COLUMBIA — Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN, was elected president of the National Black Sisters Conference during the group’s annual meeting in Philadelphia July 27-31.
Sister Roberta is a member of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur and has served as principal of St. Martin de Porres School in Columbia since 2006.
The conference, founded in 1968, is a national networking group for black women religious, and also provides support for black women considering and discerning vocations as women religious.
Sister Roberta said she joined the conference in the early ‘70s and has been an active member since then. Fifty women religious attended the Philadelphia event.
“I was humbled by the election,” she said in a recent interview with The Miscellany. “This came from a lot of good women and faithful founding mothers, and it’s humbling and an honor for me to have an opportunity to serve God in yet another way.”
Sister Roberta is a native of Kingstree who entered religious life in 1967. She was a teacher and principal at schools in Texas and Alabama and at St. Jude School in Sumter, which closed, and taught at Niagara University in Buffalo.
Kathleen Merritt, director of ethnic ministries for the Diocese of Charleston, said her election is an honor both for Sister Roberta and for the diocese as a whole.
“The conference is going to benefit greatly by her leadership because she’s hard-working, energetic and has a lot of great ideas,” Merritt said. “Also, when you’re a leader of a group like that, you’re going to have a lot of different personalities to deal with. She has a natural ability to calm the waters and be able to get things done.”
Sister Roberta will serve a five-year term as president, and her responsibilities will include attending board meetings three times a year at the conference offices in Washington, D.C.
She said she also would supervise the conference’s main office from a distance and help organize their undertakings, such as the Black Women’s Project, a networking group for black Catholic laity that offers support and a chance to bring attention and focus on issues the women face in the United States.
She wants to continue the conference’s mission of offering support for black women religious, and to raise awareness of the work they are doing in communities nationwide.
One of her biggest challenges, she said, is to help the conference in its goal to develop more vocations among black Catholics, especially young people.
“I’m honored that the sisters have the confidence in me and feel I can work to continue the growth of vocations and membership around the country,” Sister Roberta said. “Our sisters are aging, and the founding members of the organization are getting older.”
She said the key to nurturing vocations in general is providing strong faith formation for children at home, and in their churches and Catholic schools. This is a special challenge among black Catholics, she said, because many young people have peers from different religions and many parents who were raised in the church have become distant from it over the years.
“We believe the Lord really is calling young women to vocations, but parents have to encourage vocations and we as sisters need to be a presence in the community,” Sister Roberta said.
“So many of us in the conference are the only, or one of the only, African-American members of our communities,” she said. “It’s amazing the witness you can give to the young people through ministries and through dedication to the church. Young people are looking for other people who are doing things in the community in the name of Jesus.”