Sister Roberta is trading her principal role for new challenges

COLUMBIA—Since 2006, Sister Roberta Fulton has worked to help every student at St. Martin de Porres School live up to the motto she developed shortly after her arrival there: “Everybody is a shining star!”

The Sister of St. Mary of Namur said her work with students in her role as principal has been a great joy for her, but now she is embarking on a new chapter in her life.

Beginning in July, she will take on the role of promoting evangelization in traditionally African-American parishes and schools in the diocese.

She will be based in Charleston, and her position will be part of the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries.

Sister Roberta said she hopes to spread the Gospel through retreats, leadership training, youth sessions, racial diversity discussions and other activities.

“I have had 12 wonderful years at St. Martin de Porres, with a lot of challenges and a lot of joys,” she said. “I decided that it was time to maybe let go and let someone else work at helping the school be the best it can be. I’m excited about this new opportunity.”

Kathleen Merritt, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries, said outreach to black Catholics, particularly young adults, has become a crucial concern. The number of confirmations and other sacraments offered in traditionally African-American parishes has diminished across the state.

“The gifts Sister Roberta brings to the table will really help us make a difference,” Merritt said.

Ecumenical work will be another new part of Sister Roberta’s life, she said. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone asked her to become the diocesan representative to the South Carolina Christian Action Council, a statewide organization that promotes Christian unity and seeks to bring witness to political and social issues.

She will also continue her work as president of the National Conference of Black Sisters.

Sister Roberta grew up in Kingstree, and it was there she grew to know the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, who served the town’s African-American population. She took her first vows in 1966 and celebrated her 50th jubilee in 2016.

She has spent more than 45 years working in Catholic education, including positions as principal at schools in Alabama, Texas, Buffalo and the former St. Jude Catholic School in Sumter.

It was during her time as an instructor at Niagara University in Buffalo that she received a call from Franciscan Father Paul Williams, who was pastor at St. Martin de Porres in 2006. He asked her to return to her home state to take the helm of the school, which was struggling.

Today, St. Martin de Porres School serves 65 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, and Sister Roberta finds joy in their daily accomplishments.

“There are so many high points, but I really treasure the moments I have with the students,” she said. “This afternoon, two boys walked into the office. They had had challenging moments in the morning, but they stopped by to tell me ‘Sister, I had a good day.’ To see children turn around and do their best is what makes me proud.”

Miscellany file photo: Sister Roberta Fulton works with a student at St. Martin de Porres School in 2015.