Category Archives: Nuns on the Bus 2016

Reflection: What I Learned from Being a Nun on the Bus

Reflection: What I Learned from Being a Nun on the Bus

Sister Jan Cebula, OSF
July 29, 2016

Reflecting on the experience of the Nuns on the Bus 2016, the Mend the Gap tour, I’ve been able to identify what I consider to be five important takeaways:

1. Creative interventions are needed to shift the conversation, change the narrative and make a difference.

From our experience in our own locales and all along our route, participants in Nuns on the Bus heard heartbreaking stories of struggling families, of stark economic inequality in surprising places, how participation in our democracy is being undermined and how the fabric of our society is torn. Our hearts echoed with hers as Sister Simone Campbell proclaimed “We are better than this!” as a country.  Everywhere we stopped we met people who ached for change, who know we can be more together.

At the closing ceremony for this Nuns on the Bus trip on July 29, Sister Simone urged us to wake people up to make a difference, saying we couldn’t be like Rip Van Winkle sleeping for 40 more years and then wake up wondering what happened.

Sound sleepers require shaking.  And we met folks who are creatively intervening to shake things up, to call attention to what’s going on; to say we must change.

We learned from Rev. Will and the folks in Buffalo, of their courageous, risk-taking efforts to intervene in the local arena to call for racial and economic justice and full participation by all in the life of the community. From Moral Monday Connecticut, we heard the importance of being pro-active, occupying significant spaces such as intersections or interrupting forums to shift the conversation.

And who can forget the rousing speech by Moral Monday founder Rev. Dr. William Barber II at the Democratic National Convention which brought everyone to their feet? Calling for a revival of the heart of our democracy.  Calling us all to be “moral defibrillators to shock our nation” with the power of love, mercy and the fight for justice for all!

2. Individualism is an “unpatriotic lie”; community is vital.

Individualism is tearing us apart, Sister Simone proclaimed numerous times and only community can reweave the fabric of society.

All along the way, in every city we witnessed the power of community gathered–at every site visit, caucus and rally. We saw its healing power at Integrity House, Elmwood Gardens, McAuley Village and St. Joseph Neighborhood Center.

It was in the community that we experienced what it meant to be members of the body of Christ. We knew deep down that the bedrock of our country lies with “We the people.”

And, I’m convinced more than ever that building community is the only way forward.

3. Making connections is transformative.

At every event, courageous people got up and told their story: immigrants, low-wage workers, single mothers. Who could not be moved by their passion? Or inspired by their uplifting spirits.

Not too many years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. Others would have been telling their stories. But making the connection between the people impacted by policies and their allies has been transformative.  I still recall how Michael, part of Friends of Night People in Buffalo, teared up when he told us how relationships with the people on the street had transformed his life.

But personal relationships are not the only transformational connections we witnessed.  Making the connection between charitable activities, government policies and systems is key to making necessary changes.  And as we learned about the efforts of people in each city, we saw the value they placed in forming coalitions.

4. “Democracy is not a spectator sport…”

…where we sit on the sidelines and cheer, Sister Simone kept emphasizing at our stops. We the people cannot be “couch potatoes.”

We each need to do our part to reweave the fabric of society, to make our democracy strong. It’s not going to come from the top down; it will have to come from us.

5. People are hungry for hope, for social justice.

Everywhere we went people flocked to meet the Bus and greeted us with enthusiasm. The phenomenon of the Bus remains such a mystery to us who rode it. Perhaps the only explanation is that people are hungry for hope; people are hungry for justice. People are hungry for community. They want to stand together. Somehow Nuns on the Bus speaks to those hungers.

We stopped at a variety of places, some Catholic, but others not. People of various faiths, or none at all, gathered. Also a diversity of ages and ethnicities.  We gathered around common values, common dreams and common desires.

But all knew we Nuns on the Bus are grounded in faith. A t-shirt we spotted in Buffalo summed it all up for me: “The church has left the building!”  Hooray!

What an experience! What important lessons to take away!

Travel Log: Closing Rally (Philadelphia)

Travel Log: Closing Rally (Philadelphia)

Sister Rochelle Mitchell, SSS
July 29, 2016

It is my good fortune to write the final travel log of this amazing ride on the bus – three weeks, 12 states and 21 cities.

