Category Archives: Sister Spirit

The Ripple of One Person’s Vote

The Ripple of One Person’s Vote

Contribute to the Love That Saves the World

Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU
March 5, 2024

Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU, NETWORK Chief of Staff

Waiting in line outside a school gymnasium in the early morning hours. Feeling the chill of November in the air. Greeting the poll workers. Making selections on an electronic menu screen. The experience of voting is many things, but not many people would probably think of it as helping us grow holiness. But listening closely to Pope Francis, it’s clear that this election year offers yet another opportunity for many people to journey closer to the God who loves and saves the world.

In his 2018 letter on the call to holiness, Gaudate Et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), Pope Francis waded into explicitly political waters when he cautioned against limiting one’s political concern and advocacy to just one or two issues, as so many Catholics tend to do in the U.S. “Equally sacred,” he affirmed, are the lives of people in poverty and all who are rejected and discarded by society. “We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in the world,” he wrote.

That same year, the Vatican’s doctrine office also published a document on “certain aspects of Christian salvation.” This document rejects “individualistic and merely interior visions of salvation” as being against the “economy through which God willed to save the human person.” People must journey beyond themselves, out into the world, to participate in the grace of the salvation story that culminates when “each person will be judged on the concreteness of his or her love.” (Placuit Deo #13)

This, too, is political.

See NETWORK’s 2024 Equally Sacred Checklist to support you in educating yourself as a faithful voter on the issues and concerns that are “equally sacred.”

Voting is concrete. It is an act. It is a choice. It’s an imperfect choice because voters are often not faced with specific policy proposals but with individual office-seekers who may be better on particular issues than others and whose performance, once elected, can be unpredictable. Will they advocate for people on the margins? Are they able to be bought by wealthy corporate interests? Do they take the weight of responsibility of their office seriously? The answers to these questions can and do produce wildly different outcomes.

But what remains is this: In the act of voting, a person creates a small ripple in the social fabric, a ripple that may end up part of a more significant current or movement that impacts the lives of millions of other people– for good or ill.

Using one’s vote for ill often means voting as a means of lashing out against people or groups of people whom voters have been told to fear, such as migrants and other people struggling to survive on the peripheries of society.

Voting may take only an instant, but the harm inflicted by bad immigration policy compounds over the years. It is felt in the lives of families and children who might never recover from the devastation they experience.

Even more could be said about the pain intentionally inflicted on Black and Brown communities by the stoking of Christian nationalist and white supremacist narratives. What does it mean for this country that so many neighbors voted this way?

But the opposite is also possible. A person can use their vote to build up rather than tear down, show welcome rather than hostility, and contribute to love rather than hate. And in an election year that looks to be decided by a small number of people in a few states and localities, the choice of one person to choose solidarity, to make their vote an act of love, is as consequential as it’s ever been. It might just play a part in saving the world.

This story was published in the Quarter 1 2024 issue of Connection.

Called to Action: NETWORK’s 50 Years of Political Ministry

“Called to Action: NETWORK’s 50 Years of Political Ministry” by Mara D. Rutten

Book Review

Review by Sr. Susan Rose Francois, CSJP

In her book, “Called to Action: NETWORK’s 50 Years of Political Ministry,” Mara D. Rutten offers a well-researched, engaging, and comprehensive history of the nation’s first Catholic Social Justice lobby. Through first-person interviews, archival documents, and narrative storytelling, Rutten documents the creative and faithful response of Catholic sisters to the call of the Second Vatican Council to read and respond to the signs of the times through the birth and development of this collaborative political ministry. In the process, she also weaves together a variety of seemingly disparate yet intersecting threads—the renewal of religious life, feminism, social concerns, single issue politics, church and state, and the role of the laity. The resulting work not only creatively tells the story of NETWORK, but also gives the reader an insightful perspective on the tapestry of social, political, and ecclesial life in the United States during the past half century.

No doubt, some readers may have lived through much of this history themselves, perhaps even as supporters and participants in NETWORK’s early efforts to seek systemic change and justice in the world through advocacy for economic justice, led by women religious who had personal experience accompanying people most impacted by unjust public policies. Rutten makes these early days come alive, managing the difficult task of painting a dynamic picture of organizing meetings and policy debates through the judicious use of first-person accounts and archival materials. As a relative late-comer to this movement inspired by Catholic sisters—I am the same age as NETWORK and was a Nun on the Bus in 2016—I found myself enthralled and invested in the narrative. Moreover, Rutten highlights a clear thread of intentionality and integrity throughout the journey, even amidst challenges and controversy in both political and ecclesial spheres.

