Category Archives: Sister Spirit

Catherine Pinkerton’s Sister-Spirt Legacy

Action of the Spirit

Julia Morris
May 15, 2022

Sisters Answered the Call of the Times in Founding NETWORK

Sister Catherine Pinkerton close upOne way to evaluate efforts in social justice is to look at the number of people impacted or helped. For Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, CSJ, this number is upwards of 13.6 million, or the growing number of people signed up for healthcare exchanges through the Affordable Care Act, a number that has reached record highs this year.

Wide-reaching, sweeping reform rarely happens without committed advocates. Guided by her faith and her congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Pinkerton diligently served at NETWORK as a lobbyist for 24 years, pushing for legislation that promoted the common good. Her legacy leaves a colossal imprint not only on NETWORK, but on Capitol Hill and federal policies that touch the lives of millions of people.

Radical Ministry

An early advocate for national comprehensive healthcare reform, Sr. Catherine Pinkerton lobbied the Clinton administration a decade before Barack Obama was even in the Senate. As the leader of her congregation, she had sought that every sick and elderly sister be cared for.

Her longtime friend Sr. Sallie Latkovich, CSJ recalls that Catherine’s early support of comprehensive healthcare legislation came from that experience, noting that Pinkerton would often warn her congregation that “healthcare programs would not always be available; that’s what jumpstarted her work to make them stronger.”

Sister Catherine Pinkerton at the ComputerIn 1984, Pinkerton joined NETWORK’s staff. She would say she saw Christ in the Gospels as a justice-seeker working against systems of inequality. In her ministry, she then turned to NETWORK aiming to model herself after Christ’s justice-seeking action by advocating and developing policies around the common good, especially working to ensure that all people living in the U.S. had access to healthcare and housing.

When efforts to craft comprehensive healthcare legislation faltered in the 1990s, Pinkerton became a passionate advocate for the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health coverage for children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance. Her perseverance and lobbying for comprehensive healthcare reform paved the way for the Affordable Care Act.

Her work was and is cutting edge. In many of the news articles written about her, Pinkerton is regarded as “radical.” In the 1999 book on Pinkerton, “The Genesis and Gestation of a Justice Journey,” author Jacqueline Magness asked her how she might feel about this word.

Pinkerton “smiled and exclaimed, ‘Radical …yes … back to the root. I like it!’” Noted for her ability to analyze a policy issues with speed and precision, Sr. Ann Curtis, RSM described Pinkerton as a “woman of vision … led by a vision of what God desires of us —justice, truth, and a dignified life.”

Pinkerton herself attributed this ability to the process that her community calls “conversion”: “You see it is a three-part process: (a) intellectual contemplation ‘fed with new insights and ideas and challenges’; (b) reflective conversion, ‘the process of making the truth one’s own and changing attitudes and behavior to accord with new insights’; and (c) the conversion of action, ‘the going forth to create with others the structures, processes, and systems that are authentic for what is life-giving.’”

Sister-Spirit Personified

Grounded in the spiritual legacy of Sisters like Catherine Pinkerton, NETWORK pursues Gospel justice with joy, persistence, and a feisty spirit. Former NETWORK Director Sr. Kathy Thornton, RSM, described Pinkerton as someone who won the respect and friendship of the political powers of her time:

“[She has] the ably tease Bill Clinton, confer with Hillary Clinton, and chide Ted Kennedy, who,Pinkerton Lobbying with Sen. BernieSanders when he does not see Catherine for a while, admits to missing her.” Pinkerton’s longtime friend, Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur, who entered Congress the year before Pinkerton joined NETWORK, remembers her “infectious giggle and great sense of humor. She walked thousands of miles through the winding corridors of Congress, back and forth from House to Senate, a highly respected, indeed revered, lobbyist.”

“Even when she felt strongly about an issue, she always treated the other with respect,” notes Latkovich. “She treated them as a person first, not as their opinion.”