1closing2We left Stella Maris Convent early this morning where we had received such kindness and hospitality from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill. We drove to St. Joseph Preparatory School for our final event: a closing rally and blessing.

Father Phil Florio, SJ welcomed us and offered the opening prayer. Our speakers included Mary from POWER, a faith organizing group; Emily from Witnesses to Hunger; Gloria from the New Sanctuary Movement and Terrell a health insurance navigator with Health Federation of Philadelphia. Their reflections were inspiring as well as their lives and their commitment to do their part for the common good.

1closing3Sister Simone addressed the group, thanking them for their works of justice and all the efforts they put into organizing this final event. She then put together a “walk through” the tour, where Simone mentioned a number of people she had met along the way and how their stories had touched her and the other Nuns on the Bus. It was quite moving to hear the stories back-to-back like that.

At the end of the rally, we gathered at the bus where the participants added their signatures to the bus – along with the hundreds of men, women and young people whom we met with along the way and they committed to continue to join with others to “Mend the Gaps.”

1closing1Together we had a final blessing for the bus, for one another and in Thanksgiving to God for the mighty works we had seen.

After the rally, we sisters said our goodbyes as various ones of us were taken to the airport and Amtrak.

My response to all that has been is gratitude. Gratitude to Sr. Simone and the Network Staff for their vision, creativity and weeks of preparation as well as the incredible amount of coordination that happened each day; gratitude to the communities of Women Religious who were so supportive, to the staff and clientele in the many ministries we visited who shared their stories and to the hundreds of people who came to the caucuses and rallies and blessed us with their concerns and insights.

I believe this part of the journey, this bus ride was really only the beginning and hopefully all of us will return to our homes and places of ministry with a deeper appreciation of “We the People.”

See also:
Reflection: What I Learned from Being a Nun on the Bus
Slideshow: Closing Rally (Philadelphia)
Video: Sr. Simone Closing Reflection

Reflection: Witnessing History in the Making

Reflection: Witnessing History in the Making

Sr. Jan Cebula, OSF
July 29, 2016

I climbed to the topmost row and carefully made my way to the seat that a young man graciously gave up for me. It was the last night of Nuns on the Bus and we were able to get some passes to the Democratic National Convention. I had been there two nights before to see the first woman nominated by a major political party for President of the United States and I was now about to witness Hillary Clinton accept the nomination.

1cPhilly1It had been a dizzying schedule and just making our way into the arena to find seats was a challenge. I was settling in, talking with a few young women around me about Nuns on the Bus and our current trip when one of them said a friend of hers would like to meet me. Of course, I said! Nuns on the Bus never pass up an opportunity to get out the message.

It turned out that the friend was a reporter who started asking me about what it was like to be there. I can’t remember now much of what she asked, nor my answers except for one, as we were talking about being present when history is made. She may have asked if I had ever thought about being President when I was a child. When I said I was a bit older so it wasn’t an aspiration when I was growing up, she asked what would have been the reaction if one of my classmates had said she wanted to be President. I responded, “Honestly, that possibility never even entered our minds.”

And yet, here I was, more than five decades later, about to witness something we had never imagined happening become a real possibility.

It’s about time, I thought! And I had to wonder why it had taken so long.

It has been quite a journey; the pathways paved by so many. Joyce Johnson Rouse’s song “Standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us” echoes in my mind and heart. I am so grateful for their courage and tenacity.

My maternal grandmother emigrated from Poland in 1912 when she was sixteen and worked in a meat packing plant in St. Joseph, Missouri. Widowed at an early age with six young children, she remarried and moved to northwest Kansas to farm. I have no idea what her life was like in Poland or how much education she had. Or her challenges of being an immigrant. My mother was born in 1919, one year before women gained the right to vote. She did not finish high school, for economic reasons. Dreams deferred or never even formed? Possibly. Even if that were so, I am standing on their shoulders and am the beneficiary of their struggles and sacrifices.