Rutten begins her narrative later in the story, with the 2012 appearance of then Executive Director Simone Campbell, SSS on The Colbert Report, following the Vatican’s naming of NETWORK in the document announcing the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. While not explicit, when read in the larger context of the time, the Vatican officials’ concern seemed to be the focus of NETWORK’s advocacy—applying Catholic Social Teaching to issues of social and economic justice—as well as “promoting certain radical feminist themes.” Careful readers will see this as a reference to the reality that NETWORK was not actively advocating on the issue of abortion.

“Called to Action” gives critical context here, carefully outlining the initial and subsequent discernment by NETWORK founders and leaders to center their advocacy work on the “bottom drawer issues,” including hunger, housing, and militarism. The term refers to the discovery by founding NETWORK Director Carol Coston, OP that the top three and a half drawers of lateral files in the US Bishops Conference covered the issues of federal aid to parochial schools and abortion. All other social concerns were crowded together in the bottom half of the fourth drawer. This was where NETWORK felt called to focus their efforts. This had the result of avoiding duplication of efforts. It also led to criticism of NETWORK from various audiences over the years. Nevertheless, generations of NETWORK leaders and staffers held fast to this commitment to promote Catholic Social Teaching and highlight the critical bottom drawer issues affecting quality of life in service of the common good, taking the message from the halls of power to the highways and byways.

Another narrative theme is the application of the call to universal holiness and the dignity of all persons, particularly women, to NETWORK’s operations and advocacy. On the advocacy side, this led to lobbying for the Equal Rights Amendment and health care access. Rutten’s storytelling here both lifts up the unique role of NETWORK in this work and describes some of the pitfalls, detours, and frustrations along the way. In terms of operations, from the beginning NETWORK sought to create an internal system of pay equity and shared collaborative leadership. Rutten carries this thread throughout the history, all the way to the current leadership model of lay women and men with a small number of women religious.

“Called to Action” is filled to the brim with a who’s who of courageous, creative, and faithful people who have carried out this innovative political ministry over the past fifty years—too many to name here. Built on a solid foundation, inspired by sister spirit and fueled by the call and response of the laity, NETWORK continues to focus on the bottom drawer issues in service of the Gospel. Here’s to the next 50 years!

“Called to Action: NETWORK’s 50 Years of Political Ministry” is available for purchase on Amazon for $14.99 and $6.49 on Kindle.

Visionary Goals

Visionary Goals

Devoting Ourselves to Transformation Brings Out Our Best

Sr. Emily TeKolste, SP
December 11, 2023

Sr. Emily TeKolste, SP is NETWORK’s Grassroots Mobilization Coordinator.

When I was a kid, I was mildly obsessed with NASA — particularly the Apollo missions to the moon. Because of this, I admired President Kennedy, who set a goal to send astronauts to the moon and inspired the American people to champion his vision. In a speech at Rice University, he said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

As I grew older, I started to encounter the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other visionary leaders who rallied our country to come together across division. They saw the fight for racial and economic justice as inextricably intertwined. They strove to build and sustain what Fred Hampton called a Rainbow Coalition, recognizing that our fates are linked.

Today, we benefit from the many fruits of their visions. We carry cellphones in our pockets that exist because of the vast technological leaps provided by the research and brilliant intellect that went into the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions and beyond. We have landmark legislation, the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act, that have moved us closer to racial justice because of Black-led, multiracial, multi-faith campaigns that withstood white supremacist violence to create a better world for us all.

We have made astounding progress thanks to the work of so many visionary leaders — people just like you and me who stood up and proclaimed that we could live in a better world if we could come together toward a common goal.

Over the past decade, though, it seems like we’ve lost so much ground. Supreme Court decisions have stripped the Voting Rights Act of vital protections. Leading candidates for public office stoke racism and misogyny with no negative consequences. And many family bonds are frayed along ideological lines — with people unwilling to recognize the humanity bestowed by God in their loved ones, and all too willing to stop talking to one another.

