Sister Rosemary Flanigan, St. Teresa's Academy
Sister Rosemary Flanigan, Ph.D, has lived a life of service through her participation in activist movements, education, and healthcare organizations. As one member of the Selma Six, or the Sisters of Selma, Sr. Rosemary was among six Catholic nuns who participated in the 1965 Civil Rights march in Selma. This served as the first time that Catholic nuns participated in a public national protest, emphasizing their call for racial equality and the importance of the Civil Rights movement. However, Sr. Rosemary is more well-known for the contributions she made later in her life. She served as director of ethics and educational development at the Center for Practical Bioethics, and served as an educator for almost 30 years, including years spent at her alma mater, St. Teresa's Academy in Kansas City.
Photo of Sister Rosemary Flanigan, Ph.D, for the Starr Women's Hall of Fame
Backstory and Context
"I don't want to let any of us 'off the hook.' We need to reach out and make a difference."2
Sister Rosemary Flanigan, Ph.D, spent her life advocating for others in many different ways. Sister Rosemary completed a doctorate in philosophy at Saint Louis University, and continually used her education to promote philosophy and ethics throughout the communities she served. In 1965, as a nun within the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, she traveled with five other Catholic nuns from St. Louis, Missouri, to Selma, Alabama. Once there, the nuns participated in the civil rights march across the Pettus Bridge. The Selma Six, or the Sisters of Selma, as they were called, marked the first time Catholic nuns participated in a national public protest. In an interview in 2020, Sister Rosemary recalled her participation in Selma:
"We stood with Black people in Selma, but what a little bitty thing we did."2
Through this remark, she calls on people today to do more in making a difference, truly working towards making changes for the betterment of vulnerable people and communities.
Although she was outspoken about civil rights for decades, Sister Rosemary was more well-known for different community contributions. Sister Rosemary served as an educator in multiple different academic institutions, including Avila University and Rockhurst University. She also taught English and Philosophy at her alma mater, St. Teresa's Academy in Kansas City. St. Teresa's, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, is the oldest high school in Kansas City. Opened in 1866, the academy aimed to provide educational opportunities to women and prepare them for their futures, which continues to be their mission to this day.
After decades of teaching, Sister Rosemary moved from education to the healthcare field, advocating for patients and ethical practices in medicine. She served as the director of ethics and educational development at the Center for Practical Bioethics from 1992 until 2010, and also served as an ethics consultant throughout her time at the Center. She assisted with the development of ethics committees in countless hospitals across the country. In this role, Sister Rosemary also educated the members of newly formed ethics committees on ethical practices and ways to approach life-or-death situations within hospitals and nursing homes. She also served on the Community Advisory Committee for the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City in 2004 and 2005, after being appointed by Attorney General Jay Nixon. Throughout her life, Sister Rosemary advocated for vulnerable people and communities and affirmed the dignity of all people.
By 2012, Sister Rosemary had retired from the Center for Practical Bioethics and other professional endeavors due to her deteriorating hearing, but, she volunteered two days per week at the St. Teresa Academy archives. In 2017, she was inducted into the Starr Women's Hall of Fame at the University of Missouri-Kansas City for her contributions to Civil Rights, education, and bioethics. As of 2020, she was still advocating for racial equality and the importance of supporting vulnerable communities, as seen in her interview with Carol Coburn for the Global Sisters Report.
- A Sister Like No Other, UMKC. March 16th 2017. Accessed April 6th 2022. https://info.umkc.edu/news/a-sister-like-no-other/#:~:text=Rosemary%20Flanigan%2C%20Ph.,which%20Flanigan%20is%20best%20known.
- Coburn, Carol K. Q & A with Sr. Rosemary Flanigan: 1965 and 2020 'are different worlds', Global Sisters Report. August 18th 2020. Accessed April 6th 2022. https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/q-sr-rosemary-flanigan-1965-and-2020-are-different-worlds.
- History, St. Teresa's Academy. Accessed April 11th 2022. https://stteresasacademy.org/about-sta/academy/history.
- Where Are They Now: Interview with Sister Rosemary Flanigan, Health Forward Foundation. August 9th 2012. Accessed April 6th 2022. https://healthforward.org/where-are-they-now-interview-with-sister-rosemary-flanigan/.
UMKC Today Archives: A Sister Like No Other; https://info.umkc.edu/news/a-sister-like-no-other/