Sharing Our Story

For centuries, Sisters in the Deep South have worked
to alleviate poverty. There's still more to do.

Selma, about three hours north of Mobile, was prosperous before the Civil War but has suffered economically for decades as industry moved away. Today, it is the poorest city in the state, one of the poorest cities in the nation, and 38% of its less than 18,000 residents use food stamps, compared to 12.6% nationwide.

Its main street is home to an abandoned hospital, its windows broken out and mildew growing on the walls. On a recent afternoon, a man slept on the front steps.

Edmundite priests have been ministering in Selma since 1937, and for much of that time, women religious have assisted them. Currently, there are four sisters there: Sr. Mary Agnes Cashman and Sr. Virginia Patrick from the Congregation of Divine Providence in Kentucky and Sr. Kathleen Navarra and Sr. Pat Flass of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, New York.

As if things weren’t challenging enough in Selma, a tornado hit the town Jan. 12, causing significant damage and injuring dozens.

“I walked the neighborhood after the storm, and everyone, I swear, told me how blessed they were,” Cashman said. “They would show me their home, which was destroyed, and say they’re blessed. That night, I said, ‘God, if I came home from work and had no place to live, I don’t know that I could say I was blessed.'”

Cashman spent some time ministering in Vredenburgh, Alabama, about an hour south of Selma, a few years ago after she retired from a career in education in Kentucky and elsewhere. Now, she is the education coordinator for the Edmundite Missions in Selma. 

“I just fell in love with the people,” she said. “Then, Kathy [Navarra] was running summer camps in Selma, so I came down for two weeks to write curriculum for the camps and fell more in love. . . . I’m still in love with the people. My community is named for Divine Providence, so we trust totally in God, but I’ve never experienced people who trust in God for their entire lives, their everything.” Read more at Global Sisters Report.

Carla Robinson, left, hugs Sr. Mary Agnes Cashman March 15 in Selma, Alabama, after showing Cashman the repairs and donated items she received after a tornado tore off her roof in January. (GSR photo/Dan Stockman).

Would you like to experience one of the wonderful service opportunities in the South?

The Providence Project is a summer service program in Mosses, Alabama, that happens this summer in June and July. Volunteers live together in community with Sisters of Divine Providence and work with children in an educational summer camp. We’ll build in time for community, prayer, and, of course, fun! We’ll also visit some of the historical sites in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama to learn more about the civil rights movement and racial justice in our own time. Apply here:

For more information, email Sister Leslie at

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