Several years ago, I encountered the words of Civil Rights icon and public theologian Ruby Sales in her interview with Krista Tippett of On Being. She said “I really think that one of the things that we’ve got to deal with is that — how is it that we develop a theology or theologies in a 21st-century capitalist technocracy where only a few lives matter? How do we raise people up from disposability to essentiality?” She goes on to say that this goes beyond the question of race, recognizing the basic dignity and the very real pain that so many people — Black and white — are experiencing in our world today.

When it comes down to it, most of us — no matter what we look like or where we get our news — want the same things. We want to live in safety. We want to love and be loved. We want enough food to eat and some comfort in our lives. We want to contribute to our families and communities. We want meaningful work — whether paid employment, care for family, or volunteer work (care for community). And we want that work to pay us fairly so that we can support our families and contribute to our communities.

Lately, though, it seems that people cling so tightly to political parties and identifying labels that we can’t seem to find common ground on anything. A few wealthy individuals and greedy politicians seek to divide us along ideological lines by strategically stoking a history of racial bias so that they can distract us while they dismantle our democracy and manipulate the economy to serve their interests.

The results of this strategic use of division and racism are stark: a real and ongoing threat of political violence, multiple days this summer of new domestic and global record-setting high temperatures, unaffordable housing costs, and a wealth gap between the rich and the poor that’s greater today than it was in the Gilded Age that preceded the Great Depression.

These things hurt all of us!

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We are people of hope. We believe in human dignity and are capable of treating everyone around us with the dignity they deserve. By doing so, we can begin to open up a path for transformation for those close to us, and to people in our community. When we begin by transforming our own hearts and minds, we can bring others along with us and, together, transform our whole political climate.

What if — instead of naming our enemies as each other — we come together to achieve a common goal as visionary leaders did in the past? This will require the best of all of us, much like we did as a nation when we took on the space race. What if we embraced a race to end poverty, a race to house the unhoused, a race for compassion and humanity? Not because they are easy, but because they bring out the very best each of us has to offer.

This story was published in the Quarter 4 2023 issue of Connection. 

From the Archives: Called to Challenge the Treatment of Poverty

From the Archives: NETWORK’s Vision Comes to Life

Sr. Mara Rutten, RSM
July 20, 2022

Dear Friend,

This week, I am back again with another story about the people and events that made NETWORK the organization it is today. This time, we’ll fast-forward to the 1990s and explore a key project from NETWORK’s long history of advocating for economic justice.

Some of NETWORK’s most spirited organizing and lobbying in the 1990s came in response to President Bill Clinton’s “Welfare Reform.” As far as NETWORK was concerned, the “reform” was an affront to the dignity of the human person, in particular, low-income families. NETWORK made sure the President and Congress knew how unjust the proposed welfare legislation was.

NETWORK's 1977 Legislative SeminarParticipants, 1970's

As President Clinton signed the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act into law, NETWORK staff, including Executive Director Sr. Kathy Thornton, RSM, marched in protest outside the White House gates.

By 1996, we were 20 years into lobbying and organizing and we knew what we had to do: form partnerships, lobby and testify before Congress, and rally at the White House. Of course, we surveyed those closest to the pain of poverty to find out what they actually needed from policy and how they’d be impacted by President Clinton’s new law.

NETWORK believed the measures supported by President Clinton would make life worse for the 35 million people who struggled with poverty. NETWORK wasn’t alone. The Daughters of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy, the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and Pax Christi USA joined us to form the Welfare Reform Watch Project.

Our strategy was long range and considered diverse geographical areas. The nationwide, multi-year project rigorously monitored the new legislation in order to evaluate both its effectiveness and its limitations. The first Welfare Reform Watch Project report, “Poverty Amid Plenty,” was released in April 1999.

This report was the focus of NETWORK’s 1999 Lobby Day on Welfare Reform. The day began with a policy seminar on Capitol Hill attended by nine members of Congress and staff from 66 Congressional offices! Then, 62 NETWORK members left to lobby more than 50 Congressional offices.

While the 1999 Lobby Day was quite successful on Capitol Hill (thanks to the 400 NETWORK members who wrote their Members of Congress inviting them to the policy seminar), there would be many more Lobby Days in the years to come. Our economic justice advocacy on the Hill continues to this day, and I look forward to many more successful lobbying efforts in the coming weeks, months, and years.

This essay is part of a collection shared by NETWORK historian, Dr. Mara D. Rutten, to celebrate our 50th anniversary. To read more from the archives, click the links below.

