Catherine M. Stokes graduated from DePaul University in Chicago with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. She served as vice-chairman of the board of trustees of the InnerCity Youth Charitable Foundation in Chicago from 1990 to 2006. In 2006, she retired as a Deputy Director for the Illinois Department of Health.

After moving to Utah, she served on the board of the Utah AIDS Foundation, and currently serves as the membership chair of the Utah Chapter of the African-American Genealogy & Historical Society. She is featured in the book, Mormon Women: Portraits & Conversations, and was recently named a member of the new Editorial Advisory Board for the Deseret News.

Finding the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Catherine M. StokesStokes first became acquainted with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in June 1978, while flying to a nurses’ convention in Honolulu, Hawaii. The pilot had suggested that those visiting the islands should visit the Hawaii Temple, which had just been renovated and was open to the general public. The temple was closed the day Stokes went there. She did meet a pair of missionaries at the visitors’ center who were unable to satisfactorily answer the questions that she had, so she filled out a referral card, requesting more information.

She was amazed at the quick response that she received. She had expected “a magazine and a request for donations.” [2], but instead “I got two little white boys late in the evening, for which I scolded them for being out,” she recalled. [2] Those “two little white boys” were missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called the “Mormon” Church by the media and others). They had the card that she had filled out. Stokes invited them in, but her conversion to the gospel was not an easy “sale.”

She met with several sets of Mormon missionaries over the course of several months. The visits became a learning experience for both the missionaries and herself. The missionaries would come and talk to her about the Book of Mormon, and she would share with them her knowledge of the Bible. She soon discovered that accepting Mormon doctrine was not much different than accepting the tenets of Christianity. This was something that her Protestant friends could not readily understand.

“Do you believe in the virgin birth?” she would ask them. “Being a medical person, after the virgin birth, Joseph Smith was a piece of cake. God only had a conversation with him. That thing with Mary was a bit more complicated.” [2]

It wasn’t until February 1979 that she gained a testimony of what the missionaries were teaching her was true – and asked herself the question: “What, then, was her responsibility as one who knew the truth?” [1] She was baptized a member of the Church in April 1979, and because of her testimony and righteous example, her teenage daughter, Ardelia, was drawn into the Church.

Stokes has stated that the gospel has help improve her relationships with people – both inside and outside the Church – as she believes that she has found a place where “I can trust—and people can trust me.” [1] Because of that trust, she is able to discuss such things as racial and cultural differences with church members more comfortably than she would discussing those same matters with others. She commented, “I talk with people easily, and I enjoy it. I think I get that from watching children. Children are the greatest examples in my life.” [1]

Lessons Learned from the Heart of a Child

Stokes says that she is grateful for friends who have at times entrusted her with the care and influence of their children.

She recalls the lesson taught to her one day by the child of a French-born friend. Sister Stokes had taken the little girl to a movie. The girl said that if they continued to spend so much time together, people might think Sister Stokes was her mother. Seeing the obvious difference in skin color, people around them in the movie line laughed. Sister Stokes replied, “I don’t think so, dear.” “Why?” the child asked. “Because I don’t speak French.” The little girl accepted this answer. Children, Sister Stokes explains, don’t see some of the exterior differences between people as important, unless adults teach them that those differences are a factor in the way people are to be treated.

I grew up in very harsh, stark poverty, and there were many, many deficits and hurts. I think my associations with children in the Church are a way for those deficits to be overcome and those hurts to be healed. [1]

A Seeker of Knowledge and Truth

Catherine Stokes has always had a keen mind for seeking out knowledge and truth wherever she could find it, and she has never been afraid to speak out against anything that she believes to be wrong. In a May 2012 Deseret News interview, she recounts being expelled from the Catholic school that she attended at age 10 in Chicago after questioning a teacher’s belief as to who goes to hell. She said, “I knew I was going to die, because the most important thing in my life was going to school and getting an education.” [2] However, when she arrived home and told her father what had happened, to her amazement, her father stated that he had felt that it was time for her to leave the Catholic school anyway. “At that moment I knew, there is a God,” Stokes recalled. “And he loves me.” [2] She further commented, “That’s where the rubber meets the road. The belief that … you volunteered to come (to earth) and be black and female. It’s a hard job, but somebody’s gotta do it, right?” [2]

Defying the Overshadow of Failure

Catherine M. Stokes MormonStokes spent her early years growing up in Mississippi as the youngest daughter of sharecroppers. During that time, many Blacks began migrating to the North to seek greater opportunities. While still a toddler, she went with her great-aunt and her husband as their daughter. “I was the lucky one. I got to go to school,” Stokes said. [2]

Stokes loved school and was a stellar student. “Failure was not an option when I was growing up,” Stokes continued. [2] After earning her degree in nursing, she worked her way up Chicago’s public health ladder, and eventually obtained a job overseeing the inspection of hospitals throughout the state of Illinois.

She is definitely not one to “let the grass grow under her feet.” According to the May 2012 Deseret News article, she volunteers with the African-American Genealogy and Historical Society of Utah and is a member of the Utah AIDS Foundation board of trustees. Twice a week, she sits at the front desk of the Huntsman Cancer Hospital, greeting patients and directing them where they need to go. She has been blessed with a special gift of putting both parents and children at ease.

In the Service of God

Stokes has expressed that she often wishes that she had found the gospel sooner in life – as a young girl, when it could have affected her life at an earlier age. She has served in several different callings in The Church of Jesus Christ to include: Young Women President of her ward (a local LDS Church congregation), 4 years as Relief Society President (congregational leader in the largest Church organization of women in the world), ward music chairman, on the Church’s regional public affairs council, and as a member of the advisory board for the Illinois Chicago Agency of LDS Social Services. She has also had assignments from Church Public Affairs in the United States, as well as in Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. She was also featured in a Church documentary about service titled “Lives of Service,” and was part of a 1996 Missionary Fireside with Elder M. Russell Ballard.

As Tyler Cole, one of her “adopted” children has said, “She is one of a kind for sure.” [2]

About Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.

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