming a full member of the 185-year-old order of Black nuns.
Sr Marie Elizabeth Jerry, an American convert to the faith who entered full communion with the Church in 2011, is among those professing final vows.
“She is such a gentle soul and possesses a great zeal for serving Christ and His Church,” reads an announcement on Sunday, August 14th from St Peter Catholic Church in Covington, Louisiana, where Jerry was confirmed.
“We thank God for Sr. Marie Elizabeth’s faithfulness and generosity in responding to God’s call.”
Jerry, in a 2015 interview with the Archdiocese of New Orleans, notes that she first felt the call to religious life shortly after she became Catholic. She entered the Holy Family Sisters in 2015—after which she met fellow novices from around the country at a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Washington, DC.
She was most recently listed by the Sisters as serving at the St. John Berchmans Early Childhood Development Center in the New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood.
Jerry is one of the few African-American women in formation for religious life in the United States, and is unique among those in formation with the Sisters of the Holy Family—who like other historically Black orders have largely turned to Africa and the Caribbean for vocations.
Her classmate Sr Alma Marie Orji, who hails from Nigeria, will also make perpetual vows at today’s liturgy. Sr Maria Faustina Bema will make temporary vows with the Sisters, the second-oldest order of Black nuns in the United States (after Servant of God Mary Lange’s Oblate Sisters of Providence, founded in Baltimore in 1828).
Black Americans have long been a rarity in religious life, with a brief boom following the founding of the Oblates and Holy Family Sisters—and another in the mid- to late-20th century surrounding the Black Catholic Movement—being followed by a steep decline, as in many other Catholic demographics stateside.
Data from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, released earlier this year, shows an estimate that just 1% of new female entrants into religious life in the United States identify as African, African American, or Black. The number for women making final profession is a slight increase at 2%.
Eleven years a Catholic and seven years a sister, Jerry may just represent a change in course as a young African American committing to a legacy Black order.
In the meantime, her home parish is simply asking for the intercession of the faithful.
“Please continue to pray for her and her religious community as she prepares for final vows,” they said.
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).