In 2008, Pinkerton delivered the benediction at the Democratic National Convention. In 2012, she left Washington and returned home to her community in Cleveland. Never one to be complacent, she stayed active and engaged with her many friends and anyone who might come to her for her guidance. Kaptur recalls, “She listened intently to the nightly news, laughed a lot, never missing a beat even when in her 90s. She remained a trusted counselor and beloved friend throughout her life.

Sr. Catherine was a trailblazer for faith-filled people, and surely women, for generations to come.” Pinkerton died in 2015, yet the impact of her work continues to grow touching lives across the country. A wellknown prayer ends with the line: “We are prophets of a future not our own.” Sr. Catherine Pinkerton truly lived this prayer

Julia Morris is a NETWORK Policy Communications Associate. This article originally appeared in Connection, NETWORK’s quarterly magazine (Second Quarter 2022 – “Celebrating Sister-Spirit: Our 50-Year Justice Journey”  *Special 50th Anniversary Edition*).

The Weight of Something Precious

The Weight of Something Precious

In NETWORK, Catholics Sisters Have Built a True Legacy

We seldom end up where we expect in life. We think we have a clear vision of where we’re going, but the Spirit blows where it will, and our God is one of surprises. As I transition into the role of NETWORK’s first Chief of Staff, this rings true for my journey — from a social worker, to an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, teacher, and school administrator. And now here I am, unexpectedly receiving a legacy shaped and handed down by the women religious who have come before me. As a Catholic Sister, I approach this moment with a deep awareness of its gravity.

You know something is well constructed and even valuable when it’s heavy. And that is definitely the case with NETWORK. In Catholic spaces, we throw around a word like tradition, forgetting that it has real weight. Fifty years ago, 47 women religious came together to discern, pray, and ultimately build on a vision for a better church and world by founding NETWORK. Emboldened by the spirit of their visionary founders and foundresses, these women heeded the call of the Second Vatican Council to breathe new life into their community charisms.

These dynamic and visionary women were grounded in a common call – to dismantle systems of racism, oppression, and inequality. This call was rooted in first-hand encounter and accompaniment of men, women and children who were suffering extreme poverty with limited access to healthcare and housing. I imagine the passion and resolve of these women came from their hearts being broken open by the suffering of those they loved and served. You might say these women had hearts ablaze for what they knew was possible — a way forward for the common good.

NETWORK has been blessed with an incredible legacy of women religious leaders who read the signs of the times and responded accordingly — Carol Coston, Maureen Kelleher, Nancy Sylvester, Catherine Pinkerton, Kathy Thornton, Simone Campbell — each sister receiving the torch from the sister and staff who served before her. I believe these women were called to serve for a particular moment in history and were blessed with the “grace of the office.”

But even these Sisters didn’t end up exactly where they expected. On issues including equal rights for women, universal health care, voting rights, and essential reforms of our immigration and criminal legal systems, the better future envisioned by NETWORK remains just that. This too is the weight of tradition, that we faithfully and persistently do our part, in cooperation with the Spirit, but also leave much for those who will follow us.

There is no question that the ministry of educating, organizing and advocating can be daunting at times. However, when a network comes together to support each other and the work; good things happen. I believe every generation is called to embrace and claim their moment in history. I too have had my heart broken open by the people I have encountered in my ministry. It has transformed me within, and as a woman religious, I know that interior transformation must precede work for social and economic transformation.

I am proud to take my place among the holy men and women who make the work possible, who keep alive NETWORK’s hope and vision for a more just and inclusive society. Thank you for your faithfulness to NETWORK these past 50 years. I look forward to serving with each of you as we carry the mission long into the future.

Erin Zubal, OSU, is an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland and NETWORK’s first Chief of Staff. She previously participated in NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus” campaigns and served as Chair of the NETWORK Advocates Board. This article originally appeared in Connection, NETWORK’s quarterly magazine (Second Quarter 2022 – “Celebrating Sister-Spirit: Our 50-Year Justice Journey”  *Special 50th Anniversary Edition*).

