St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Milwaukee will honor three area Black Catholic women through the month of February in honor of Black Catholic History Month.
Themed “Blessed are you among women,” Fr. Michael Bertram, OFM Capuchin, said on three of the four Sundays in February, except Feb. 21, due to the Rite of Election, they plan to honor an outstanding woman in the Black Catholic Community.
On Feb. 7, Makda Fessahaye will be honored for her overall leadership in the community. Recently approved to serve as Milwaukee’s Chief Human Resources Officer, she formerly managed the 36 correctional facilities in Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections.
Fessahaye served as the past president of the Wisconsin Association of African-American lawyers, on MU Law School’s Diversity Recruitment Committee and on Dominican High School’s Alumni Board. She is also a member of All Saints Catholic Church and its Gospel Choir.
In 2018, Fessahaye was named one of MU Law School’s “Rising Stars.” A year later, she was named Dominican High School’s Young Alumni of the Year and named by the Wisconsin Law Journal as one of 2019’s Up and Coming Lawyers. She also received the 2020 Wisconsin Women in Government Rising Star award and was named to Madison365’s Most Influential Black Leaders list.
Shawnee Daniels-Sykes will be honored Feb. 14. The Milwaukee native is a member of St. Martin de Porres and serves as the only Black Catholic female moral theologian and theological ethicist in the country, with a specialization in bioethics. A registered nurse, Sykes has served as a professor in the department of theology and philosophy at Mount Mary University for the past 15 years.
Daniels-Sykes is a popular speaker and teacher and has done extensive research in beginning, middle and end-of-life issues, as they especially affect race, class and gender. She has also battled with stage four pancreatic cancer for the past 15 months. She credits the power of prayer to a providential God, a consistent positive attitude and a grateful heart to make “a way out of no way.”
Feb. 28 will be dedicated to Edwina Matthews. The New Orleans native moved to Milwaukee as a child and quickly experienced prejudice due to her southern accent.
Matthews taught in the Milwaukee Public School System for 37 years and said she knew her life’s mission was to be of service to others. She used poetry in the classroom to promulgate her messages to students.
Matthews served as a member of the NAACP Youth Council dating back to 1967. She joined the Freedom Riders and marched in the south alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Fr. James Groppi, protesting at sit-ins at all-white lunch counters.
Matthews received numerous awards, such as the International Poetry Hall of Fame award and the Maya Angelou Writing Award. She has served on the boards of numerous organizations. She is the author of three children’s books and two plays.
“My morals, values, strengths, faith and my relationship with God instilled in me by my parents helped to develop in me the character that I have lived by all my life,” she said.
“These women are just outstanding in their own right, in their own fields,” Fr. Bertram said. “Secondly, they represent different age groups: Makda is a young woman, Shawnee is seasoned, yet active in her ministry and mission and Edwina is a veteran recognized for her accomplishments and continuing at a later age, to give back to the community and share her rich experience. And thirdly, they are Catholic women representing different parishes: All Saints, St. Martin de Porres and St. Francis.”