Sister Joyce Williams '48
Joyce Williams was born on August 23, 1924, in Mississippi. She volunteered at the Catholic interracial organization Friendship House in Chicago, and became a Catholic in 1944. She eventually had her sights set on the College of Saint Benedict after making friends with a woman from that community. Although her application to enter the monastery was rejected by the Prioress, Williams was granted enough financial aid to attend CSB and became a student in 1944. There were only two Black students at that time. She graduated in 1948 with a B.A. in biology. After graduation, she applied to be a Sister multiple times but was rejected by the Prioress who said, “Absolutely not!”, and “We don’t even know what you eat!”. Williams was determined and when she applied a third time a new Prioress accepted her. In 1949 she entered the Scholasticate and in 1950 became a novice. Sister Joyce was professed on July 11, 1951 and became the first Black Sister at Saint Benedict's Monastery.
Once fully professed, Williams started working as a high school biology teacher and pursued a master's degree in Biology, earning an M.S. at the University of Notre Dame in 1964. Stirred by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., she began her career as a civil rights activist. From 1968 to 1973, she pursued “individual apostolate” work among the poor and Black in Cleveland, Ohio. She served as a coordinator of Project BRIDGE and as National Director of Educational Services with the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice (NCCIJ), and travelled to Rome for social justice meetings related to the Bishops’ Synod. She also founded a shelter named “Sojourner Truth” to help teenage girls who dropped out of school. She was awarded an honorary doctorate in human letters from the Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas in 1973, where she addressed the graduates. Sister Joyce taught biology and algebra at Harlan Community Academy in Chicago from 1973 to 1993. She also tutored students with learning disabilities.
Sister Joyce remained connected to CSB throughout her lifetime and in 1970, in response to the sit-in that was carried out by the O.A.A.S. and other dissatisfied Black students, CSB President Stanley Idzerda arranged for Sister Joyce Williams to come back to campus and be an advocate to the total educational needs of those students who came from backgrounds which were not “integrated.” Sister Joyce attended the court hearing, talked with Black students, heard stories of harassment by some white students, and met with CSB administrators and faculty. She explained how Black students felt alienated on campus and that they needed a Black cultural center. She pointed out that students wanted to stay at St. Ben's, otherwise they wouldn’t bother trying to change the campus. Dr. Idzerda wrote to Sister Joyce Williams in 1971, asking her to accept a position as a coordinator of Black student affairs on both campuses. Her response to this offer is not documented in the CSB Archives.
Sister Joyce was a special consultant for the Archdiocese of Cleveland, a board member of the National Catholic Conference on Interracial Justice, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Black Sisters Conference. Later in 1971, Sister Joyce was appointed director of Educational Services at the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice (NCCIJ). Continuing this job in 1973, she helped to develop a national model program to deal with high school dropouts.
Sister Joyce was recognized with CSB's Alumnae Award in 1977. She was chosen to receive the Alumnae award because she demonstrated Christian beliefs and had fully dedicated herself to her work. Sister Joyce retired in 1994 and came back to Saint Benedict’s Monastery. She was engaged in services fo her community until a stroke in January 2000 forced her to move to St. Scholastica Convent. She served there as she was able until her death on November 29, 2006.
Sister Owen Lindblad, OSB. "Sister Joyce Williams: A Voice for Interracial Justice". Crossings (Stearns History Museum), 35:2, March 2009, p. 3-13,19.
“Annual Alumnae Award Winners,” Saint Benedict’s Today, April 1977, p. 1.