Conversations About Race: Sr. Melinda Pellerin

BRIDGEPORT—The first of several webinars being hosted by The Leadership Institute, the diocesan Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and the Apostolate for Black Catholics, titled “Conversations About Race” kicked-off Thursday featuring Sr. Melinda Pellerin.

“We are at a crossroads in this nation,” said Sr. Pellerin, “the choice of which path we take is ours. Where are we to go? As people of faith we need to rely on the Word of God.”

Sister explained that, as Catholics, the foundation of everything we do is Scripture. Much of Sister’s webinar was centered around the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well in the Gospel of John. She explained how at the time of Jesus many racial groups held preconceived notions about each other—therefore, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman shows just how much Jesus was willing to go to the peripheries. “John’s theme in the gospel is the foreigner, the outcast, the poor,”

Sister said. “Jesus enters into relationship with an outsider, a woman, a member of a minority group. This is our teachable moment. He sees this woman’s worth, there is no hesitation in his love for her humanity.”

Sister Pellerin did not hesitate to call out injustice. “Our black brothers and sisters have been persecuted in this country for over 400 years,” she said. “This is the African American legacy in the United States. We need to enter into the conversion honestly and speak out about race. We must be willing to engage. To meet one another where we are, to create our ‘Well’ experience.”

Sister stressed the importance of learning to see our neighbor as ourselves. “Engaging in dialogue is never easy,” she acknowledged.

As a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sister Pellerin has a focus on right relationship with others. “We need to see the life in another person and realize that their life matters just as much as our life matters.”

“How do we move towards love of our neighbor?” Sister asked. “We must engage.” She explained that without proper knowledge, effective communication is not possible. “That is why I encourage you to all engage in these webinars. That is why we are all here today.”

Sister said that meeting our neighbor at the Well requires calling out racism for what it is—a sin. “Like the Samaritan woman, we unburden ourselves enough to begin to understand each other. We need to understand how deeply seeded systemic and structural racism is. The Church must ask how does racism play a part in the great divide, in the median income in two communities.”

During the Q&A session following the webinar, a listener asked what to say when an individual gives the response “All Lives Matter” to the statement “Black Lives Matter.” Sister responded, “If we really practiced ‘All Lives’ we wouldn’t be in the state we are today.” She followed up her statement saying, “we must all be willing to confront the hatred. The Church must speak out. Our Pope calls the struggle to end racism a pro-life issue, and that’s indeed what it is.”

When asked what one’s next steps should be, Sister said, “You must act for social justice. Transformation is a powerful thing. The Samaritan woman got up, went into town, and she preached.”

Sister implored listeners to read and learn from the perspective of people of color. “Your courage may cause you pain,” she said. “You may lose friends. Pray for those who may try to use your commitment to racial justice as a weapon against you. We must unconditionally stand for our brothers and sisters.”

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano posed the question, “where is the face of racism in our own Church?”

Sister Pellerin stressed the importance of our Church leaders calling out racism from the pulpit.

At the closing of the webinar, Dr. Patrick Donovan, director of The Leadership Institute encouraged listeners to visit the Institute website for resources and recordings of each webinar.

The webinar series, produced by the diocesan Leadership Institute, features talks by teachers and pastoral ministers and will run through September 3. The talks will be live-streamed at 1 pm each Thursday and then rebroadcast at 7 pm each evening, with a question and answer sessions moderated by a member of the diocesan ad hoc committee against racism.

ABOUT SISTER MELINDA: Sister Melinda Adrienne Pellerin took her final vows of chastity, poverty and obedience Oct. 13 as a Sister of St. Joseph of Springfield after 10 years of discernment and formation during which her varied ministries included working with children in a day care in Kansas, starting a sewing program at a sober living house in Chicago and directing the SSJ’s Homework House in Holyoke.

She was baptized at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield and attended the former Holy Family Parish and School and the former Notre Dame High School. She earned a degree in history and secondary education at Annhurst College in Woodstock, Conn., and a master’s degree in educational technology from Lesley College.

A retired public school teacher, Sr. Melinda taught in Massachusetts at the middle and high school levels. She taught the International Baccalaureate Program at Springfield’s High School of Commerce and criminal justice at the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy. She also coached a mock trial team that was the first inner-city team to go all the way to finals in Boston, and in 2004 she was the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.

(To register to join the “Conversation About Race,” visit the Leadership Institute: Click to view all of the resources and information about joining the conversation:

Click here to view the recorded webinar.

By Elizabeth Clyons