Action of the Spirit

Action of the Spirit

Sr. Mara Rutten, RSM
May 2, 2022

Sisters Answered the Call of the Times in Founding NETWORK

When journalist Ruth Dean of the Washington Star News visited the offices of NETWORK in 1974, she was surprised to find the staff of Catholic Sisters —“not in uniform” — busy planning their third legislative seminar focusing on taxes, criminal justice, and campaign reform. After two years, the sisters’ engagement in “political ministry” was still newsworthy.

It had been less than It had been less than 10 years since American sisters had,in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for renewal, shed their distinctive dress and entered into new ministries. This brought them into close contact with the social sins of racism, sexism, and indifference, and showed them the need for systemic change.

The founding of NETWORK sought to address these systemic injustices directly in a political ministry of lobbying at the federal level. Its spark stemmed directly from the movements flowing through the church in the council’s wake, and the sisters who participated in the founding still recall the power of that moment.

Hearing the call
Action of the Spirit Trinity Washington University, the site of the December 1971 meeting, when NETWORK was founded, and many Legislative Seminars in subsequent years.

Trinity Washington University, the site of the December 1971 meeting, when NETWORK was founded, and many Legislative Seminars in subsequent years.

When Pope Paul VI issued “A Call to Action” and the Synod of Bishops released “Justice in the World” in 1971, stating that “politics are a demanding manner … of living the Christian commitment to the service of others,” and that “action on behalf of justice” was “a constituitive dimension of preaching the Gospel,” the sisters heard it as their own call to action.

Activist Sr. Marjorie Tuite, OP, who trained organizers at the National Urban Training Center in Chicago, seized the moment. Tuite, who believed that there was “no way to do political work unless you are networked to others doing the same,” raised the possibility of organizing women religious at a Catholic Committee on Urban Ministry (CCUM) meeting in October of that year.

She discussed the issue with Sr. Mary Reilly, RSM, Sr. Claire Dugan, SSJ, and Msgr. Geno Baroni. Baroni, who served in the U.S. Catholic Conference’s urban task force, had tried to organize a lobby of priests but had gotten nowhere. They decided to sponsor a three-day workshop at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. on the subject that December.

Sr. Carol Coston, OP, First Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby Endowment Fund Celebrates 50 years of Justice

Sr. Carol Coston, OP

The invitation went out to known activist sisters, but news of the meeting spread, and most of the attendees found their way through word of mouth. Sr. Carol Coston, OP, who would go on to be NETWORK’s first director, did not receive an invitation but tagged along from Florida with Sr. Kathy Gannon, OP.

Student Sr. Elizabeth Morancy, RSM, went because she was told that “you’d like this meeting. They’re going to talk about ‘Call to Action’.”

Sr. Teresina Grasso, SP, and Sr. Peggy Neal lucked into invitations when Tuite stopped by each of their ministries. “She cast a wide net, and I got caught in the net,” Neal remembered. “So I put out the word that I had a car and a few others joined me,” though “no one with good sense leaves Kansas in a car in December.”

Sr. Cartona Phelan, the provincial of the Clinton Franciscans, gave Sr. Marilyn Huegerich permission because she thought it would be a good idea for the young sister to see
Washington, then decided to join her, making her one of four provincials attending the meeting. “Everyone thought she brought me along,” Huegerich recounted. “But she came with me!”

Eventually 47 sisters from 21 states arrived at Trinity.Among them were social workers, teachers, students, congregational leaders, and advocates for civil rights, women’s rights, and anti-poverty programs. For some of the younger sisters, it was their first exposure to the work.

Sr. Angela Fitzpatrick, OSU, was “in awe. I was only 25 years old and not too involved yet, but I was aware that these women were very serious about what they were about.” Huegerich concurred. “I was so impressed with the women, how competent and diverse their experiences. My eyes were opened, being from Iowa.”

Getting organized

The organizers wasted no time. Neal remembered her worldview shifting as she listened to Baroni’s emotional opening speech about the need to affect change through political involvement.“He put the human element in what I heard on the news…I got a kick in the seat,” recalled Grasso. She remembers them discussing “how many lobbied for their own issues, like big business, and there was no voice for the poor, or justice issues
in general, or working people whose voices went unheard.”