Read From the Archives: NETWORK’s Vision Comes to Life
Read From the Archives: Spirit at Work from the Beginning

NETWORK’s history in our Cool Timeline

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, speaks at a reparations vigil in Cleveland in June 2022.

The Welcoming Call

The Welcoming Call 

Solidarity with Migrant People is Intrinsic to the Vocation of Catholic Sisters

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM
August 1, 2023
Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, pictured with Eilis, amember of the Congolese community in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, pictured with Eilis, a member of the Congolese community in Cleveland, Ohio.

For generations, Catholic Sisters in the U.S. have served alongside immigrant communities. Time and again, we have responded to the call to open our homes and hearts to meet the needs of families seeking asylum or newly arrived refugees. Our sisters and our communities have sponsored refugees, opened service agencies, taught English as a second language (ESL), served along the border, accompanied individuals and families, represented them in court, and advocated for just immigration policies. In so many ways, we have lived the call in Scripture to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor as ourselves.  

My own story of ministry is a part of this multi-generational call. In 2010, I began my own journey working with the Somali refugee community in St. Cloud, Minn. In subsequent years, I ministered alongside people from Bhutan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, and so many other countries. I learned about the asylum system in Immokalee, Fla. and witnessed the conditions that force a person to flee their homeland in Haiti or Guatemala. My own community, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, remains connected through the sponsorship of Mary’s House in Cleveland. This work connects me with generations of sisters who have felt this call.  

Ministering alongside asylum seekers, refugees, DACA recipients, and other immigrants has shifted the way many of us Sisters understand immigration policy. We can no longer distance ourselves from the dangerous anti-immigrant rhetoric that has energized lawmakers to pass legislation to shut down and militarize the border, expand Title 42, deport asylum seekers from Haiti, or create an app that only recognizes white faces. 

These horrible policies impact the people who are a part of my extended community. They affect our neighbors. They affect members of our own family. We no longer have the luxury of waiting for Congress to fix the broken immigration system; we must do our part to ensure that a just and equitable immigration system remains at the forefront of our representatives’ minds.  

It was this sense of urgency that drove over 100 sisters and associates and their sponsored ministries to Washington DC in December 2021 to march for, pray for, and call for the end of Title 42. At that event, Sisters shared stories of ministering at the border, in Florida with the Haitian community, and in cities across the country. We shared a common understanding that our lives are forever changed by time spent ministering in El Salvador, Honduras, and many other countries. 

We shared with each other our own experiences of accompanying a family seeking asylum, only to watch helplessly as they were turned away by Border Patrol, or telling an individual that, according to current policy, they do not have a valid asylum claim even though a return to their home country would most certainly result in death. We also shared about moments of community — of shared meals of pupusas or beans and rice that made the Body of Christ a tangible offering that widened our understanding of community. All of these moments further strengthened our deeply held belief that the country’s immigration system needs an overhaul. 

As women religious, our individual community’s charism informs how we respond to the call to minister alongside our country’s diverse immigrant communities and advocate for justice. While our ministerial actions might vary, we all believe that all people, no matter their country of origin, economic status, family composition, gender or sexual orientation, or reason for migrating, deserve the opportunity to apply for asylum.  

This is the foundation of our belief as Christians: that all people reflect the Imago Dei — the image of the loving God who created them. Therefore, we will continue to call on our elected officials to stop playing politics with the lives of our immigrant siblings and create an immigration system that works for all people. 

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM is NETWORK’s Education and Organizing Specialist and a co-host of the podcast Just Politics, produced in collaboration between NETWORK and U.S. Catholic magazine.  

This column was published in the Quarter 3 2023 issue of Connection. 
Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland Erin Zubal, Diane Therese Pinchot, and Susan Zion, pictured at a Cleveland stop on NETWORK's Pope Francis Voter Tour in the fall of 2022.

Rethinking the Future

Rethinking the Future

Sisters Will Continue to Work In and For Community

Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU
April 21, 2023
Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland Erin Zubal, Diane Therese Pinchot, and Susan Zion, pictured at a Cleveland stop on NETWORK's Pope Francis Voter Tour in the fall of 2022.

Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland Erin Zubal, Diane Therese Pinchot, and Susan Zion, pictured at a Cleveland stop on NETWORK’s Pope Francis Voter Tour in the fall of 2022.


