Women’s History Month is celebrated annually in the United States, during the month of March, as a time to reflect on and honor the contributions and achievements of women throughout time. This year, as we mark this important occasion, it is fitting to pay homage to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, a religious congregation of women who have dedicated their lives to serving others and making a lasting impact on the world around them.
Sister Jo B Eyl
Sister Joseph Beatrice Eyl, better known as “Jo B” was a passionate and tough woman.
With an early call to religious life, she entered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth after college and she served as a nurse in various schools and clinics. In 1972 Sister Jo B was assigned to Smithfield, North Carolina, and other areas as part of the East Coast Migrant Health Project.
Smithfield was a town with roots in the Ku Klux Klan, and the conditions and treatment of the poor, mostly Black farmworkers were comparable to modernized slavery. The workers were mistreated and quickly indebted to the farms and often beaten if they tried to leave. Sister Jo B worked closely with a young man named Russ Canan, a health education aide, and they formed a fast friendship while they worked together in Smithfield. Sister Jo B trained Russ in basic medical procedures and they would visit the workers’ camps to offer basic health care services. She and Russ were to recruit local doctors to treat the workers, although they faced a lot of pushback from those who did not wish to acquire poor, non-white patients.
While Sister Jo B provided compassion and care to the workers, she also looked to address the abusive conditions in which they lived. During her assignment, she encountered multiple workers who had been beaten and mistreated during their work, and she convinced them to share their experiences on a tape recorder. Sister Jo B organized a meeting with the Governor of North Carolina to protest against the mistreatment of workers, which she saw as slavery, and presented him with the tapes and written statements. Russ and Sister Jo B also wrote to various organizations, including the FBI and the press, about their findings, and a few months later, they received a call from a Department of Justice lawyer who was starting an investigation.
A resolution to the migrant worker abuse was not immediate, but Sister Jo B did not back down when it came to the best interest of her patients and the communities she served. One thing is for certain, the lives of the workers she encountered during her assignment in Smithfield were changed for the better through her actions.
Her fiery presence and perseverance were an inspiration to many around her, including Russ, a fresh college graduate at the time, who later became a judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Sister Jo B was present at his ceremony and he went on to detail their friendship and Sister’s influence in his book, “Pursuing the Horizon, Stories of Justice.”
Jo B was a remarkable woman who dedicated her life to serving others. She was unafraid to stand up for what was right, even in the face of adversity, and truly demonstrated what it means to be a Sister of Charity of Nazareth. In 1987, the Sister Joseph Beatrice Eyl Scholarship was established through Spalding University to be awarded annually to a nursing student, offering a chance for her legacy to live on through future generations.
Sister Jobe was , indeed, a remarkable woman. When I was with her in the Southern Province, she was a vibrant member of the Holly Springs, Mississippi church , local, SCN community .…….defending the poor, involving herself herself in many activities, delighting those of us who knew and loved her.