Tuite urged them on, declaring that it was “time for sisters to move from service to change…out of the convents and into the streets and the halls of Congress!”

To be effective, however, the sisters needed to know about more than just the issues; they needed to understand how to do political work. On Saturday, they went to Capitol Hill to learn about the legislative process with Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s staff, then about the “Black agenda” for the 1970s with James Gibson of the Potomac Institute.

That afternoon, a number of speakers went deeper into how to affect change in the federal government. All of this was very inspiring to the newly-initiated; Neal remembered the only woman who came to speak, Anona Teska, of the League of Women Voters, in particular.

“I wanted to join!” she said. “And I did!”

By Sunday morning, the sisters were enthusiastic about the idea of political ministry but had trouble coming to a consensus.Then Sr. Audrey Miller, CDP, made a suggestion which not only impacted the direction of the meeting, but of the organization that would be born of it. For two days, she had been sensitizing the other sisters to the fact that the conference facilitators, as well as most of the speakers, were men.

“I wonder what others feel, talking about organizing women religious,” she said, “when the only leadership thus far has come from white males.”

Jerry Ernst, who worked with Baroni and had been facilitating, handed her the chalk. “Come on up and take over,” he said.

Becoming a force

Immediately, the tone of the meeting changed, and a mood of confidence emerged. “Her intervention became a galvanizing event and helped us find our collective voice,” Coston later wrote. “Once the women took over the meeting, we said, what is it that we really want to do? It seemed clear to me that a consensus was building that we should go ahead and take the step toward a national network.”

Coston offered a motion to “form a political action network of information and communication.” The motion passed.

Miller then appointed a steering committee to meet in January to set up a network, establish contacts with existing organizations, explore possibilities of types of political action, plan a weekend and summer workshop to involve other sisters in political activity, and, in order to accomplish any of those things, identify and screen people for permanent staff.

Answering the call, taking the lead and relying on action of the spirit, NETWORK Foundresses (left to right) Liz Morancy, Sr. Carol Coston, OP, and Sr. Mary Hayes, SSNDdeN founded NETWORK

NETWORK Foundresses (left to right) Liz Morancy, Sr. Carol Coston, OP, and Sr. Mary Hayes, SSNDdeN gathered at “Spark of the Spirit,” December 2021.

“As I recall,” Coston later wrote, “the main criterion for serving on the committee, besides interest, was having the finances to get back to Washington.” Finances were no small concern for a group who held a vow of poverty in common. Phelan, who had “tagged along” with Huegerich, suggested they take up a collection, which yielded $147. Each sister then pledged to raise $50 for the cause, and were creative about it: Upon their return home, Mercy Sisters Liz Morancy and Mary Reilly worked at a local department store for the rest of the Christmas season to raise their share.

They had answered the call to action. These women who, less than a decade earlier, wore habits and ministered in congregational or diocesan ministries had come together and formed the nation’s first Catholic social justice lobby. In the years to come, the sisters of NETWORK and the clergy, brothers, and lay men and women who would join their ranks as members, interns, associates, and staff would continue to take “action on behalf of justice” by educating, organizing, and lobbying.

Sr. Angela Fitzpatrick, reflecting back on the last 50 years, gave voice to the spirit of that 1971 meeting and the work still being done today. “If we really became united,” she said, “we could be a dangerous force. We could really affect change, and change the world.”

Mara D. Rutten PhD is a candidate with the Sisters of Mercy and NETWORK’s historian. This article originally appeared in Connection, NETWORK’s quarterly magazine (Second Quarter 2022 – “Celebrating Sister-Spirit: Our 50-Year Justice Journey”  *Special 50th Anniversary Edition*).

From the Archives: NETWORK’s Vision Comes to Life

From the Archives: NETWORK’s Vision Comes to Life

Sr. Mara Rutten, RSM
March 31, 2022

Dear Friend,

I am thrilled to share another story with you about the people and events that made NETWORK the organization it is today.

