Joint Conference Of Catholic Religious In Baltimore July 20-25


Sister (Sr.) Josita Colbert, SNDdeN is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, a Roman Catholic institute of religious sisters founded to provide education to those made poor. Sr. Colbert reflected on the events, which led her to enter religious service in 1956.

“I became interested when I was in the fifth grade,” said Sr. Colbert, “I had not seen black nuns— only white nuns. The first black nun I ever saw was with the Oblate Sisters of Providence.”

Founded by Mother Mary Lange, The Oblate Sisters of Providence was created to allow black women to enter religious life in the Catholic Church.

“My parents, like most Catholic parents were told to raise their children in the Catholic faith,” said Sr. Colbert. “What they found out was that all Catholic schools did not take black children. So, I had to take three buses to St. Pius V in Baltimore. I was very impressed with the nuns who taught us at both St. Pius and St. Frances Academy.

“My family was also very active in the church. They were also a part of the Girl Scouts and other service organizations. I got this idea of wanting to be of service. I thought that the opportunity to serve and teach was the greatest thing I could do.”

Sr. Colbert is a member of the National Black Sisters Conference (NBSC), one of the religious groups participating in the Joint Conference taking place Saturday July 20, 2019 through Thursday, July 25, 2019 at the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards Hotel. The Joint Conference is an annual meeting of black Catholic women religious, clergy, brothers, seminarians, deacons and their wives. Sr. Colbert chairs the Joint Conference Committee. The theme of the Joint Conference is “This Work is Ours to Do.”

“Each place we go for our conference, we celebrate African American people in that city,” said Sr. Colbert, noting that the Oblate Sisters of Providence and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture will be among the stops. “We look at our roots as it relates to Catholics in that City.”

The Joint Conference will include several religious ceremonies, meetings, a concert, and an Awards Ceremony.

“We looked back over the past 50 years in terms of speakers, actions and contributions and looking at 2019, we want to look at what we can do as black religious individuals to support our black communities,” said Sr. Colbert. “We want to look at our gifts and skills, and how they can help in the communities to address the issues that are relevant today.”

Founded in 1968, the NBSC is an inclusive Catholic organization of vowed black Catholic Women Religious and Associates from many congregations of religious across the United States.

“NBSC started in 1968 following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said Sr. Colbert. “We wanted to learn about what was going on in 1968 to explain the Black Power Movement and what we could do as black religious woman. It was educating ourselves and reaching out. In 1968, there was just one black bishop.

“We have seen some change but there needs to be a whole lot more change given the climate in the country. In some ways, it seems to be like 1968 and before that time period. Unfortunately, we don’t have as many people of color serving in leadership positions within the Catholic Church. We are still not that large, however we can still be effective.”

Sr. Colbert has been a member of NBSC since it was founded, and has served on several boards within the organization. She says that NBSC works with other organizations, which include The National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of black Catholics across the United States. The National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus and the National Association of Black Catholic Deacons and wives, and National Black Catholic Seminarian Association are also part of the in the Joint Conference.

“We network with other organizations within the Catholic Church,” she said. “The goal is to become an anti-racist church. We want the Catholic Church to

become more open to receiving African American men and women who may be called to become a Roman Catholic priest, deacon, religious nuns, and brothers.

“That it recognizes, reverence and nurtures God’s call of African-American women and men to the priesthood and religious life. Our role as a Joint Conference is key.”

Sr. Colbert estimates the number of black nuns at 300 to 400 nationally, and says she is one of five African-Americans among the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who are members of the National Black Sisters Conference.

However, history has repeated itself. Just like the nuns who helped shaped the course of her life as a student at St. Frances Academy, she has done the same.

“I have a young student I taught in kindergarten who is now a priest, “said Sr. Colbert. “I feel really good about that.”

Sr. Colbert estimates the Joint Conference will draw between 100 to 200 participants.

“Through the conference, we work together to promote leadership, and basically we challenge ourselves and other members of the Catholic Church to listen to those voices that for too long have been excluded and silenced. We also celebrate each other,” she said.

For more information about the Joint Conference and NBSC, visit: