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

November 22, 2019

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.

Sister Jackie Nedd at Meadowbrook Convent in Guyana, South America, in 2000.
Sister Jackie Nedd at Meadowbrook Convent in Guyana, South America, in 2000.

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.

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  1. D Gilmore

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story- there is so much to break open and life up!


  2. Sr Jackie Moreau

    Thank you for reflecting back to us our unrecognized racist attitudes.

    Your story speaks of pride in your diverse heritage. Keep growing and sharing with others your call and Catherine’s spirit.


  3. Marilyn Gottemoeller RSM

    Jackie,
    Thank you for sharing some of your history and your honest reflection. And it was good chatting with you briefly while at the MidAtl gathering about 2 weeks ago. I send love and gratitude for how you bless and enrich our Mercy life.


  4. Sister Natalie Rossi

    Thank you for your precious story and we still have a long way to go about openness to people from different cultures and for diversity.


  5. Suzanne Gallagher

    Jackie, Thanks for sharing some of your story and thereby helping all of us Mercy people to understand our story so much more deeply. This is an important part of our journey of Oneness!


  6. Anthony Hart

    Hi, Sr. Jackie. Thank you for sharing your story. I have much admiration for the Sisters of Mercy, since my younger years – attending St. Malachy Church in Philadelphia, and some of the school events since I had relatives that attended St. Malachy School. I love and often think of the words to the song, “Circle of Mercy.” Beautiful expression of being there for others. Thank you for your commitment and sharing your gift of mercy!


  7. Sally Barnes

    What a unique perspective – thanks, Sister Jackie.


  8. Nancy Donovan

    Thank you Jackie for your vulnerability and trust.


  9. Mary Elizabeth O'Connor

    Dear Jackie,

    I’ve been very grateful for your friendship and have always enjoyed our brief contacts in Dallas. This statement — inspiring as you tend to be — causes me to appreciate your spirit of Mercy even more.


  10. Beverly Palumbo, RSM

    Great story. Deep and honest sharing. Thank you. God bless you and grateful to be Sister of Mercy with you, dearest Jackie….


  11. Marge

    I dislike distinctions being made about men and women based on their skin color or even on their sexual orientation. I think that divides people into categories. How about if we simply refer to ourselves as men or women? Why do we need to say more?


  12. Brenda Whelan

    Thank you for writing of your truth!
    My prayer is that we might all see within it a piece of ourselves that needs to be challenged and changed as we continue our journey of oneness!


  13. Anne connolly

    Jackie, I can’t believe I missed you in parsippany. If you ever find yourself able to come to the border, mi casa es tu casa! Indeed, together we start again each day hoping to “witness to the love of God made whole in our broken world.”


  14. Barbara Anne Craig

    Thank you, Jackie. You are very inspiring to me. And I was glad to get to know you just a little bit at the gathering in November. Peace, Barbara Craig


  15. Richard Mary Burke

    Jackie, thank you so much for sharing your personal story, challenging all of us as we continue to live our own personal stories, and offering such a sacred set of reflections.
    Blessings!


  16. Kathy Wade, Mercy Associate

    Thank you, Jackie, for your openness and honesty. I would love to meet you some day. As a privileged white American woman, I appreciate your story and continue to learn how racism has divided us. What a blessing your mother, grandmother and great-grandmother must be.


  17. Deborah Troillett

    Thank you so much for your witness to the Gospel and Cathrrine’s Charism. Thank you for your call to live our Charism with deeper authenticity.
    Thankful for you!


  18. Robert Brown

    A very emotive story and I thank you for sharing what at times must have been difficult. Pax…..R.


  19. Mary Lou Averbeck

    Jackie, your story speaks my truth as well as your own. I need the challenge of your truth. Thank you.


  20. Kathleen McAlpin, RSM

    Dear Jackie,
    On the eve of Thanksgiving, I’m deeply grateful for your story, your special heritage, and your deep connection with the spirit of Catherine McAuley and the values of the Gospel.
    May your life continue to be a witness to your love of the poor and our call to Oneness.
    I am grateful for the memories of our times together, especially in Laredo.
    Love, Kathleen


  21. Ann McGovern

    I enjoyed reading this reflection, Jackie, especially in light of our working together on the Chapter Coordinating Committee.


  22. Kris

    Sister Jackie, this is a beautifully written and powerful article. I am a recent alum from a Mercy school and this was very wonderful and inspiring to read. I would love to talk with you more about how we can do better to support Sisters of Mercy of color (and students of color at Mercy schools)!
    – Kris (kristen1498@gmail.com)


  23. Flora Stewart

    Thank you for emphasizing love through justice. Indeed, the hurt of human beings is lost, and it is through your prayers – as I tell my children – the world hums with hope. I am sad that many Catholics cannot see the human side of immigration, everyone is afraid of what they will lose. But we have so much to gain! Please pray for me as I have cancer. But to see what good work is being done, oh my heart rejoices! Thank you, thank you, thank you