Friend, you may be wondering, like I was, how the name ‘NETWORK’ was chosen. Sr. Nancy Sylvester, IHM, and NETWORK’s second National Coordinator, explained to me: “‘The NETWORK’ suggests the vision: an effort to influence through a network of participation.”

Once the founders chose the name, hiring staff was their next step. The steering committee believed the director should be someone who had attended the founding meeting. All eyes settled on Sr. Carol Coston, OP. She considered the offer, but needed permission from her congregation, the Adrian Dominicans, before she could accept it. Sr. Carol left the sisters gathered in the room to make a few calls, and upon her return, she accepted the new role.

While NETWORK’s foundresses had big plans for the work ahead, they needed resources. The sisters appealed to their own communities and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) passed a resolution of support. After the LCWR action, many congregations made financial contributions.

NETWORK's 1977 Legislative SeminarParticipants, 1970's

NETWORK held its first Legislative Seminar for those interested in political ministry that summer in 1972. Sr. Carol recalled, “We were so new at all of this. When we got all the participants to the Hill in our rented yellow school buses, we started to walk toward the House of Representatives and realized we didn’t know which direction to go.”

Attendees watched Congressional hearings, visited executive agencies, and met with their congressional delegation. Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) was the first Member of Congress to speak to the sisters, just after completing her historic Presidential campaign. This was quite an achievement for an organization still in its infancy.

More stories soon!


From the Archives: Spirit at Work from the Beginning

From the Archives: How One Meeting Sparked a Legacy

Sr. Mara Rutten, RSM
March 24, 2022

Dear Friend,

As NETWORK’s Historian, over the past year, I have been researching NETWORK’s history, gathering important and inspiring stories about the people and events that made NETWORK the organization it is today.

In 1971, Monsignor Geno Baroni first discussed the idea of holding a meeting for Catholic Sisters interested in pursuing social justice with Sisters Marjorie Tuite OP, Mary Reilly RSM, and Claire Dugan CSJ. Monsignor Baroni was “frustrated that I hadn’t been able to start a priest’s group to lobby Washington.”

Together, they planned a 3-day meeting in Washington, D.C. and hoped 15 sisters would come. In the end, 47 Sisters from 21 states showed up! There are as many stories of how sisters came to attend that meeting at Trinity College in December 1971 as there were women there.

I’ve uncovered these stories and more from NETWORK’s 50 years of working for economic and social justice, which I’ll be sharing with you over the next month. As we mark this milestone, your support helps us continue the work into the future.

Carol Coston, NETWORK's first Director, 1970'sSome sisters received formal invitations from the organizations they belonged to, while others heard about the meeting from other sisters. Recounting her trip to me, Peggy Neal said “no one with good sense leaves Kansas in a car in December, but we got there.” Sr. Carol Coston, OP, who would become NETWORK’s first director, didn’t even get an invitation – she tagged along with someone.

Sr. Marilyn Huegerich, a Clinton Franciscan in her 20s, was sent by her diocesan Sister’s Council. Her superior, Sr. Cartona Phelan, gave Marilyn permission because she thought the young sister would benefit from the trip. Upon further thought, Sr. Cartona decided to tag along. (Good thing too — it was Sr. Cartona’s idea during the meeting to ask each sister to pledge to raise $50 for the fledging organization.) Sr. Marilyn told me, “Everyone thought Sr. Cartona brought me along, but she came with me!”

More stories soon!


International Women’s Day: Celebrating NETWORK Foundresses’ Spirit, Wisdom, and Legacy

Celebrating NETWORK Foundresses’ Spirit, Wisdom, and Legacy

March 8, 2021

In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8) and to kick off Catholic Sisters Week (March 8-14), watch NETWORK’s Foundresses tell the story of creating a Catholic, woman-led organization to educate, organize, and lobby for justice in their own words!

