Social Justice Ministry has been active in my home Archdiocese of St. Louis for my entire life. As I look back over my lifetime, I am saddened by the events that made a ministry for social justice a necessity, while being grateful for the active involvement of the sisters and priests of the St. Louis Archdiocese who have worked tirelessly as advocates for the poor and neglected within our midst.
When the Catholic Interracial Council of St. Louis was established in 1944, it was only the third such entity in the United States. Council activities included work for equality in education, labor, housing, public places, athletics, and religion. In 1946 Archbishop Ritter mandated integration of Catholic schools. However, I didn’t experience that integration until I reached high school in 1959 because St. Louis was a city divided by housing restrictions in a city ordinance that declared a line of demarcation along Delmar Boulevard where people of color were denied access to housing south of Delmar. Our sisters, and those of other congregations in St. Louis, recognized the disparity and worked to ensure that the children in our schools received the education they deserved.
The Archdiocese expanded programs over time to address inequalities and advocate for equal justice for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. After Vatican II, many sisters became involved and opened agencies to work directly with those most in need. The expanded programs addressed poverty and inequality, but also addressed the results of poverty with ministries for the homeless and those in prisons and/or newly released from prison. In my ministry as quality manager for a for-profit company providing health care in jails and prisons, I saw first-hand the impact of systemic inequalities on my fellow human beings. The phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I,” was a mantra that struck me as I visited prisons and advocated for necessary health care for the incarcerated under our care.
As I reflect on the social justice ministries in St. Louis—and particularly the ministry of our sisters at East Side Heart and Home Family Center in East St. Louis—I am saddened that in this 21st century there is still such a divide within our nation and such a need for continued advocacy for our brothers and sisters. I reflect on the words of a beautiful song; “We are one body, one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone.
– Sister Mary Jane Bookstaver, OP
A native of St. Louis, Sister Mary Jane spent 45 years
in ministry there. She is currently Coordinator of
Support Services in Dominican Convent, Sparkill.