1cPhilly2What an incredible blessing to have lived during these last decades and all that has evolved! Alive through the awakening of our consciousness as women, claiming our own gifts and our ways of knowing and doing things. I remember it was even a struggle to try to overcome sexist language both in society and in the church. I read “Beyond God the Father” by Mary Daly, launching my ever-expanding quest for God. I recall attending many a meeting when I felt invisible and of experiencing that the only way we could move our agenda forward (no matter how noble) was to get a man in a position of influence to believe it was his idea. Feeling increasingly disoriented and out of it, it was so liberating to discover the underlying cause: We were living within a dominant male paradigm which denied our experiences as women. We had to work harder than men to be taken seriously and get a seat at the table.

We grew to honor our own skills and who we were as women. We learned from each other, bonded together and gave each other a hand. We became sisters of the struggle.

I also stand on the shoulders of the women religious who have gone before us, especially those who dedicated their lives to educating girls and women, who established the Catholic health care system and were pioneers in social service. I’m grateful for those who continue to empower girls and women around the globe, evident in so many stories we’ve published for Global Sisters Report.

1dncLittle-by-little, one-by-one opportunities have opened up, most of them hard fought. The younger generations have many more opportunities and have taken the lead in ways I could not have imagined. But they also have their own struggles to have a voice, to contribute, to be agents of change.

There was a special kind of excitement among the women and girls in the crowd on Thursday night. We all cheered when other path-makers appeared on the stage or the screen. There was an unspoken knowing among us, sisters of the struggle.

And there were many men, particularly those with daughters and granddaughters, also rejoicing, recognizing that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” (First Lady Hillary Clinton at 1995 U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing)

The work is not finished. The stories we Nuns on the Bus heard along the way attest to that. Women and children are bearing the burden of our current policies. We need a living wage, family friendly workplace policies, access to healthcare and tax justice to support our communities and our families. We need greater access to voting and citizenship for a healthy democracy.

We need to continue the struggle for full participation of women in the church.

Yes, there are gaps to mend and still much to be done for and by women all over the world.

But on that night, it was time to celebrate and witness together history in the making.

Travel Log: Philadelphia (Day 3)

Travel Log: Philadelphia (Day 3)

Sisters Janet Kinney, CSJ and Eileen Reilly, SSND
July 28, 2016

Today marks the last day of the convention. Hard to believe these days are drawing to a close.

“Old St. Joseph Church” in central Philly was the site for a liturgy that we attended Thursday morning. The church prides itself on being the oldest Catholic Church in Philly. Jesuits began celebrating liturgy there in the 1700’s when religious liberty was still a dream for many of the original thirteen colonies.

Father Phil, the pastor spoke of the parish as always being a place where religious liberty and all are protected, encouraging those present to be earthen vessels, shaped by God to serve one another.

The liturgy drew on the best of our Catholic tradition. We were invited to pray for our nation, for world peace, for justice and fairness.  (No candidate’s names were mentioned!) Once again, we were surprised at the name recognition for Nuns on the Bus.


We continued our “lemonade ministry,” often surprising passers-by with an offer of free lemonade and leading to some great conversations about hopes and fears for this election cycle.

Our afternoon workshop drew a really diverse group of participants – including many local nuns, “Mrs. Georgia,” (complete with a tiara) and her four daughters, a few local health center employees who were on their lunch break and lobbyists for the teachers union.

1aPhilly4One component of our workshop is a “Human Bar Graph,” where we sisters pace off the steps that represent the wealth of each quintile of our population. The nun representing the top 20% got to take twelve steps forward to represent the 60% that their incomes have grown over the past forty years.  However, since I represented the bottom 20% I have to take two steps backward to represent that this group’s income has actually decreased almost 10% in the past forty years.  When we broke it down further to the top 5% and then the top 1% the figures were staggering.

Then it was off to the Wells Fargo Arena; security was high and seats were quickly filled by 5pm.   I met Congressman Joe Crowley and his son Sean as I waited on the food line! We listened to Governor Andrew Cuomo, were moved by the delegation of women Senators, were stirred by the words of Rev. Barber, and were entertained by Carole King and Katie Perry, among others on the night’s line up.

