Stories of Justice: S. Barbara Moore

Sister Barbara Moore brings "who she is"
to a lifetime of serving the dear neighbor.

by Mary Flick, CSJ, justice coordinator


Sister Barbara Moore will admit that the secret of life is “being who I am.”

It’s a decision she had made countless times throughout her 60 years as a Sister of St. Joseph. And being herself has served her well in her many works of justice as a nurse, an administrator and a board member.

Much of Sister Barbara's life’s work in health care came from her decision after vows. “I was asked if I’d like to be a Latin teacher or a nurse,” she remembers. “There were a lot of nurses in the class ahead of me. They were an inspiration to me. Something about it attracted me.”

So she earned her nursing degree at the College of St. Teresa in Kansas City in 1962 and began her career of caring as a nurse at nearby St. Joseph Hospital. After earning a master’s degree in nursing, she became a professor of nursing at Avila, until she entered the classroom as a student at the University of Washington, Seattle, and earned her doctorate in higher education administration in 1977. She returned to Avila, and was named chair of the nursing department in 1982, a position she held until 1988, when she realized it was time to make another decision.

“I enjoyed what I was doing, but I wanted to work with more people of color and people who were in need.” Sister Barbara recalls. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I hated giving my resignation letter to Sister Marie Joan Harris (at Avila), but I felt I had to.”

Sister Barbara, the St. Louis province’s only African-American sister at the time, became the coordinator of maternal child health at the Samuel U. Rodgers Comprehensive Health Center-- a position she held for 10 years.  

"The founder, Doc Rodgers, was an advocate for people who were poor and needy, and a legend in community health,” she recalls. “When he died, I felt a commitment to stay on.” She became project director of Kansas City’s Health Start program for three years.

But in 2002, Sister Barbara’s sense of inspiration and of service led to a decision that took her in another direction. She was elected to congregation leadership.

One of her duties as a congregational leader was to serve on the board of Carondelet Health System. When it merged with Ascension Health, she became a member of and chaired the Sponsors Council. Completing her term in 2007, Sister Barbara says Ascension “sought me out” when it became a Public Juridic Person. She joined two other CSJs representing the congregation on the Major Historical Sponsors committee. Her term runs through 2017.

That’s just one of the major decision-making boards she has served on in the past 15 years. She also has served on boards at three of the universities sponsored by the CSJs: Fontbonne, Avila and the College of St. Catherine, and on the board of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kansas City. But she’s also served the Diocese of Kansas City, Missouri, with her membership on its diocesan planning committee, its diaconate program board and diocesan council. And then there’s her service on the boards of Catholic Charities-Kansas City and Catholic Charities, USA.

Regardless of the board on which she serves, Sister Barbara says her hope remains the same: “To be reflective of the community we’re serving, to be reflective of who we are, to be congruent, and to be people of integrity.” And she humbly declares, “It’s not about me, but about being supportive in any way I can.”

And of note, the Catholic Health Association of the United States has named Sister Barbara the 2016 recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is given each year to an acknowledged leader of the health ministry who has inspired and mentored numerous others. The individual's leadership extends past the Catholic health ministry to influence and impact the local community and beyond.

Yet, her self-identity is bound inextricably in her ministries of service, in health care and on boards, and most certainly in her vocation as a Sister of St. Joseph.“The community has always been very supportive of me,” she says. “Here, I could be the woman I am called to be without having to negate my background [as an African American].”

Whenever she talks about herself, she says she finds, “The experience in Selma always comes back.” Sister Barbara is well-remembered for being among the cohort of women religious who marched in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965, in support of the Voting Rights Act.

She remembers well the call from Sister Joan Marie Gleason, the provincial at the time. “She didn’t say, 'You have to go,' but, 'Would you like to go? I think it would be a good experience.'"

That respect and support was mutual for Sister Barbara.

She remembers the second National Black Sisters Conference in 1969, which was opened to Caucasian sisters. Sisters Joan Marie and Margaret Collins attended with Sister Barbara, and stayed despite the militant rhetoric which filled the conference proceedings. “They stayed for all of it,” she recalls. “That made such an impression on me.”

Two other board commitments which connect her with her African-American identity and mean so much to her were at the invitation of Sister Elizabeth Peplow.

“When I returned to St. Louis in 2002, Liz invited me to talk with the women at Nia Kuumba,” she recalls. "I walked in to the African American spirituality center, and the first thing I noticed was that it was culturally inclusive, with its wall hangings and decor.”

She soon was on its board, helping to plan and to support its programs on the spirituality and cultural background of African-American women, with a special outreach to college-age women of color.

Then when Sister Liz became involved in Microfinancing Partners in Africa, she invited Sister Barbara to join her. Soon she was on MPA’s Sisters Advisory Board and she traveled to East Africa to see the set-up of cottage industries there and the results of MPA’s loan pay-back program. She also serves as a “funeka” (Swahili for "volunteer"), helping with mailings and fundraisers, and making presentations.

“It’s a hands up, not a hand-out,” Sister Barbara insists – an important distinction for her. “I believe in helping people, not enabling them.”

“Those are my roots,” she says. “My mother’s family grew up in the South. I heard in their stories that you are no better and no worse than anyone else, but you are equal. So if I don’t agree, I will say I don’t agree – and why.”

This understanding is seen in her approach and her work as a board member. “I read, do my homework, explore, then I decide what is the best thing. It’s my decision, not someone else’s.  If I strongly believe in something, I’ll say so. And I don’t have any problem disagreeing! That’s being who I am.”

Yes, Sister Barbara Moore knows who she is: a Sister of St. Joseph, a woman committed to the dear neighbor, inviting the neighbor to be her true, best self.

4/15/2016

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