Featured in This Video:

NETWORK Foundresses Carol Coston OP, Dr. Mary Hayes SNDdeN, Angela Marie Fitzpatrick OSU, Teresina Grasso SP, Mary Reilly RSM, Marilyn Huegerich OSF, Peggy Neal, Liz Morancy and NETWORK Executive Director Mary J. Novak

Celebrating a Black Woman Supreme Court Justice – A Justice for Our Times

Celebrating a Black Woman Supreme Court Justice – A Justice for Our Times

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, the National Black Sisters Conference, and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious
February 23, 2022

As Catholic women, rooted in our faith’s call to love one another and see God in every person, we strongly support the Biden administration’s promise to nominate a Black woman to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, is the final arbiter on the most consequential legal issues governing our country and our society. The Supreme Court decides issues of law ranging from immigration to our criminal legal system, civil rights to healthcare. For that reason, it is imperative that the Court reflect the diversity of our country in order to act in a fully informed, deliberate way and arrive at sound decisions. In light of the renewed attacks on voting rights and racial progress we see today, it is even more critical to nominate a Justice who is committed to upholding the rule of law and the Constitution for this generation and the generations to come.

We also applaud the number of incredibly qualified Black women from different legal backgrounds who are ready to serve on the Supreme Court. The three most often cited potential nominees – Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Justice Leondra Kruger, and Judge J. Michelle Childs – are all highly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Each of these judges has both the background and judicial record to make them eminently qualified to join the other justices on the Court. Moreover, Supreme Court justices should possess good judgment, keen analytical skills, flexibility, and the ability to relate to the lives of everyday people and families in the United States – all people and families in the United States. Any of the potential nominees under consideration from the Biden administration would bring this combination of skills and experience to the Court.

We vigorously reject the comments of those who have already questioned the future nominee’s qualifications as racist and sexist. We must name and reject the racist and sexist narratives at play in this explicit and outright dismissal of the nominee’s qualifications before her name and record have even been made public. No such comments were heard when Presidents Reagan and Trump announced their intentions to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court and followed through on that promise. Clearly, the only conclusion that can be drawn about these current comments is that the objection is about the race of the potential nominees – hardly a valid reason to reject them.

This historic appointment will contribute to making the Supreme Court more representative of the people of the United States – all of the people.  Of the 115 justices on the Supreme Court since its creation in 1789, 108 have been white men, including five of the nine currently serving, and none have been Black women. Increasing the Supreme Court’s racial diversity and expanding the professional backgrounds of the justices will improve decision-making on the bench and increase public trust in our courts. We the People encourage and support President Biden in his choice.

In this moment, the signs of the times cry out for us to build the beloved community here on Earth. Every person, no matter their race, origin, religion, or immigration status, has God-given dignity and deserves to be heard at the ballot box and respected in their home, workplace, and community. In faith, we will keep working to create a truly representative and inclusive multi-racial democracy.

Our Voting Rights Encounter: Sisters’ Prophetic Role in Ensuring the Health of Democracy

Our Voting Rights Encounter: Sisters’ Prophetic Role in Ensuring the Health of Democracy

Sr. Karen Berry, OSF
January 19, 2022

I have never felt that being a member of a Franciscan community and being a citizen of the U.S. were separate things. For instance, I have been working at polling places on election days for the past 21 years. But it was only in November of 2020 that I have ever experienced anger and hostility and mistrust of the voting procedures. I have very real fears for the future of our democracy.

My activism in seeking the passage of a voting rights bill is one more way I am trying to take a stand for equality, dignity, and fairness, and I am so proud that thousands of women religious around the country are in solidarity with this issue.

Being an introvert by nature, it isn’t comfortable for me to engage in the public square. However, I have learned that when values I hold deeply are being threatened, or when my country or my church are being less that I know they can be, I am willing to stand up, to speak, to write, to commit to whatever it takes to nudge civic and religious institutions in the direction of values Jesus and other religious leaders taught and lived.

Last summer, NETWORK reached out to Sisters around the country, asking them to sign a letter addressed to President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The letter requested swift passage of the For the People Act to secure voting rights for all Americans. Over 3,600 Sisters signed it, and it was delivered in Washington on July 26. At that time, NETWORK also asked if I would be able to gather a representative group of Sisters in Tucson to present a copy of this letter, with all of its signatures, to our U.S. Senators’ offices in Tucson.

