Sisters: The Extraordinary Lives of Serena and Anna Marie Branson tells the stories of author Chris Byrd’s aunts, Serena and Anna Marie Branson. As Daughters of Charity, their examples informed his desire to become a “gospel person” who lives simply, works for justice, promotes peace, and respects lives at all stages and situations.
Serena was first woman in the United States to run a diocesan Catholic Charities agency: Catholic Charities of Albany, New York, which she led from 1974 to 1990. She was equally respected and admired as a national leader in Catholic Charities’ US movement. Honored numerous times for her 71 years of service and advocacy, Serena received Catholic Charities USA’s highest honor in 2002—the Vision Award, which was also given to Sr. Helen Prejean and the late Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Anna Marie is best recalled for her 20 years as a missionary accompanying Bolivia’s indigenous poor. In the final year of her life, with her health failing precipitously, Anna Marie began the work with which she remains most closely associated: San Vincente Albergue, or St. Vincent’s Hostel. She became Madrecita (“little mother”) to 30 boys and young men who had been abandoned by their families and were living on the streets of the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. Everyone who knew Anna Marie felt as if they were in a saint’s company, and one of the intentions of Sisters is to promote her cause for canonization.
Byrd has published extensively in the National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, and America, and has been a long-time contributor to TAC. He says: “For more than 20 years, my reviews and commentaries have found a home in TAC, and this book’s genesis, fittingly, is in a piece I wrote for TAC published in 2012.”
He adds that “TAC readers, especially those who recall that piece, will be inspired and challenged to follow my aunts’ examples to do more for God’s reign of peace and justice, life and love.”
Sisters is Byrd’s first full-length book. Further information is available at Politics and Prose as well as the author’s website. Last month, we had a chance to speak with Byrd about the book and the missionary and advocacy work of his two aunts. We are pleased to share highlights from our conversation in the video below. ♦