Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary Credit: Bill Moore photo

The Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary celebrated its centennial gala last Tuesday, March 29. The fabulous Women’s History Month gala also featured His Eminence Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York. The order, which nearly shuttered, now looks forward to its next 100 years of service.

The Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, Inc., one of only three orders of Black nuns in the United States, was preparing to phase out in 2014. Economic hardships, a decline in interest in religious life by young Americans and an aging and infirm membership had dealt a near death blow to the Harlem-based order, best known for its work in educating children and feeding the poor. A message from Pope Francis helped save the order, which celebrated its 100th anniversary at the New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Ave., in Manhattan.

The event featured a video tribute from honorees Marc H. Morial, National Urban League president and CEO; Wendy Oxenhorn, vice chairman/executive director of the Jazz Foundation (and Street News founder); the Honorable Charles B. Rangel, U.S. congressman; the Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network president and founder; and the African-American Catholic bishops, accepted by Bishop Guy Sansaricq, Diocese of Brooklyn.

Susan L. Taylor, Essence magazine editor-in-chief emerita and founder/CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement, presented the Centennial Award to the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary at the event, which also included performances by Melba Moore, Tony and multiple Grammy Award-nominated artist; Carmen Ruby Floyd, Broadway actress and singer; and Interpretive Works: 3D Ministries.

Additional presenters included Dionne Warwick, Grammy Award-winning vocalist; Alysia Joy Powell, star of NBC’s “Mysteries of Laura”; Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, award-winning actress and comedian; Charles D. Smith, CEO of LifeStyle Service Group and former NBA player; and Brother Tyrone Davis, of the Office of Black Ministry, Archdiocese of New York.

Contessa Brewer, CBS News anchor, and David Ushery, WNBC-TV anchor, hosted, and G. Keith Alexander, radio and television personality, served as announcer.