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Anna “Madre” Bates

In 1943, Anna “Madre” Bates of Detroit, founded Our Lady of Victory, a Catholic mission in her neighborhood where white supremacy and segregation were rampant and where white ecclesiastical authorities resisted her advocacy.

The city’s disturbing segregationist policies and unjust living conditions imposed on Black Detroiters naturally created tensions in the city. In 1941, the city, eager to build a new housing development for white Detroiters, built an eight foot segregation wall (sometimes referred to as the “wailing wall”) that extended a half-mile long just blocks from the new Our Lady of Victory mission site. The wall was built to keep Black citizens out of white communiites in northwest Detroit. Just two years later, riots broke out as whites defended their territory against their fellow Black citizens. 

Seeing the profound need for a Catholic presence and mission in her neighborhood, Mother Anna Bates spent ten years petitioning the archdiocese to provide Catholic worship to Black residents who were not permitted to enter any of the neighboring white Catholic Churches. Nearby Catholic parishes, including Presentation Church, were adamantly opposed to welcoming Black Catholics. The pain of that exclusion was deepened when ecclesiastical authorities suggested that Mother Bates’ neighborhood could not support a Catholic mission since it was in a “Protestant stronghold.” 

Still, Mother Bates would not give up on her vision. 

To learn more, download our resource packet. Women Witnesses for Racial Justice resource packets include:

  • Biography/Essay
  • Questions for reflection and conversation
  • Original art by Chloe Becker
  • Prayer Service
  • Suggestions for taking action in your community


Artist: Chloe Becker. Comissioned by FutureChurch.