The inspiring story of Edmundite Missions began on July 6, 1937 when Pope Pius XI appealed to the Society of St. Edmund, to go minister to the African-Americans of the Deep South. Shortly after his appeal, Father Francis Casey, S.S.E. and Father Barney Paro, S.S.E. arrived and discovered thousands of people living in extreme poverty, similar to that of a third world country. In response, Father Casey immediately began outreach ministries to help lessen the suffering and instill hope for a better future. Little did he and the others know how significant the impact of their work would be in this rural region for the years to follow.
Stunned at the level of poverty, Father Casey made an appeal to his friends in the North to come help serve the poor. In response to his plea, the Sisters of Saint Joseph from Rochester, NY joined the Edmundites in the 1940s. Answering the need for better education and health facilities for African-Americans, the religious sisters went to work alongside the Edmundites. Together, they helped establish ministries, ranging from schools to hospitals, to meet the needs of poor blacks, who were victims of discrimination and denied access to many public institutions.
In education, they founded a parochial school, St. Elizabeth’s, for Selma’s black children. Under the direction of Father Nelson B. Ziter, the Edmundites established the Don Bosco Boys Club, which provided youth with activities and scholarships. Many participants attribute these experiences to their professional success today. The Missions continue building communities through its learning centers, scholarship program and employment of local people in its service ministries.
Responding to the need for better health care, the Edmundites founded the Holy Infant Inn Nursing Home where elderly blacks could spend their last days with dignity. They also purchased the Good Samaritan Hospital, eventually adding a licensed practical nursing (LPN) program. It was the first medical training program for African-American women in the area. In 1965 Good Samaritan won national praise for its treatment of the victims of the Civil Rights confrontation called “Bloody Sunday.”
The Edmundite Missions have reached thousands in many capacities over the years, and has responded to several emergencies. During the destructive floods in Selma in 1940 and 1961, Edmundites gave food, shelter and clothing to hundreds who lost their property.
While integration brought some dramatic changes to the role of the Missions, the needs of Alabama’s poor continued. Helping anyone, regardless of race or denomination, the Edmundites expanded their services to the surrounding rural communities, some of the poorest in the country. Reaching out to those most in need, the Edmundites have established a variety of programs to empower the people they serve.
Before the hospital closed in the 1980s, the Missions established the Rural Health Medical Program (RHMP), which provides quality medical care to poor families in the rural counties surrounding Selma. These clinics provide health and dental care for poor families who live in chronically medically under served communities.
In response to the needs of elderly people, the Edmundites established community centers in several rural areas where seniors receive a hot meal and a day of activities, exercise and social interaction. Responding to the hungry, the Edmundites established Don Bosco Nutrition Center in Selma in 1986 providing free meals to the needy 365 days a year. Knowing the needs for housing repairs, the Edmundites, working with its volunteer program, Edmundite Missions Corps, established a housing program in the 1990s, providing repairs for homes with everything from front steps and wheelchair ramps to new water lines and washing machines.
Seeing the educational needs of children and adults in rural Alabama and inner city Louisiana, the Edmundites responded with Learning Centers serving rural communities, providing preschool and after-school programs and G.E.D. assistance. In 1994, the Edmundites established a small school for inner-city African American boys in New Orleans, Bishop Perry Middle School. The school aimed to help at-risk boys successfully continue their education in Orleans Parish, the third poorest county in the nation. (U.S. Bishops Poverty Report 2001). The school was forced to close its doors in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
With the support and generous donations from many people around the country, the Missions have been able to continue to reach out to God’s people through health, education, nutrition, clothing, housing, elder care, spiritual outreach and youth oriented ministries.