|Catherine Stokes Biographical Information|
|Catherine M. Stokes, who retired in 2006 as a deputy director for the Illinois Department of Health, is a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago. She served as vice-chairman of the board of trustees of the InnerCity Youth Charitable Foundation in Chicago from 1990 to 2006.
After moving to Utah, she was on the board of the Utah AIDS Foundation and is now membership chair of the Utah Chapter of the African-American Genealogy & Historical Society. She is featured in the book, Mormon Women: Portraits & Conversations, and has recently been named as a member of the new Editorial Advisory Board for the Deseret News.
Catherine Stokes’s acquaintance with the Church began on a June day in 1978 when she was flying into Honolulu for a nurses’ convention. The pilot suggested that visitors take the opportunity to see the Hawaii Temple, which was open to the public for the first time in many years because it had just been renovated. The temple was closed when she went there, but she filled out a referral card at the visitors’ center.
Back home in Chicago a few weeks later, she was “stunned at the follow-through” when missionaries showed up with that same card in hand. “It took months and several sets of elders,” she recalls, before she was ready for baptism. It was February 1979 when she began to realize that she believed that the things she was hearing from the missionaries were true—and to ask herself a question: What, then, was her responsibility as one who knew the truth? She was baptized in April of that year. Soon her teenage daughter, Ardelia, was drawn into the Church through her mother’s activity.
She says the gospel has improved her relationships with people both inside and outside the Church. But in the Church, she has found a place where “I can trust—and people can trust me.” That trust means being able to talk comfortably with Church members about things she would not discuss withothers—such as racial and cultural differences. “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.”
She is grateful for the trust of friends who have at times allowed her to care for or influence their children. “Could I have found this relationship outside the Church? I doubt that.” 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, “Idon’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.”
Catherine wishes she could have found the gospel much sooner—as a young girl, when it could have affected her life earlier. She laughs when she says maybe that’s why she had the opportunity to serve as ward Young Women president. Earlier, she had served for four years as Relief Society president. She has also served as music chairman in her ward, 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.
Sister Stokes has had assignments from Church Public Affairs not only in the United States, but in Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. She was featured in a Church documentary about service, "Lives of Service," and was in the 1996 Missionary Fireside with Elder M. Russell Ballard.