Dear Editor: The article “Civil Rights Road Trip,”(Aug. 25) chronicling the pilgrimage of Brooklyn priest Father John Gribowich to sites associated with the history of America’s civil rights movement, is illustrated by a couple-of-stories-tall “mural of social justice figures in Memphis, Tenn.” apparently on a factory or warehouse wall.
That tribute to individuals prominent in the cause of social justice intriguingly appears to depict what seem to be three Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, “Sisters of Nazareth” for short, garbed in their traditional habit.
To the far left in the photo of the mural, two of the Sisters, probably seated, flank what appears to be a drain pipe while the third stands between them coyly peering around and past the pipe. Are they indeed Sisters of Nazareth?
I know of no other order with an even remotely similar habit.
A predominantly Polish order of nuns founded in 1875, Sisters of Nazareth had since the beginning of the last century, and perhaps even longer, taught generations of students in Polish parish schools throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn. My mother and her siblings as well as I were taught by these Sisters at St. Cyril & Methodius School in Greenpoint.
I know that the Sisters taught at St. Peter Claver School in a predominantly African-American parish in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, but I was never aware of this work having received any wide recognition, surely not enough to place three of the Sisters in this mural in Memphis, as the Sisters surely thought of their mission as nothing extraordinary, as nothing beyond their humble call to service.
Am I mistaken about the extent of the Sisters’ fame?
Indeed, am I mistaken about the presence of the Sisters of Nazareth in the mural? I would be most grateful for any information regarding the mural and the identity of the three nuns depicted.
If they are, as I suspect, Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, this mysterious Memphis wall illustrates a fascinating yet obscure Brooklyn connection.
THOMAS G. STRACZYNSKI
Editor’s Note: That’s a great question. From our research we found that during the 1878 yellow fever outbreak in Memphis, Tenn., ministers, rabbis, priests and religious sisters tended to the African-American population when others fled the city. But we’re not sure to which order these sisters belonged. If any readers know the answer, please drop us a line.