Anita Baird, a member of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a religious society of pontifical right, has excelled as a leader and game-changer in the Catholic Church, and particularly in the black faith community. She is known as a visionary who is always ready to roll up her sleeves and do the hard work to bring about change. Her love for the Gospel has driven her to challenge the church to be all it can be and to sacrifice to make that vision a reality.
Born in Missouri, Anita was the only child of Lutheran parents. Her family moved to Chicago and when Anita was ready to begin her education, only one Lutheran school in the city would accept a black child and that school was miles from her home. Her mother enrolled her in a Catholic school instead, and soon Anita was baptized into the Catholic faith. In school, she was taught by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament whose example instilled in her a desire for religious life. After graduating from high school, Anita entered their community, but returned home after a few months and went to work for AT&T at Illinois Bell/Ameritech where she worked for more than 30 years, while completing an undergraduate degree in sociology and a graduate degree in religious studies. The dream of being a sister though never left her, and when she later heard of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a community that would allow her, as a member, to continue her work at AT&T, as well as live at home and care for her mother, she entered the community.
After retiring from AT&T in 1996, Anita went to work for the Archdiocese of Chicago in the Office of Catechesis. Later, Archbishop Francis George appointed her as his executive assistant, the first time in the history of the diocese that an African American served in a cabinet level position. Three years later, Cardinal George appointed her the founding director of the Office for Racial Justice with the responsibility of directing the archdiocese’s initiatives to address racism in its structures and institutions, while serving as the cardinal’s liaison for race relations to the city of Chicago. While in this challenging position, which she held from 2000-2014, she was appointed to serve simultaneously as the US provincial of her religious community, becoming the first African American to assume that role.
Since 2001, Anita has been traveling the country preaching parish revivals, directing retreats, and presenting anti-racism workshops. She is an active member of the National Black Sisters’ Conference, and has served several times as an NBSC officer. The NBSC proudly notes that Anita stands out as a stellar bearer of the African-American culture as she passes on its stories, songs, prayers, and memories.