The Tucson Sisters who accompanied me were Franciscan Sisters Joneen Keuler (Wisconsin) and Carolyn Nicolai (New York), and Sr. Eileen Mahoney of the Congregation of St. Agnes from Wisconsin. All are longtime residents of Tucson, ministering in a variety of roles.

Sr. Joneen Kueler, OSF, Sr. Karen Berry, OSF, Sr. Carolyn Nicolai, OSF, and Sr. Eileen
Mahoney, CSA, meet with Ron Barber of Senator Mark Kelly’s office on August 6, 2021, to voice their support for voting rights legislation. Courtesy photo

We chose Friday, August 6, as our delivery date, not only because it was the 56th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, which has been weakened through the federal courts and still faces attacks today, but also because it is the feast of the Transfiguration. We also knew that on that Friday morning we would be in solidarity with Sisters from West Virginia who were delivering the letter to the office of Senator Joe Manchin.

We were able to secure a time with the staff of Senator Mark Kelly, but Senator Sinema’s staff was unable to meet with us. Ron Barber, former Congressman and now a staff member for Senator Kelly, agreed to represent the Senator to receive the letter from us. Ron, a Catholic, had been seriously wounded along with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords — Senator Kelly’s wife — when they were shot in Tucson during a “meet your Congresswoman” event in 2011.

When we presented the letter, we offered a blessing prayer, and all in attendance joined in. I remember the warm welcome and the enthusiastic response when we asked the staff to join us in prayer. I felt profoundly moved by the sense of being unified with members of religious communities all across our country and also moved by the dedicated political staff praying with us.

We were deeply motivated to encourage the passing of a bill so greatly needed.

The letter stated: “Every voice and every vote is sacred.” It affirmed the need for the reforms written into the bill, stating, “The ‘For the People Act’ protects the vote from attacks and from those who seek to suppress it.” It has been disappointing that the For the People Act didn’t pass. We still have hope that its successor, the Freedom to Vote Act, will pass soon.

Religious communities have an important prophetic role in our world today. Just as the prophets of the past challenged religious leaders and kings, so members of religious communities today are called to awaken the consciences of the people in our church and in our nation.

Sr. Karen Berry, OSF is a Sister of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

NETWORK and 3,500 Catholic Sisters Call for Immediate Action on Voting Rights

NETWORK and 3,500 Catholic Sisters Call for Immediate Action on Voting Rights

Sr. Quincy Howard, OP
January 13, 2022

Today, NETWORK Executive Director Mary J. Novak, Deputy Executive Director Joan F. Neal, Government Relations Advocate Minister Christian Watkins, and I sent an urgent letter to all members of the U.S. Senate calling on them to support the passage of H.R. 5746, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.

This message to the Senate follows the House’s 220 – 203 vote to send the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act to the Senate for urgent consideration. While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is now able to circumvent the filibuster to hold debate on this legislation, as he wrote in a recent letter to Democratic Senators, “to ultimately end debate and pass the voting rights legislation, we will need 10 Republicans to join us—which we know from past experience will not happen—or we will need to change the Senate rules as has been done many times before.”

Quoting a previous letter signed by 3,500 Catholic Sisters, we urge all Senators to take the necessary steps to contend with the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act into law before it is too late. 

As the Sisters wrote in July 2021, “Minority opposition must not keep Congress from passing critical democracy reform any longer. Senate rules like the filibuster cannot be allowed to indefinitely prevent the passage of critical freedom to vote legislation that will protect our democracy.

We know that the possibility to create a more just society ultimately rests upon the health of our democracy and the freedom of all voters to cast their ballots and have them counted. We are staunch supporters the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and applaud recent efforts to force debate on these bills.

Now is the time to safeguard our democracy and protect every voter’s sacred right to vote.

Read the text of NETWORK’s letter here. 

