The Table

Photo by Ted Majdosz

Over the past decade as a feminist activist, I have made several protest signs – signs for women’s ordination, to support anti-domestic violence legislation, to close the SOA, end the war, support marriage equality, women’s health, immigrants’ rights, and Fr. Roy . . . but if you told me I would need to make signs to save nuns from the Vatican, I would have said you’re fooling me.

But here we are, fighting a ridiculous crackdown on the women who, for centuries, are the backbone of the church.  Women whose median age is seventy-seven, work tirelessly for the poor, dedicate their entire lives to service and being the Gospel message, and die with their boots on for justice.

From pre-K through college, I attended Catholic schools and, in many ways, am unlike my peers because I grew up with women religious in my life.  I can recite prayers I bet you didn’t even know existed. (Driver’s prayer to St. Christopher, anyone?) Now, I know what you’re thinking. The executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference was educated by nuns. There you have Vatican’s case and point.  So let’s take a moment to discuss what these crazy, wild, radical, feminist nuns actually taught me.

The sisters I had in school taught us to be compassionate, strong women and to stand up against injustice. They ingrained ‘love our neighbor’ and the Beatitudes into the core of our very beings. They didn’t just make us read the Gospel, they made us live the Gospel by taking us on field trips to work beside them in shelters, in soup kitchens, and in ministries that supported the poor, women, children, and the earth.  These ministries were also run by other sisters.

They demanded we work harder in class. They cheered us on in our sports games and our plays. In prayer services, they actually shared stories of biblical women so we could relate to our faith. In every aspect of our lives, they rooted for us and were our role models.

I see classmates on Facebook now – they are mothers, teachers, nurses, doctors, researchers, volunteers, lawyers, leaders, and community activists. I am proud to know them because they are living lives of service and compassion. It is not a coincidence we each grew up to work for a world that is merciful and just. These strong women may not all agree on women’s ordination, but I am certain we all agree that women religious taught us how to think for ourselves.

USCCB Sign, Photo by Ted Majdosz

This past Tuesday, WOC participated in a vigil to support women religious outside the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). We told folks to meet near the USCCB sign in front of their building. When we arrived to the location, however, the bishops had covered their sign with a garbage bag so we could not find them or have the sign seen in our photographs. This was confirmed by a USCCB representative who was standing outside watching us.

I stared at the garbage bag covered sign for some time to take it all in. This childish act spoke volumes – they were hiding in shame. The Vatican’s mandate against LCWR, which threatens sisters’ works of charity, is reportedly backed by the USCCB. How many bishops were educated by nuns? Work alongside these very sisters they are threatening? What would the churches in their diocese be without the work of sisters? Since I have yet to hear one bishop shout from the rooftop that this crackdown on women religious is completely outrageous, then suppose hiding in shame makes sense. It’s what our church hierarchy does best.

Despite the tragic sign incident, there was hope. Over 75 people gathered at the vigil to show their support for the sisters – all affected by women religious in some way. I met many for the first time and felt their holy anger. We talked, prayed, and became friends.  Several USCCB employees honked and gave us ‘thumbs-up’ as they left their offices for the day, and you could feel the tide-turning. A few sisters came by to say “thanks” for supporting them. One sister I never met told me she loved me – and I felt her love. Another, not realizing the one-year-old attached to my hip was mine – asked if I had ever considered religious life. This question, I have received more than once in my life, but for the first time my answer was very clear. “Sister, in my heart, I am a woman religious.”

The Nun Justice Project is hosting several vigils and actions to support women religious. To get involved, visit: www.nunjustice.org.

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