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Confronting racism: RSCJ join Stone Ridge for ‘Social Action Day’

  • Left to right: Hannah Joseph ('19); Ele Grenfell ('19); Miss Paula Macchello; Irma Dillard, RSCJ; Claire Nickerson ('21); Kayla Kinkaid ('20); Sofia Morra ('21); and Miss Lauren Brownlee. The students are members of the Social Action Student Advisory Board.

This past March, Irma Dillard, RSCJ, joined the faculty, staff and students at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart for their “Social Action Day.”

Social Action Day focused on examining racism in light of the Chapter Calls, the work that the Society has done to explore and address its past with slavery, and what that means for all of us today.

Sister Dillard gave two presentations, one the day before to the faculty, and one to the high school students on the social action day. Her presentation specifically focused on the on-going issue of racism and the Society of the Sacred Heart’s participation in the historic sin of slavery.

“I was privileged to be the guest speaker this day,” said Sister Dillard, who was also accompanied by Marilyn McMorrow, RSCJ, and Paula Macchello, a community organizer and activist.

“It was such a meaningful experience for me to be with high school young women that are engaged and active in social justice. I was so impressed by all they are doing to educate themselves as well as move to action. The seniors work with the freshman. A true “train the trainers” component is at work here,” Sister Dillard added.

The students opened with a beautiful prayer, which included prayers of the faithful and offered reflection questions such as: How is racism visible in our society? How is it invisible? How can privilege be used to create equity?

Throughout her presentation, she expertly tied together resources, stories and personal experiences, touching on such familiar notions like “for the sake of one child,” a famous quote from Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat.

Sister Dillard shared, “The myth of race, debunked in 3 minutes,” an informative Vox video on the social construction of race, and delved into the history of the Roman Catholic Church’s role in slavery.

She then shared the story of the RSCJ – Philippine, Eugenie, Octavie, Marguerite and Catherine – who arrived in North America in 1818 and who participated in slaveholding. She spoke about, “We Speak Your Names,” the gathering with descendants of enslaved persons owned by the Society, which took place in September 2018, in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.

Sister Dillard called attention to two Chapter Calls in specific: ‘To live more humanly’ and ‘To be and act as one Body,’ and how these calls beckon us to remain vigilant to the reality of racism, how it harms our communities, and why we must actively work against racist systems.

She emphasized the power of relationships, noting how our Sacred Heart family has expanded greatly since its inception, and therefore, in her words, “has more flavor!”

Macchello followed Sister Dillard and shared with the students her experience as a white woman, and what it means to be an ally. She shared a personal story and her expertise on “white flight” and the damage caused to people of the global majority as well as white people.

The presentation ended with a Q&A session. Students shared with Sister Dillard projects they have been involved in, related to eliminating unjust racist systems. For example: some students studied the Doctrine of Discovery and in their research found that the U.S. Supreme Court used this outdated, racist document in a ruling as recent as the 1980s. This prompted students to write letters to find out if this document was still in use and voiced their outrage of its relatively recent use. This was a prime example of Goal 3 of Sacred Heart education, a social awareness which impels to action. “They were on it,” exclaimed Sister Dillard.

She went on to commend the school and emphasize how much she enjoyed her time at Stone Ridge, saying, “Miss Brownlee; Malcolm McCluskey, Head of Upper School; and the faculty of Stone Ridge have to be commended for the work they are doing to eliminate systemic racism in their own school and in the world. I was proud!”