Dominican sister speaks candidly about systemic racism

Addresses about 40 people during adult-education session at Columbia Newman Center


Sister Marcelline Koch OP is a nun on a mission.

For more than 15 years, this Dominican sister of Springfield, Illinois, has taken up the fight against racism.

As the justice promoter of her congregation, she is determined to educate people in particular on the scourge of institutional racism.

Visiting the diocese in November 2019, she gave a talk on this timely topic to around 40 people at the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbia.

The talk was part of the parish’s adult-faith- formation program.

Sr. Marcelline began by explaining that racial inequality dates back to this nation’s founding.

“Laws were established (early on) to advantage the white person and disadvantage the non-white,” she said. “That is what we call white privilege.”

She added that it was not her purpose to make someone feel bad or feel guilty because of the color of his or her skin.

“Instead,” she said, “I want you to see that racism is still systemically embedded in our country. I want to help change our policies, practices and procedures.”

In expanding on institutional racism, Sr. Marcelline noted the still common practice of “redlining” in the banking and real-estate industries.

Redlining is defined as refusing a loan or insurance to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk.

“Owning a home is an asset,” she explained. “It is something of value you have to pass on to the next generation, but not if you cannot get a home because you are redlined.”

Sr. Marcelline said she has heard stories of the effects of discriminatory lending policies firsthand, as she is part of the Springfield Coalition on Dismantling Racism.

She is called upon to give talks and training sessions to local institutions, government and civic groups several times a year.

She noted that a local medical school has heeded the call to end discrimination by promoting a diverse population throughout the institution.

“That’s encouraging,” she said.

Education on this topic is the key to change, she stated.

“Racism can’t be undone by one person but rather by like-mined groups,” she said.

She talked about the sisters of her own congregation’s efforts to practice what they preach.

“We want to be accountable to people of color,” she stated. “With that in mind, our leadership positions are not all white.”

She added that the fight against racism is often an uncomfortable one — one that most people would rather leave untouched.

“We need to be ready to be uncomfortable,” she said. “This goes far beyond just being nice to people who are different from us. We need to realize we are all learners and be willing to stay in the conversation and listen and validate other experiences.

“It is slow and prodding work,” she said. “It is hard work, but most importantly, it is good work.”