LEFT: Florence Kaster, winner of Catholic Extension’s 1978 Lumen Christi Award, posing with one of the children of her apostolate.
RIGHT: Miss Florence, as she was known, pictured with a Catholic family planting tobacco.
"Them Catholics Don't Scare Easy"
In 1949, Kingstree, South Carolina, was not considered a proper place for a single, white, Catholic woman. African-Americans faced segregation and Jim Crow laws, and Catholics weren’t allowed to own property there. It’s not hard to imagine the resistance Florence Kaster must have faced when she announced, at age 20, that she was leaving her comfortable teaching job in Connecticut to “follow the call of the Lord.” “Miss Florence,” as she later became known by the African-American community she served, spent more than 30 years in Kingstree. A teacher and catechist, her ministry also included driving people to church or school, creating teen clubs, conducting prayer services, visiting senior citizens, and working with individuals who were mentally ill.
This laywoman planted herself in a community rife with bigotry and misunderstanding. She even faced outright danger – being threatened by the Ku Klux Klan and withstanding shots being fired at the building in which she was teaching. But she remained undeterred and, over time, her mission proved to be fruitful. When she arrived at St. Ann’s parish in Kingstree, there was only one African-American family there. By 1978, the number of African-Americans at St. Ann’s had grown to 200. Miss Florence’s courage became legend. Said one local, “Them Catholics don’t scare easy!”
Postscript: Florence Kaster died in 2013.