January 6 Makes Us Confront an Ugly History

January 6 Makes Us Confront an Ugly History

Sr. Emily TeKolste, SP
January 6, 2022

One year ago, we watched in horror as the Capitol was under siege by its own citizens. A crowd composed largely of white men, many of whom were carrying weapons or symbols of violence, attacked and took over the halls of government while Congress was attempting to certify the election results. We saw symbols of white supremacy including Confederate battle flags, shirts referencing the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and Christian religious imagery.

Make no mistake, the confluence of white supremacy, Christianity, and a violent attack on our democracy was no fluke; it was the result of hundreds of years of preparation and a continuation of a long tradition of white Christian terrorism.

During the height of slavery in the United States, white Christian leaders developed a theology to justify enslaving Black people and continued to use and develop this theology to justify white supremacy. By emphasizing personal piety and downplaying the social dimensions of the Gospel, American Christian theology has created the conditions whereby many of its practitioners don’t even see the social reality in which they live.

Despite years of involvement in right-wing political causes, right-wing Christian commentators throw accusations of politicizing Christianity at liberation theologians, practitioners of Catholic Social Justice, and anyone who wants to apply the social dimensions of the Gospel to the world in which we live. The impacts of years of intentionally tying racism to Christian theology persist among white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, and most strongly white Evangelicals, as documented by research from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

So how did we get here? The development of Myth of the Lost Cause is fascinating and troubling – a false narrative pushed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and others into schools, churches, and public monuments. This narrative recast the Confederacy as about family and heritage instead of the reality: the Civil War was about the right of enslavers to continue enslaving Black people. While this narrative has been perpetuated in many public spaces, it’s critical that we address the ways that it has been perpetuated in American Christianity.

As Clint Smith explores in “Why Confederate Lies Live On” (published in The Atlantic), one of the ways well-documented historical falsehoods about the Civil War live on is through church buildings that honor the so-called Confederate martyrs in stained glass, including the chapel at the Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia, that Smith highlights. In the book White Too Long, Robert P. Jones traces the explicitly Christian theological connections to the Lost Cause narrative. In fact, the whole Lost Cause narrative draws on an eschatology that proclaims the future victory of Jesus over the world. Its implication: “Just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead and will ultimately come again to rule the earth in righteousness, there will yet be a time when the noble ideals of the Confederacy, even if not the practice of chattel slavery itself, will rise again.”

This is made even more explicit by the fact that the Lost Cause has been depicted in stained glass in Christian churches across the South. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis were depicted as or with Jesus, the New Testament apostles, and the Old Testament patriarchs in the sacred art of stained glass windows. In the Lost Cause narrative of American Christianity, the very people leading the charge for continuing to enslave Black people and elevate white supremacy became saints, and the Confederacy became the God’s Chosen People.

Perhaps most pernicious is when these connections between Christianity and the perpetuation of white supremacy become invisible, as they have largely done through a theology focused on individual salvation and a personal relationship with Jesus. Jones points to a 2000 study by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith: “Particularly in questions related to race, they found that white evangelicals’ cultural toolkit consisted of tools that restricted their moral vision to the personal and interpersonal realms, while screening out institutional or structural issues.” If we cannot see the structural issues at play, we will never be able to address them.

It’s fascinating to me as Smith shares of the many Confederate sympathizers he talks to how much emphasis they place on “truth.” They say that they want the story told to be “truth” while denying well-documented truths about the white supremacy behind the formation of the Confederacy. In a New York Times article following the white supremacist massacre at Emanuel AME church in South Carolina, Greg Stewart, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says, “You’re asking me to agree that my great-grandparent and great-great-grandparents were monsters.”

It can be painful to grapple with the truth of our own family and personal histories, but we must do exactly that. Whether we are members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans or not, we have been raised in a culture infused with white supremacy. The institutions we love have been shaped by white supremacy. And it’s clear that our Christian and Catholic faiths and Church have been shaped by white supremacy. We must confront this if we are to correct it – to heal and move into a new day of justice, peace, and equality.


For further reading:

  • How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery across America By Clint Smith
  • White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones
  • Racial Justice and the Catholic Church by Fr. Bryan Massingale
  • Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
  • White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America by Anthea Butler