Sr Mary Francis Bard, an African-American member of the Sisters of the Holy Family, will make final vows on Tuesday, August 15, in New Orleans, the historic Black Catholic order has announced.
The profession Mass, scheduled for 11am CT at the sisters’ motherhouse, is the culmination of more than a decade of formation for Bard, a Kentucky native who has served at the motherhouse since her return from a sabbatical near her hometown in 2022.
“I welcome the fact that I am giving myself totally to the Lord,” she told BCM.
“To the greater service of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church, as a sister of the Holy Family and as a daughter of Venerable Henriette DeLille.”
Born in the South Midland region, Bard entered the Louisiana-based Sisters of the Holy Family in 2012, professing first vows three years later. She is one of the few African-American Catholic women in formation for religious life, and is thought to be the only living member from her home state in a historically Black religious community.
The Holy Family Sisters were founded by Venerable Henriette DeLille in 1842 as the second-oldest order of Black nuns in the United States, dedicated to the education and housing of orphans and enslaved children in New Orleans.ﾠ
The sisters later expanded their work into Black communities around the country and overseas, though they still maintain a significant footprint in their founding city, where they operate their flagship K-12 school St. Mary’s Academy, as well as the Lafon Nursing Facility, one of the oldest nursing homes in the United States.
Like other legacy Black orders in the U.S., the Holy Family Sisters have shifted in recent decades to the Caribbean and Africa to attract new vocations, but Bard is one of a small number of Americans to have joined since the turn of the millennium.
Recent data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, published in 2021, estimated that only 4% of men and women who entered religious life in America since 2005 were Black or African, with 82% having been born overseas.
Acutely aware of the challenge and recently a featured speaker in an event for the National Day of Prayer for Black Vocations, Bard has maintained her own advocacy for her order’s recruitment efforts.
“I continue to pray and invite young women to become Sisters of the Holy Family to continue the ministry of the sisters and the church, witnessing God's transformational love by bringing hope and healing to all,” Bard said.
“It’s just like the words in the song we will be singing on August 15: ‘We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord’,” she added.
“Those words are so true about my amazing sisters.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.
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