I am often asked “what it is like to be a young sister?” I hear this question a lot, by well-intended, inquisitive people, people who seem sincerely interested in my response. I have a good friend who likes to respond to the well-intended questioner with, “She is not as young as she used to be.”

And we all laugh. Indeed, none of us are as young as we used to be,

While it is a question that is often asked of me, my age — or rather the chronological age among my community — is something I rarely think about. When I entered the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland 17 years ago, I knew with all my being that I was called to religious life at this moment in history, and the probability was high that I would always be the youngest. You see, no one has entered the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland since me. My lifelong yes to living a life of chastity, poverty, and obedience also came with saying yes to living out the call as the youngest.

Being the youngest is an incredible gift. I have had and continue to have the best teachers — women who have paved the way in mission, ministry, justice, and advocacy, women who have modeled for me strength and a lifelong commitment to learning and formation. My sisters have taken risks, spoken out, and have advocated for the most vulnerable among us, especially women and children. And I continue to by humbled by the ways my sisters show up for me. When I start a new ministry, when I need help in learning the ways of faithful service, and when I simply need to be reminded that we do the work together and with all of our collaborators, I am not alone.

Religious life is transitioning, changing, evolving. The truth is that all Catholic Sisters aren’t as young as we used to be. The numbers of women religious actively serving in hospitals, schools, and social service agencies are declining. Many congregations are having conversations about the legacy they will leave when their communities reach completion. Our legacy, charisms, and missions are being lived out by our associates, co-members, and co-workers. And this is where the mission of NETWORK enters the picture as well.

When I arrived at NETWORK, I was no longer the youngest. Instead, I joined a multi-generational, diverse group of talented, committed, and dynamic people. I arrived at a time when NETWORK was celebrating its 50-year history and taking the long look back. And while we took the time to look back to our foundation, we have also been taking the time to look forward to the next 50 years and all the ways the organization can continue to engage in meaningful political ministry.

And this is part of the legacy that Catholic Sisters leave as well. At NETWORK I see how Catholic Sisters, even with our declining numbers, will continue to work in community in the years ahead. Our calls and our charisms are broken open, beyond the boundaries of religious life, and shared with people from different walks of life in communities far and wide. And this new and different form of community works together for changes in laws that will foster ever-deeper and more inclusive communities. This is a rethinking of the future of religious life, but one that brings the Gospel ever more fully out into the world.

The same God who called the thousands of women religious before me is the same God who called me. And it’s the same God who calls Catholics to live their baptismal call out in the world and who inspires people of goodwill to work for justice and build up the common good. Today and each day, I renew my “yes” filled with hopes and aspirations, limitations, and weaknesses to live this life with my sisters, colleagues, and everyone who shows up wanting to make the world a more just and inclusive place.

Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU, is NETWORK’s Chief of Staff.

This column was published in the Quarter 2 2023 issue of Connection.

Catherine Pinkerton’s Sister-Spirt Legacy

Prophet of a Future

Julia Morris
May 15, 2022

Sr. Catherine Pinkerton’s Legacy Shapes NETWORK’s Justice Journey Today

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*).

Reflections on 58th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma

The 58th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma Alabama

Reflections on the 58th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma Alabama

Min. Christian S. Watkins, Government Relations Advocate
March 7, 2023

On the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, my thoughts are focused on the brave justice marchers who sacrificed their safety to advance racial justice. Can you imagine rising to pray and prepare for the 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery in 41-degree weather? What must it have felt like to be a stitch in the fabric of the interracial, intergenerational, and interfaith crowd that blanketed this place in the Deep South seeking justice for Black Americans knowing that Jim Crow’s grip in this neck of the woods could not be tighter? And, that the threat to their lives was real.

The Selma to Montgomery march was one in a series of public actions, part of a slow but growing movement for racial equity, voting rights, and policy change. Civil rights leaders organized this march to protest the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, an activist shot to death by an Alabama state trooper on February 18 for defending his mother against police violence. Can you imagine what the marchers experienced as they stood in solidarity with 600 likeminded folks knowing the lengths racist power would go to protect segregation?

Certainly, fear and anxiety were present, but their purpose was clear: march to the Alabama state capitol in a unified show of support for lives that should matter to all, but were abused, demeaned, and often snuffed out by private citizens and state actors. These justice warriors would not be moved by the bastion of white supremacy committed to racist violence and terror. 

