What a forgotten black nun can teach us about racism and Covid-19
Shannen Dee Williams | April 23, 2020
In 1832, a cholera epidemic swept across Europe and the major cities of North America killing more than 100,000 people and sickening many thousands more. When Archbishop James Whitfield of Baltimore fell ill with the disease, a member of his staff immediately sought the assistance of a local nun to aid in the battle for the prelate’s life. Curiously, though, Archbishop Whitfield’s subordinate did not call on the favored and all-white Sisters of Charity, who had a formal nursing ministry in the city. Instead, the assistant requested the care of Sister Mary Anthony Duchemin, an early member of the all-black Oblate Sisters of Providence who had worked as a private nurse for one of Baltimore’s wealthiest families before entering religious life.
An Afro-Creole native of Saint Domingue who immigrated to the United States during the Haitian Revolution, Sister Mary Anthony Duchemin is best known today as the mother of Sister Theresa Maxis Duchemin, one of the four original members of the Oblate Sisters of Providence and the long unacknowledged African-American foundress of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But 13 years before her daughter made history as an early American Catholic foundress, Sister Anthony Duchemin became a legend in her own right for her valiant service to Baltimore’s black and white communities during the 1832 epidemic.