Sometimes help comes from the unlikliest of sources. That was certainly the case for a community of recently freed slaves in a small Florida town. They faced a bleak future, that is until a group of nuns showed up on a mission of education.
Little Africa was a community of new freed Blacks that settled in St. Augustine after the Civil War. Although they were skilled farmers, high rates of illiteracy would surely condemn them and their children to a life of hard poverty. Ending this, would require outside help.
“We came in 1866 at the request of Bishop Augustin Verot. He asked for 8 Sisters that would come,” said Sister Thomas-Joseph Mcgoldrick.
“I wish you to understand and clearly that it is for the Blacks and for them alone that I have the sisters of your order come to my diocese,” said Father Tom Willis.
“And he made it very clear that they were coming to teach the liberated slaves… that that would be their work here,” said Sister Thomas-Joseph Mcgoldrick.
“When they arrived they knew no English so they had to learn the language, they had to learn the culture of St. Augustine as it existed in the years after the Civil War,” said Father Tom Willis.
“When they started to teach here they taught children, you know… and only boys came to school originally. But it wasn’t too many weeks later that the little girls started to come too and the parents would send the children. And at night we taught the adults,” said Sister Thomas-Joseph Mcgoldrick.
Despite their good works, it wasn’t long before the Sisters were caught in the rising tide of racial segregation.
“It was illegal to teach Black people. There was a lot of animosity about, you know, educating Black people. Even after the Civil war, even after they were free. In 1916 three of our Sisters were arrested and it was on Easter Sunday and they were arrested over at St. Benedicts. The order to arrest them probably came from the Governor,” said Sister Thomas-Joseph Mcgoldrick.
These noble sisters became revered by the people they were sent to help.
“The first Nun who died here, the Black ladies from the Cathedral Parish. They took over the funeral. They said “these women came for us, we’re gonna take care of this funeral,” said Sister Thomas-Joseph Mcgoldrick.
And they did.