Sister Tess Browne was awarded the Bishop James Augustine Healy Award Dinner on Saturday, November 11, 2023, in Boston. The Bishop James Augustine Healy Award is presented each year to a practicing Black Catholic who has shared the Gospel through leadership and service, been a witness of faith and compassion, and encouraged a healthy Black Catholic identity.
Read below for more on Sister Tess, her childhood, and her ministries. To see photos from the event, click here.
Introduction of Sr. Marie-Therese “Tess” Browne, SCN, By Carolyn A. Caveny
I am honored to have been invited to introduce our Healy Award Recipient.
Sr. Marie Therese Browne was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and grew up witnessing and experiencing the indigenous peoples’ continued struggle for independence from the many centuries of colonization by Spain and British Rule and the horrific results of economic exploitation and control!
She was nurtured and taught by her dear mother, Dorothea, who throughout her life shared the gift of faith with her daughter. Sister Tess lived her early years listening, watching, and learning as she witnessed the actions of her mother and others advocating for the common good of the wider community!
Knowing this, we better understand her ministry as a full-time staff member with the United Farm Workers in Wisconsin, California, and Texas and her witness on the picket lines, her testimonies in open forums, and her boycotting of lettuce and grapes!
A few years ago in 2021, she enthusiastically celebrated her Golden Jubilee, 50 years of to the people of God, and her continued commitment as a Sister of Charity of Nazareth whose Mission Statement proclaims, “We commit ourselves to care for all creation and to work for peace and justice in solidarity with oppressed and marginalized peoples.” Knowing this we better understand her connection with myriad groups in the Boston area and beyond, whose unflinching focus for justice is congruent with the life of Jesus!
Tonight, we celebrate Sister Tess and the blessings which continue to flow on so many, because she continues to embrace her calling. The Black Catholic Community of St. Katharine Drexel Parish is grateful for her presence among us. Knowing this one better understands why Our Family continues to work together, and pray together, and hope together, that all peoples will experience the promise of Jesus, “I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance!”
Please join me in celebrating our Healy Award Recipient, Sister Marie Therese Browne!
Additional bio information:
While on a scholarship from the Sisters of St Francis of Assisi at Cardinal Stritch University, she had planned on concentrating on pre-med, Sr. Tess tried avoiding God’s call, and graduated with a degree in Biology, French and Secondary Education, but God had other plans. A native of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and an U.S. citizen, she is a long-time practitioner in Social Justice Organizing, rooted in Catholic Social Teaching. As a young religious sister in Milwaukee, founding members and stalwarts of the National Black Sisters Conference, National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, and Las Hermanas; as well as Church Women United were Tess’ guardian angels and mentors. She was inspired and challenged by boycotting farmworkers who through their persistence, perseverance and hope, invited her to leave the classroom, and join them on the picket line in their struggle for dignity and justice.
A founding member of the multi congregational Justice and Peace Center, and on the Migrant Mission of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, Sr. Tess was assigned by the National Farm Worker Ministry as fulltime staff with the United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO in Wisconsin, California and Texas. She was Director of the National Farm Workers Service Center in San Juan, Texas; and co-coordinated successful legislative campaigns with farmworkers including the banning of “El Cortito”, the short-handled hoe; and bringing toilets, pesticide protection, and clean drinking water to workers in the fields. After training, with the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, farmworkers in Texas, Sr. Tess and others initiated voting rights and policy campaigns. She was a co-founder of BARCA, the Border Area for Refugees from Central America. Sister then worked in the Brownsville Diocese in human development, as Bishop J.J. Fitzpatrick and the diocese welcomed Valley Interfaith to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Coming to Boston, Sr. Tess organized with the Committee for Boston Public Housing and residents for the right to self-determination; was statewide Organizing Director for the Mass Action for Women Audit; and coordinated HELP (Healthy Environment Leadership Project) an interfaith environmental justice organizing project at Episcopal Divinity School. She directed St Anthony Cares at Arch Street in JPIC ministry (justice, peace and integrity of creation). Being a member of the Racial Justice Working Group of the National Council of Churches enkindled her commitment to collaborative ecumenical/interfaith, anti-racist ministry and engagement; which continues through GBIO, of which the Catholic Sisters Collaborative, and St Katharine Drexel Parish were founding members; and through Mass Interfaith Workers Justice, the Boston Labor Guild, the South Asia Worker Center, and Quincy Interfaith Network. Parishioners and partners of St Katharine Drexel Parish, colleagues, and students in UMass Boston Labor and Gender Studies, and at The Labor Guild, inspire and challenge Sr. Tess to keep on keeping on.
Sr. Tess received a master’s degree from UMass Boston, College of Public and Community Service; and was a Merrill Fellow at Harvard Divinity School. She is eternally grateful to her mom, Dorothea Isabel for her gift of faith, and acting with others for the common good and the wider community. Being a sister of Charity of Nazareth, she tries to live out charity rooted in justice, to care for the earth, and to be in solidarity with oppressed and marginalized persons, especially women and children.