First Black layperson to teach in archdiocesan schools dies

By Chicago Catholic
Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Bobbie Hicks smiles after receiving an award for being the first African-American lay teacher in the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools. She received the award during the African American Heritage Service on Feb. 26, 2016 at Holy Name Cathedral. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Bobbie L. Hicks, 97, died Nov. 3. Mrs. Hicks was the first African American layperson to teach in Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic schools.

Her son, Merritt Hicks III, said on Nov. 11 that he had heard from many of her former students once word about services for her spread on social media.

“I hadn’t realized that she planted so many seeds,” Merritt Hicks said. “She was always a teacher, believe me.”

Mrs. Hicks was honored five years ago at the 38th annual African American Heritage Prayer Service at Holy Name Cathedral.

While there, she spoke about being asked to teach at St. Elizabeth, where her children attended school.

Her son said he remembers his father, Merritt Hicks Jr., being in favor of the move.

“He thought the public schools were kind of rough,” Hicks said. “And my youngest sister was about 4, and they got her into kindergarten with no tuition.”

After St. Elizabeth, Mrs. Hicks’ 44-year Catholic school teaching career continued at St. James (Wabash Avenue), St. Procopius, St. Frances Cabrini and Resurrection, which became St. Martin de Porres, where she worked for 26 years.

She started in middle school, but spent most of her career teaching second, third and fourth grades.

Over the years, she received cards and letters from parents and students thanking her for being a good teacher and for also teaching them Black history. At each school she recalls teaching the students the “Black national anthem,” “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”

Being the first African-American lay teacher in archdiocesan schools was not something she thought much about, she told Chicago Catholic in 2016.

“I had heard the rumor for a long time [that she was the first],” she said. While she had an award from the archdiocese for her many years of service to the schools, nothing said she was the first Black lay teacher.

In accepting the African-American Heritage Award that year, Mrs. Hicks told the students to work hard and do their best.

“Teachers are very important in your life,” she told the young people. “Everybody — doctors, lawyers — has had a teacher. Whatever you plan to do in your life, listen to your teacher.”

She is survived by her daughters, Jaqueline and Gwendolyn, in addition to her son Merritt. Her husband, Merritt Hicks Jr., predeceased her.


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