The crowd was pumped by the time Chelsea Clinton made her way to the podium speaking lovingly about her upbringing by her mother Hillary and the example of her grandmother, Dorothy Rodham. After a video of Hillary’s life, Hillary entered from a center stage. The moment had come to accept the Democratic party’s nomination of her as their candidate for this year’s presidential election.

Hillary accepted the nomination with ‘humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise’ taking her place as the first woman to lead a major presidential ticket on a night pulsating with emotion. ‘When there are no ceilings,’ she declared, ‘the sky is the limit.’

It was wonderful to be in the arena for this historic moment, as balloons and confetti showered us and fireworks were set off from both sides of the stage. It almost felt surreal to be there!

Although very tired after these long days, it was hard to settle into sleep after such an exhilarating night – but we did!

These have been unbelievable days as a Nun on the Bus and will long be savored. We feel blessed to have journeyed with some incredible religious women who are incredible witnesses to the gospel message of Jesus. And we were buoyed by the hardworking men and women we met in all the cities and eight states we travelled – people who still believe and have hope for the future of our country and want to be active participants in defining its future. These days will be long remembered!

See also:
Reflection: Witnessing History in the Making
Slideshow: DNC Lemonade Ministry
Slideshow: DNC Workshops

Travel Log: Philadelphia (Day 2)

Travel Log: Philadelphia (Day 2)

Sisters Janet Kinney, CSJ and Eileen Reilly, SSND
July 27, 2016

1bPhilly2The energy and enthusiasm we have felt in the streets of Philadelphia these past two days has been very palpable. A very different experience from the Republican Convention in Cleveland we were told by the sisters who were on the bus that week!

“Lemonade Ministry,” was on the agenda for the Nuns on the Bus this morning. What’s that you might wonder?  We took two red wagons, filled two large igloo coolers with lemonade, put our Nuns on the Bus signs on them, and walked the streets surrounding the convention, talking to the folks on the streets, engaging in conversations out the gaps that ordinary Americans are experiencing in their lives.

With the temperature rising into the 90’s, many folks were happy to receive an ice-cold cup of lemonade from our little red wagon that we pulled through the streets of Philadelphia. Some just took the lemonade and kept walking; others stayed a few minutes of answer our three-question survey:

Who in you family is it difficult to discuss politics with?
What are your fears in this election cycle?
What gives you hope in this election cycle?

One young woman, when asked the first question, answered “my grandfather,” and began to cry. She told me that her grandfather had just “unfriended” her on Facebook when he found out she supported Bernie Sanders!  Dialogue is so sorely needed in this election cycle – even between grandfathers and granddaughters.

Then it was over to the Redding Market for lunch, a large food court with every type of food you could imagine, and then back to the Convention Center for another afternoon workshop with delegates and observers.

In the late afternoon we were back at the Convention site where the security perimeter had become much tighter, in anticipation of the visit of President Obama and Vice-President Biden later in the evening.

1cPhilly2We were thrilled to be in the arena when they both spoke. We were also happy for the time to just to mix and mingle with convention participants and hear their stories.  Our Nuns on the Bus T-shirts attracted attention and became a very easy way to start a conversation.  We were so surprised at the number of convention-goers who recognized Nuns on the Bus and wanted to talk, donate, take a picture, and/or thank us for our work.

We watched the arena became more and more packed as it got closer to 9pm and we prepared to hear Joe Biden’s heartfelt remarks. The energy in the room reached a crescendo as President Obama took the stage and gave his reflection on the progress made during the past eight years in his administration, speaking eloquently about what the country needs now for this time in its history, a country firmly headed in the right direction. When he stated that Hillary was a better qualified candidate than even he or former President  Bill Clinton had been when they sought office, a woman he knew to be intelligent, disciplined, with the tenacity to get the job done, the crowd roared.

When the President finished his remarks, large signs emerged throughout the arena saying simply ‘Thank you’ for what he had given to this country during his administration. Then as the President prepared to leave the stage, Hillary Clinton joined him and the arena was electric with the cheers of the crowd.  It was an unforgettable experience!

See also:
Slideshow: DNC Lemonade Ministry
Slideshow: DNC Workshops