Cadet Nurse, Tuskegee, AL
Cadet Nurse Alma Bailey was a recipient of the 2007 Congressional Gold Medal for her service during World War II and is still very proud to wear it
In 2022, Ms. Bailey finally received an Honorary BA in Nursing degree
At age 97 years young, the matriarch of Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Darby carries the title “Mother Bailey” – along with a sharp memory for many experiences yesteryear and today for Black Catholics in America.
“When my mother was a girl, she named her doll, ‘Alma.” So, when I was born in Middlesboro, Kentucky, in 1925, I was named after her doll! I was a twin, one of seven children. My entire family was very active in our Baptist Church. It was in California that ‘I turned around.’” said Alma Elizabeth Bailey of her journey toward the Catholic Church.
The daughter of parents who were college graduates, Alma was accepted in 1943 into the United States Cadet Nursing Corps. This program was conducted at Tuskegee University, Alabama, home of the celebrated African American airmen of World War II, with whom she shares an association. The war ended before her graduation, but she became trained in both practical and psychiatric nursing.
From 1943 until retirement in 1987, Mother Bailey worked in the nursing profession in Kentucky and Alabama. Locally, she worked in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, St. Vincent Home for Children, and Lankenau Hospital.
“In 1949, I found a medal of the Sacred Heart and Blessed Mother among ashes in a back yard incinerator. I spent hours polishing ‘whatever it was’ and I am still wearing this medal. I then took a correspondence course to become a Catholic. “When I completed the course, the priest in Middleboro would not receive me into the church. I was angry! He told me that by becoming a Catholic, I would be estranged in my family. “Later, I was baptized in St. Jillian Church, Middleboro. When I came to Philadelphia, I was confirmed in St. Francis de Sales Church. To this day, I wear a gold crucifix given to me when I was confirmed.” Mother Bailey has been a parishioner at Blessed Virgin Mary Parish since 1981. Apart from parish life, Mother Bailey belongs to the Third Order of Dominican Sisters, is a member of the Tuskegee Airmen’s Association, and is involved with the Nile Swim Club in Yeadon. “This club was founded in 1956 when Blacks were not permitted in white swim clubs,” she recalls. In 2015, Father Corley installed a sculpture of “Mary, Queen of Africa” in the church. The statue is three and a half feet tall and sculpted by a priest, Father Leonard Carriere, a Missionary of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. “I am glad that our pastor placed a Black monument in my church,” Mother Bailey said. “More and more African Blacks are attending. They come from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo, and Ghana. They are happy to see a statue that they can connect with.”
Ms. Bailey is still an active member of the Philadelphia Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen and women where she regularly makes oral presentations regarding her experience with the Tuskegee Experience.