CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – On Saturday, civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis will be in our area to deliver the Elms College Commencement address.  22News talked to a woman whom Lewis credits with saving his life and is a big part of why he’s coming to Western Massachusetts.

In the 1960s, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Rochester NY were working in Selma Alabama at the only hospital there that would treat black people. I spoke with one woman who was working there on Bloody Sunday when Congressman John Lewis needed life-saving medical care.

Sister Barbara Lum of the Sisters of St Joseph in Rochester NY, still remembers the morning of March 7, 1965.  She was working at a hospital in Selma, Alabama on the day that would soon come to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”

“Rev. Reese and some others were going to march to Montgomery for voting rights and would I fix a first aid kit,” Sister Barbara said.

She’d learn later, a first aid kit wasn’t nearly enough.  State toopers stopped the people who were marching for voting rights.  They beat them, sprayed them with tear gas and stomped them with horses.

John Lewis, now a Georgia Congressman, led the march and was also beaten.

To this day he can’t imagine what would’ve happened to him and the others had it not been for the ONLY hospital in the area that treated black people.

“It was in the good Samaritan hospital, that a group of nuns, Sisters of St. Joseph took care of us. If it hadn’t been for these brave and courageous sisters, I don’t know what would have happened to us,” Congressman Lewis told 22News.

“I have this very clear image in my mind of him with his eyes closed, on a stretcher,” Sister Barbara said.

Sister Barbara was one of the nurses that day who administered life-saving treatment to Lewis and others.

It’s why Lewis now gives back to the SSJ whenever possible. It’s the same order that founded Elms College, where he’ll deliver the commencement address this weekend.

“He has said in a number of venues, how grateful he is to the sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester who saved his life. So that is quite stunning to hear, quite wonderful to hear,” Sister Barbara said.

Sister Barbara feels privileged to have worked in Alabama at that time and is impressed by Lewis and all his success.