WASHINGTON (January 16, 2007) – "Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change," a documentary co-produced by Alabama Public Television (APT) and Hartfilms, and partially funded by the U.S. Bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign, will air on PBS during Black History Month.
The one-hour program focuses on the role nuns played in Alabama's 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches as part of PBS Black History Month programming (check www.aptv.org/as/sisters/index.asp).
The feature documents how six Midwestern nuns joined the marches. Also featured are the Sisters of St. Joseph, nuns from Rochester, New York, who had been part of the Selma community since the 1930s. The nuns ran local missions for Selma's African American community, provided board for visiting protestors and, at Selma's Good Samaritan Hospital, treated marchers who clashed with state troopers during this landmark event in U.S. Civil Rights.
Many of the nuns who risked their personal safety to bring change are now retired or serving elsewhere in the country. Independent filmmaker Jayasri Hart, who served as director/producer, reunited the sisters and showed them previously unused news footage of themselves and the events of 1965. The comments they made while watching the film serve as a large part of the film's narrative. Hart also found other Selma residents of the period—Catholic and Protestant, white and black—to comment on the sisters' involvement.
"Sisters of Selma" is a co-production of Hartfilms and Alabama Public Television, produced in association with ITVS, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the CCC. Los Angeles-based Hart's interest in Catholic women stems from her experience with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. It was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting through its ITVS-linCS program, with additional funding not only from the CCC but also the Alabama Humanities Foundation and the Louisville Institute.
The Catholic Communication Campaign is an activity of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to develop media programming, public service announcements, and other resources to promote Gospel values. Donations from Catholic parishioners to the annual CCC collection make possible the work of the CCC (www.usccb.org/ccc).
Among interviewees in the program, in order of appearance:
Roberta Schmidt, C.S.J. (Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet) was known as Sister Ernest Marie. She was one of the first six nuns who answered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s call to march in Selma in support of the Voting Rights Movement. She is now Director of Education of the Diocese of Venice, Fla.
Rosemary Flanigan, C.S.J. was known as Sister Thomas Marguerite. She, too, was one of the first six nuns who marched in Selma. After a long career in philosophy, she is now program associate at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, MO.
Mary Ann Sommer, B.V.M. (Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary) was known as Sister Mary Leoline and was principal of a high school in Kansas City when she went to Selma. She was the only nun who marched all the way to Montgomery. She continued to be involved with the movement and was among those arrested in Washington, during the Poor People's March of 1968. She retired as a counselor and patient advocate at UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, Calif.
Therese Stawowy was Sister Ann Christopher of Loretto when she went to Selma in the first group of six nuns. Now a co-member of the Loretto Community, she retired after working as middle school director in Corte Madera, Calif. and still volunteers as a hospice caregiver.
Christine Nava was Sister Christine Mary of Loretto when she went to Selma in the first group of six nuns. Now a co-member of the Loretto Community, she retired from full-time teaching but continues to volunteer for the social activist group RESULTS in San Diego.
Barbara Moore, C.S.J. was known as Sister Ann Benedict when she went to march in Selma from Kansas City. She was a nurse who later worked in health care administration. She was one of the founding members of the National Black Sisters Conference. She is now a member of the leadership of her community.
Antona Ebo, F.S.M. (Franciscan Sisters of Mary) was known as Sister Mary Antona when she attracted national attention as the first black nun to march in Selma among the group of six. After a long career in health care, which included administering a hospital in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and serving as hospital chaplain in Jackson, Miss., she is now pastoral associate at St. Nicholas Church in St. Louis. She was one of the founding members of the National Black Sisters Conference and served as president.
Alston J. Fitts III is retired communications director of the Edmundite (Alabama) Missions Office in Selma and author of "Selma: Queen City of the Black Belt" (1989).
Mary Paul Geck, S.S.J. (Sisters of St. Joseph) was known as Sister Mary Paul when she was missioned in Selma in 1962 as principal of St. Elizabeth's School for African Americans. She has since served as secretary general for her community in Rochester.
Barbara Lum, S.S.J. was known as Sister Eleanor when she was missioned in Selma in 1959 as nursing instructor and Director of Nursing Service at Good Samaritan Hospital for African Americans. She now works as Education Specialist for Rochester's Education Opportunity Center and as a nurse for Daystar Program for medically fragile infants.
Josepha Twomey, S.S.J. was known as Sister Josepha when she was missioned in Selma in 1963 as a teacher at St. Elizabeth's School for African Americans. She has since served as prison chaplain of Elmira Correctional Facility, N.Y., and as a caregiver at Sisters Care for the Elderly in Elmira.
Marie Albert Alderman, S.S.J. was known as Sister Marie Albert, and she was missioned as a teacher and outreach worker in Selma three times between 1959 and 2000. She has since served as Pastoral Assistant of St. Mary's Parish, Canandaigua, N.Y.
Mary Weaver, S.S.J. was known as Sister Felicitas when she was missioned in Selma in 1964 as a teacher and social worker. She served in Alabama until 1991 in several capacities including Assistant Director of the Community Action Agency in Selma.
Maurice Ouellet, S.S.E, (Society of St. Edmund) was pastor of St. Elizabeth's Parish in Selma, in 1965. After a career of teaching and ministering, he retired to live in Selma.
Scholars contributing to the work include:
J. Mills Thornton, Professor, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, a recognized authority on Alabama and civil rights.
Father Cyprian Davis, OSB (Benedictine) African American author of "The History of Black Catholics" in the United States (1990), who was in Selma in March 1965.
Leslie Tentler, Professor, Catholic University, Washington, author of "Wage-earning Women" (1986) and histories of the Catholic Church in Detroit.
Carol Coburn, Professor, Avila University in Kansas City, co-author of "Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life," 1836-1920 (1999) with Martha Smith, CSJ.
Editors: For further information, contact Kathie Martin, Alabama Public Television, 1-800-239-5233 x 188.