SUBMITTED ON NOVEMBER 11, 2017/Posted at;stlouisreview.com/ –
Sister Mary Antona Ebo, a Franciscan Sister of Mary whose courageous words during the March 10, 1965, march in Selma, Ala., became a rallying cry for many in the Civil Rights movement, died Nov. 11 at The Sarah Community in Bridgeton. She was 93 and was a Franciscan Sister of Mary for 71 years.
Information on funeral services is still pending.
For many, Sister Antona was the face of the Civil Rights movement, standing up with courage against racism and injustice. One of the pioneers of Civil Rights, on March 10, 1965, Sister Antona, the only African American sister in the crowd gathered in Selma, Ala., to march in protest against the brutality of Bloody Sunday just days earlier, was thrust to the forefront. She told the crowd, “I’m here because I’m a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness.” Throughout her life she stood for justice and equality for all. Even in her 90s, she offered a reflection on justice at the archdiocesan prayer service in Ferguson on the 2015 anniversary of her historic march, and in July 2017, the Missouri History Museum honored her in a special “Celebration of Sister Anton Ebo, FSM,” as part of the exhibit “#1 in Civil Rights: The African-American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis.”
Elizabeth Louise Ebo was born April 10, 1924, in Bloomington, Ill., one of three children born to Daniel and Louise (Teal) Ebo. She was known as Betty when she was younger. When she was 4, her mother died suddenly at age 29 during pregnancy. During the following two years in the height of the Depression, her father lost his job and their home; At the age of 6, Betty and her older brother and sister were placed in the McLean County Home for Colored Children in Bloomington, where she lived from 1930-42. She was baptized Catholic on Dec. 19, 1942.
Determined to attend a Catholic nursing school, she faced numerous rejections because of race. She learned of St. Mary’s Infirmary School of Nursing in St. Louis, run by the Sisters of St. Mary, and she enrolled there in 1944. On July 26, 1946, she became one of the first three African American women to enter the Sisters of St. Mary. She received the name Sister Mary Antona, and she professed final vows on Feb. 11, 1954. (In 1987 the Sisters of St. Mary reunited with the Sisters of St. Francis of Maryville, Mo., as the Franciscan Sisters of Mary.)
Sister Antona earned a bachelor’s degree in medical records (1962) and a master’s in hospital executive development (1970), both through St. Louis University. She earned certification in clinical pastoral education through Alexian Brothers in Elk Grove, Ill., (1976) and Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wis. (1977). She earned a master’s in theology of health care through Aquinas Institute of Theology (1978) and was certified as a chaplain through the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (1979).
She has been awarded six honorary doctorates: Doctor of Humane Letters from Loyola University of Chicago (1995); Doctor of Humane Letters from the College of New Rochelle, N.Y. (2008); Doctor of Humane Letters from Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis (2009); Doctor of Humanities from St. Louis University (2010); Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Missouri-St. Louis (2010); and Doctor of Laws from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. (2013).
She worked in medical records at Firmin Desloge Hospital in St. Louis (1955-61) and at St. Mary’s Health Center in St. Louis (1961-62). She was director of medical records at St. Mary’s Infirmary from 1962-67. It was during this time — March 10, 1965 — that Sisters Antona and Eugene Marie Smith flew to Selma, Ala., to take part in the march following Bloody Sunday. In 2007, a PBS documentary chronicling the events and prominently featuring Sister Antona was produced: “Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change.”In the time since 1965, Sister Antona has often been asked to speak on civil rights….
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