In the Company of 600 Justice Coconspirators 

Can you imagine advancing toward Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge and seeing the resistance from authorities dressed in riot gear? Their clubs and gas masks are a major threat to your life, but you stand firm in your resolve to stand for liberty for Black people and bring America closer to the promises of the Constitution.

If over the past few years, you’ve stood with Black Lives Matter protesters, or have marched alongside Black and Brown people for civil rights since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s time, you may have felt the anxiety that comes with meeting law enforcement face to face. Even if they served to protect you and the group, unsettling feelings often arise with the fight for freedom. The threat of violence is always a possibility. The state-sponsored vitriol and violence that showed up to squash activists in places like Selma in 1965, Ferguson in 2014, and Standing Rock in 2016 reminds one that freedom fighters can be seriously wounded, or have their lives stolen, by those sworn to protect and serve the public.

On Bloody Sunday, the march for voting rights came face-to-face with racist power motivated by Christian nationalism (an ideology that promotes God aligned with patriotism and a certain race of people) and white supremacy (the belief that white people are preferred over other races). Eventually, freedom overcame race-based illiberal ideology, undeniably because of the heroes who stood for justice on March 7, 1965.

And some rose to prominence on the national political stage like the late Representative John Lewis (GA).  He was among those beaten by police that day, and he went on to serve in the U.S. Congress for 33 years. Can you imagine what it was like to witness this great man get his skull fractured?

Bloody Sunday Progressed Civil Rights, But Significant Transformation Is Still Needed

Yes, voting rights were secured for Black people a few months after the Selma March when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but racial violence and discrimination persists in policing. And, over fifty years later, racist power in ‘red’ states persist in efforts to circumvent the federal law with voter suppression tactics. My mother finds it unbearable that the rights she marched and voted for in the ‘60s are vulnerable to attack, and that some police forces continue to abuse, harm, and kill Black people. 

The ongoing reality of hyper-militarized police violence against Black and Brown people is why NETWORK supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, legislation introduced in the 117th Congress. If passed, essential oversight and protections would be secured at the local, state, and federal levels. And NETWORK’s efforts to strengthen voting rights, through the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and other legislation, would advance our vision for communities that thrive with economic, criminal legal system, and other social justice policy reforms.

With God, Change Is Possible  

Spirit-filled justice seekers cannot wait for change to come. We must fervently care for communities and commit ourselves to the pursuit of safe, equitable, and thriving lives for everyone who lives in them. The soil in which God has planted us, must be enriched with love and kindness. It’s time to root out the fear and hatred that thrives with racism. Let’s not just imagine a world of renewed intimacy between people of all backgrounds and all of Creation through the work of our Messiah: Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s radically pursue it!

God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound minds (2 Tm. 1:7). How will you use your divinely creative mind to employ love out loud for justice?  

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. prayed: “My great prayer is always for God to free me from the paralysis of crippling fear, because I believe that when a person lives with fears of the consequences for his personal life, he can never do anything in terms of lifting the whole of humanity and solving the social problems which we confront in every age and every generation.”  

On this day we remember the devastating events of Bloody Sunday, the glories that were revealed in its aftermath and even those yet to be seen.  

My Prayer for Spirit-Filled Justice Seekers  

On the 58th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, I am grateful to the 600 who defied racial terror on the Pettis Bridge and sacrificed their safety and security to advance civil rights in our country. Because they braved racist police power, I, and millions of other Black men, women, and children, can take any seat on a public bus, attend integrated public schools, and vote in elections. But I am not content. More needs to be done to protect Black lives, especially in interactions with the police. I offer a small prayer for justice-seekers:

Lord, help me to love freely and serve You.
Guide my efforts to bring change to communities so that all of Your children thrive, regardless of race, religious affiliation, gender, or sexual orientation.
God, give me the courage to act for divine justice without reservation nor fear of impediments.
God, give me the strength to do this until justice rolls down like a waterfall, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amen.

The National Black Sisters’ Conference Calls for “Justice for Tyre!”

The National Black Sisters’ Conference Calls for “Justice for Tyre!”

Mary J. Novak and Joan F. Neal
January 31, 2023

On January 30, the National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC) published a powerful statement addressing the murder of 29-year old Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers. We join the NBSC in grieving the loss of Tyre Nichols’ life and calling for the immediate passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and reforms to policing at all levels.

Read the National Black Sisters’ Conference Statement on the murder of Tyre Nichols: