It only took until about 11 AM on my first day as a Catholic elementary school teacher to learn the power of Sr. Anne’s voice. With my back turned away from the door I was explaining classroom procedure to a disinterested class of seventh graders when without warning I heard, “Good Morning Sr. Anne,” as if they had been rehearsing it for weeks.
In truth, they had been rehearsing it since kindergarten. Sr. Anne was (and still is) the well respected school principal that knew everyone’s name and story, but could also give you a rundown of the Cleveland Indians box score from the night before. Her ministry to the children and families of that inner-city elementary school are a testament to the significant impact that Catholic women religious have on people throughout the world. Thirteen years later and I am blessed to continue encountering women religious who are often the prominent voices of solidarity and social justice in our society.
Earlier this summer, I had the good fortune of encountering the Nuns on the Bus during a trip to Charlotte, NC. I arrived at the Mexican restaurant in a working-class part of the city where the Nuns event was being held. As the disco lights flashed (despite the fact that it was 10 AM) and the kitchen bustled with noise, a group of strong-voiced women religious stood proudly with local business and community leaders on the stage. Sr. Simone Campbell, the “bus captain” if you will, introduced the sisters and community members and proceeded to offer an argument for why our country needs comprehensive immigration reform. Over the past two years, Sr. Simone has been a significant public figure on behalf the marginalized and undocumented in our country, and her speaking has taken her from a major political party convention to holding personal meetings with President Obama and members of Congress on a regular basis.
More recently, the Sisters of Loretto took a stand for creation by refusing to allow energy companies to survey their 780 acres of land. The surveyors hope to build a natural gas pipeline that would connect fracking operations in Pennsylvania with an existing line that runs from Kentucky to the Gulf of Mexico. The sisters have been interviewed by numerous media outlets for their objections to being part of the pipeline plan and were recently featured in a video report by the environmental news project Climate Desk.
Earlier this week, Sr. Kathleen Erickson, a Sister of Mercy, was featured in a radio advertisement played widely on stations in Omaha, NE organized by Faith in Public Life. Erickson has been integrally involved in advocacy for people who are undocumented throughout her years in ministry. In the radio spot a young woman named Maria speaks briefly about her story as the child of undocumented parents and the fear they experience daily. Sr. Erickson follows by inviting listeners to call Rep. Lee Terry, the local representative, and ask him to support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. For those in the Omaha area, Sr. Kathleen’s voice will give them pause to consider the plight of the undocumented – they will listen.
The good news is that the voices of sisters like Sr. Simone’s, the Sisters of Loretto, and Sr. Kathleen will be amplified. The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) recently announced that it received a $2.3 million grant from the Hilton Foundation that will, according to NCR, “give greater voice to countless Catholic sisters around the globe.” Moving forward we stand to hear the voices of sisters more loudly, advocating for the poor and marginalized with whom they often work so closely. We’ll be listening!