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Remembering Georgianna Glose, A Brooklyn Nun And Activist

May 16, 2020
Originally published on May 18, 2020 10:52 am

Georgianna Glose, an outspoken advocate for the poor and disadvantaged and a nun who sounded the alarm on sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, was a fixture in her longtime Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood of Fort Greene.

Glose died last month at the age of 73 from complications linked to the coronavirus.

"She embodied the spirit of our profession and of a progressive nun, and she did it her way," Teresa Theophano, a close friend of Glose, told NPR's Scott Simon. "She was a reverent woman with a hilariously irreverent streak. I loved that about her."

Theophano worked with Glose at the Fort Greene Strategic Neighborhood Action Partnership, a nonprofit where Glose created educational programs aimed at mobilizing residents through literacy, job preparedness, and support for seniors and caregivers, among other services.

"She was passionate about putting anti-racism into practice for white social workers and what it meant to collaborate with communities of color without taking on a white savior complex, especially in a gentrifying neighborhood that was just rife with tension and inequity," Theophano said.

Glose, director and founder of the Fort Greene SNAP, was active in serving her community through the organization up until her final days.

In a stunt he described as "classic Georgianna," Glose's friend Victor Ayala told The New York Times that she called him from the hospital, hoping he would take over her teaching duties at SNAP.

"She's about to go under a respirator and she's calling to tell me what to do with the students," Ayala said. "Her humanity was just so alive."

Glose left her convent of the Roman Catholic order, the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville, N.Y., in 1969 when she moved to Fort Greene, where she'd spent previous summers working alongside her sisters.

There, Glose, along with two other sisters in her order, joined the priests of St. Michael-St. Edward Church.

Glose, whose parents instilled the value of education in their three children from an early age, went on to earn a master's degree at Hunter College and a doctorate in Social Welfare from the City University of New York. According to The Times, she wrote her dissertation about the racism African American nuns faced in the Catholic community.

While she studied and taught, she continued her social work in Brooklyn.

An obituary from the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville cites an anecdote of the support network she arranged to keep elderly people connected.

"In 1973 she set up a telephone reassurance service coordinating a staff of volunteers who would call, on a daily basis, seniors who lived alone. She asked for and received financial help from a number of our convents to cover the large monthly phone bill," the tribute read.

In 1993, Glose learned about allegations of child sex abuse by a priest at the St. Michael-St. Edward parish. It strained Glose's trust in church leadership.

In a 2017 interview with The Global Sisters Report, she called the revelations a "huge betrayal" for all three of the sisters who, after contacting potential victims and building more evidence of abuse within the institution, reported their findings to the Brooklyn Diocese. But they felt he hadn't taken proper action at the time.

During those dark times, Glose said their faith and their social work kept them afloat.

Theophano said her friend's whistleblowing is "an excellent example of the fearlessness that she put forth in all of her actions."

Glose showed that doggedness could go hand-in-hand with gentleness.

"She really stood up for her ideals and for other people," Theophano said. "But she was kind, and she was patient, at the same time that she didn't take any crap from anybody."

Glose is survived by her younger sister Katherine and her older brother Steve.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A remembrance now of Sister Georgianna Glose, one of the nearly 90,000 people in the United States who've died from COVID-19. Sister Glose was a teacher and an advocate in Brooklyn, N.Y. She was bold. She was outspoken and an ally of the homeless and disadvantaged. Teresa Theophano worked with her at the community nonprofit Sister Glose founded, the Fort Greene Neighborhood Action Partnership, and was a close friend. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

TERESA THEOPHANO: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: We're sorry for the loss of your friend.

THEOPHANO: I appreciate that.

SIMON: What kind of difference did she make in what you could see all around you?

THEOPHANO: You know, she really made a difference in so many different kinds of ways. She was my very first social work mentor and I learned from her both how and why to be both gentle and no-nonsense as a social worker and as an organizer and as a woman who people might be quick to underestimate. She was passionate about putting antiracism into practice for white social workers and what it meant to collaborate with communities of color without taking on a white savior complex, especially in a gentrifying neighborhood that was just rife with tension and inequity, you know? She really stood up for her ideals and for other people. But she was kind, and she was patient, at the same time that she didn't take any crap from anybody, if I may say so.

SIMON: In 1993, she and a fellow sister raised an alarm about priests in the parish sexually abusing children. Did she ever talk about that?

THEOPHANO: She had mentioned some of that to me, some of the whistleblowing that she had done. And I believe that she had also worked towards abolishing a statute of limitations for victims to come forth about sexual abuse. And that was just such an excellent example of the fearlessness that she put forth in all of her actions.

SIMON: What was it like to be in her company?

THEOPHANO: It was like being around a kind of auntie you really want to have. She would brandish a mop at the end of the night at her little community-based organization in a storefront in Brooklyn. And she would say something like, you know, Elizabeth Taylor never had to mop the floor. And she would proceed to go ahead and mop the floor. I remember laughing so hard when she said that. It's just not something I expected her to say. She was absolutely delightful.

SIMON: I have to admit one detail that it was irresistible to note from her accounts about her life was that she liked to roller skate to work.

(LAUGHTER)

THEOPHANO: I deeply regret that was one of her pastimes in which she engaged before I began working with her. I never had the pleasure of witnessing it, but it brings me such great joy to envision it now.

SIMON: Sister Glose was 73 and active until, I gather, the last days. How do you hope people carry forward her spirit and what animated her?

THEOPHANO: You know, she embodied the spirit of our profession and of a progressive nun, and she did it her way. She was the - what I can really sum up about her was that she was a reverent woman with a hilariously irreverent streak. I loved that about her. She will live on as an example in the lives of other people - if they practice kindness at the same time that they rabble-rouse, if they don't suffer fools gladly at the same time that they share everything they've got. And if they continue to build community and fight injustice at every turn, they'll perpetuate the spirit of Glose.

SIMON: Teresa Theophano is a social worker. And she was a close friend of Sister Georgianna Glose, who died last month of complications connected with the coronavirus. Thanks so much for being with us and remembering your friend.

THEOPHANO: Thank you. I appreciate it, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.