The Charleston Young Adult Cathedral Group and members of the Charleston Police Department help the Daughters of St. Paul clean up after the riots in Charleston, S.C. CNS photo/handout via The Catholic Miscellany

Sisters escape violence

By  Christina Lee Knauss, Catholic News Service
  • June 12, 2020

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The four Daughters of St. Paul who live and work on Charleston’s King Street closed up their books and media store like normal May 30.

They had spent a long day serving customers and watching marchers who moved down King Street to a city landmark called the Battery, taking part in protests against the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman.

Around 10 p.m., however, the sound of shouting alerted them that it was not going to be a normal night. “During the day, the people coming by were peaceful. They chanted and marched and were very nice to our customers who were outside to pick up orders,” said Sr. Margaret Kerry, local superior for the community and store manager. “What we heard at night was different. There was anger, screaming.”

On a night when violence tore through cities across the U.S. as a byproduct of the Floyd protests, Charleston was not immune. King Street and the surrounding area, chock-full of restaurants and shops, became the nucleus of a wave of looting, vandalism and arson.

Sr. Charlotte Robert Morrison was in her room on the building’s second floor when she heard the yelling, then the sound of glass breaking. Being in the middle of a riot had been the last thing on her mind when she arrived in Charleston in January to spend a few months helping at the store. She is usually based in Toronto and ended up staying in South Carolina longer than intended because COVID-19 halted travel between Canada and the U.S.

Morrison went downstairs into the store, where she joined Srs. Lupe Hernandez and Gioan Linh Nguyen, who had come downstairs to see what was happening.

Then the looting started. Rioters hit the Sunglass Hut directly across the street but could only damage that glass and not break it. So they moved on to other shops up and down King Street, then started breaking restaurant windows.

The sisters stayed downstairs for a while, hoping no one would target their store. Miraculously, no one did. The chaos continued until about 2 a.m., then tapered off.

The morning of May 31, the sisters saw the destruction up and down King Street and realized how blessed they were to have escaped the night undamaged. They also saw the neighborhood come together. Volunteers showed up to help sweep up glass. Employees from Croghan’s, a jewelry store across the street, took time off from their own cleanup to help the sisters put plywood over their door and windows to protect them in case of another wave of violence.

The sisters are thankful that they are safe and their store was not harmed. The Daughters of St. Paul, who operate a bookstore on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, were not as lucky. Rioters broke nearly all of the windows in the sisters’ store and emptied their cash register. Interestingly, Kerry said, the only window that wasn’t smashed was one that held a picture of Pope Francis.

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