Sister Simone Campbell and the Nuns on the Bus

One Sunday when I was six, my grandmother was not feeling well.  She came to me and said that I was going to have to go to church without her.  I was six.  We lived in Philadelphia.  The church was at least 10 city blocks away from her apartment.  I was to go on my own and on the way back, stop off at the pasta maker to pick up the ravioli’s for that night’s dinner.  Did I mention that I was six?

Ten city blocks later I arrived at church.  A Nun met me at the door and took me to my pew.  On the way out of church she said to me, “Don’t forget to stop and pick up the ravioli for your grandmother.”  Needless to say, I did what I was told.  Even then I knew it was odd for a six-year-old to be traveling the streets of Philadelphia on her own, but the last thing I was going to do is question my grandmother.  I mean, after all, she was working with the Nuns.

Until my generation, members of my family only had a few choices in life.  You could be a Priest, a Nun, a public servant, or home maker.  So in my family history, you will find a Jesuit Priest, several nuns, officers of the law, and members of the State Department, the CIA, the ATF, and the Department of Defense.  I list them in order of importance to my great-grandmother, the matriarch of my family.

I knew when I was little how revered the men and women of the church were to my family.  The Priests were paramount because they were the closest to God.  And the Nuns were the servants of God, there to keep everyone in check with the teachings of the Priests.  The Nuns were the workers.  They helped with the services, taught our children, nursed our sick, fed our poor, cleaned our chapel, and worked along side of all the members of our congregation.  And while it was not everyday you would have a priest over to dinner, Sunday dinners with a Nun was quite common.  Especially if she was a member of the family.  In fact, we all knew that at the right hand of our mothers sat the Nun.  They were as responsible for our upbringing as was our parents.

It is quite different now.  As an adult, I taught at a catholic high school for a few years. When I started, there were four Nuns on staff.  Within a few short years, there were none.  In fact, I have not been in contact with a Nun in over a decade.  I know they are out there, even though their numbers may have dwindled.  The question is, “have they lost their significance?”

As a nation, we have changed as well.  For the past several decades, the “Religious Right”  has become more vocal and has  inserted their power into our elections.  Using  their “Pro-Life” stance as a litmus test for politicians to show how conservative they are, they have hijacked the teachings of Jesus and have called into question those who disagree, claiming them to be false Christians.   Just last year over 140 pieces of legislation were passed throughout the United States that regulates a women’s access to healthcare.  The Pro-Life movement has defined who were are and how we will be judged in the eyes of the public.

And the economy?  On April 1, 2009, Rep Paul Ryan introduced his alternative to the 2012 Federal Budget.  It was particularly alarming, due to the focus on his program cuts – in particular, programs of the poor.

“Over the next decade, Ryan plans to spend about 16 percent less than the White House on “income security” programs for the poor — that’s everything from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit.” – The Washington Post

In come the Nuns.  Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States –    the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  They have just finished their bus tour, traveling the United States to take on the politicians who they think have forgotten the church teachings.  Having been reprimanded by the Pope before on their support of “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith,” these Nuns have not budged an inch on their mission.

In particular, their focus is on the poor.   They are the “Nuns on the Bus.”

Every hour of each day, Catholic Sisters stand in solidarity with all who live in poverty, and we confront injustice and systems that cause suffering.  We cannot stand by silently when the U.S. Congress considers further enriching the wealthiest Americans at the expense of struggling, impoverished families.  As part of our campaign for budget fairness we are taking a bus trip. Our bus will travel to places in many states where Sisters actively serve people in need. For they are our best witnesses to the suffering our federal government must not ignore. 

In my grandmother’s day, a Nun had authority over the congregation, but never would a Nun go up against a priest…let alone the Pope.  It was sacrilegious.  But I think that this is something much more than a group of radical, left-wing nuns who are going rogue on the Vatican. As I said before, these are different times.  And according to the actions of the Nuns, these seem to be desperate times.

What their impact will be remains to be seen.  But they are the reminder of the teachings that I learned as a young child.  Let us not forget –

Proverbs 31:8-9
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

I say, “More Power” to Sister Simone and the glorious Nuns on the Bus.  For you are the voice of the forgotten.

4 thoughts on “The Power of Nun!”

  1. Nice read, Susan. The Nuns on the Bus demonstrate their caring for people rather than power. The same can not be said for many of the male leaders of the church. They have lost their way.

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