Mary Alice Chineworth
National Visionary

Born July 16, 1917 in Rock Island, Illinois

Member and Former Director of the
Oblate Sisters of Providence

Sister Mary Alice Chineworth is a member and former director of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the nation’s first order of black nuns.

As a lifelong educator, activist, and seasoned leader of the country’s historic first order of black nuns, Sister Mary Alice Chineworth has played a major role in developing the minds and spirits of countless black children. Inspired by her kindergarten teacher at age four, she felt the call to religious life. Much to her surprise, when she had grown old enough to express a formal interest in joining her teacher’s religious order, she was rejected because of the color of her skin. She would be rejected once more before discovering and subsequently joining the Oblate Sisters of Providence, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Chineworth as a young woman

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
These early setbacks did not stop Sister Mary Alice from moving forward to accomplish the goals she had set. She spent some 30 years as a teacher, working with children from Baltimore’s primarily African American communities. Her leadership talents moved her increasingly toward administration, culminating in her appointment as president of Mount Providence Junior College. In 1970, Sister Mary Alice was awarded a doctorate in Higher Education from Catholic University in Washington, DC.

Beginning in 1973, she held several high level positions within the Order of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, finally attaining the rank of Superior General in 1989. She has been consistently outspoken in urging the church to more actively welcome the advancement of African Americans and women.

Like many other religious orders, the Oblate Sister of Providence are struggling to attract young people to their ranks. Still, Sister Mary Alice perseveres, “As long as there are poor children—disadvantaged, marginalized children—to educate, we will be there.


Article in the Chicago Tribune

Roundtable discussion with Mary Chineworth

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/chineworthmary