Boylan Talk Connects Human Dignity and Racial Justice
By Lynne Conner, Observer Correspondent
February 17, 2022
ROCKFORD—Gloria Purvis, a Notre Dame pastoral fellow and consultant for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops committee on Religious Liberty spoke to Boylan Central Catholic High School students on Feb 8 about the interconnectedness of human dignity and racial justice. 
 
Her talk challenged students to treat all people, regardless of their path in life, with dignity and respect. 
 
“I want you to remember the Bible passage of Genesis 1:26 where it says that God made man in His own image. I think this verse unlocks all of our movements for justice,” Purvis said. 
 
“If every good person is made in the image and likeness of God, then every person is worthy of dignity and respect. This includes a child in the womb, the person on his deathbed and everybody in between,” she said. 
 
Social conditioning contributes to racism
 
Purvis said that racism occurs when people stop seeing others as children of God. “I think we have an anemic understanding of human dignity; that it is only conferred on those we like or on those who are innocent. 
 
“Racism has conditioned the populous, in my opinion … to not assign human dignity to Black persons, particularly if they think that Black person is in the midst of committing a crime. 
 
“As Catholics, we have to understand that racism is a sin of rebellion because it goes against God’s word of who we are.”
 
Purvis contended that, “Centuries of social conditioning caused Americans to equate blackness with criminality and the opposite of anything virtuous.” She observed that, in the murder of George Floyd, people would often fixate on his criminal act rather than the brutality of his death. 
 
“The fact that Jesus suffered and died for all of our deepest, darkest sins … should alone remind us of how vulnerable each of us is. It also should remind us to have some patience in the sight of others’ flaws,” she said. 
 
“So, when people readily point out the flaws of George Floyd and don’t feel sorry for his murder; remember, one day you will be judged, and your sins will be on display.”
 
Social conditioning, Purvis said, also plays into the archetypical ways in which Black people are portrayed in American culture. 
 
“Do people understand that Aunt Jemima was a racist stereotype? Aunt Jemima was created at a time when Black people were relatively newly emancipated … but what she conveys about Black women is a role of servitude, making the white family happy.”
 
Students and teachers urged to reflect, act
 
Teachers in Boylan’s theology department used Purvis’s presentation as a springboard for class discussions. 
 
“Many students enjoyed her passion and direct approach but also were conflicted with how racial injustice and pro-life movements are related,” said sophomore theology teacher Erik Abrahamsen. 
 
“The underlying principle is simple; we should treat every individual with the respect and dignity they so richly deserve since we are all made in the image of God. From conception to death we need to embrace that and step out of the cancel culture we seem to obsess over,” he said. 
 
Freshman theology teacher Lynn Rafferty said that she believes Purvis’s remarks will challenge her students’ views on human dignity. 
 
“I would hope that the students will look at all of humanity as belonging to the Kingdom of God and acknowledge that we are all a part of God’s family. No matter what our faith or belief in God is, we are made in His image, therefore we all deserve to be treated as equals, as sons and daughters of God,” she said. 
 
Boylan senior Genevieve Ryan said that Purvis’s comments on what it means to be prolife were especially thought- provoking. “She stressed the importance of applying our beliefs consistently, especially our belief in the sanctity of human life. Many Catholics fail to recognize that being ‘pro-life’ extends far beyond the issues of abortion and euthanasia. 
 
“If we truly believe all people are created equal and in the image and likeness of God, then racism and the death penalty have no place in society. 
 
“I appreciated Ms. Purvis’s acknowledgement that double standards exist on both sides of the racial divide, or at least the politicized sides, and that helped me to take inventory of my beliefs and to consider the implications of those beliefs,” Ryan said. 
 
Purvis encouraged students to continue working toward the goals of treating everyone with human dignity and racial justice. “Don’t despair and think we can’t do anything about racism, because we can. We’re Catholic and we understand what the victories are in life; we understand that sin does not have the last word. Each and every day, our faith pushes us toward holiness.” 
 
She continued. “There’s an old rap song that says, ‘Get rich or die trying’. I say, get holy or die trying; that’s what we’re called to do as Catholics, get holy or die trying.”
 
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