Category Archives: Sister Spirit

Catholic Women Religious Sign-on to Urge a Reparations Study Commission

Letter to President Biden from Catholic Sisters and Associates of Religious Communities

Dear President Biden:

As Catholic Women Religious and associates of religious communities, we recognize, affirm, and commit to uplift the sacredness of Black lives. In this country, we must honestly reflect on the history of racist and immoral policies sanctioned by the United States government and Catholic institutions. It is time to provide repair and redress for the ongoing repercussions of chattel slavery and continued systemic racism.

For more than 400 years, our federal policies and economic practices fostered the Atlantic slave trade, chattel slavery, segregation and Jim Crow, and other forms of discrimination. This sinful racism, which fueled the economy and built the very foundation of the United States, was given moral absolution by the Catholic Church.

The Catholic faith tradition calls for confession, penance, and restitution when a sin has been committed. Telling the truth is, indeed, the only way we can begin to repair and redress the pain caused by slavery and our country’s failure to repent for centuries of systemic racism.

President Biden, as people of faith, we call on you to act with courage and fulfill your campaign promise to ‘support a study of reparations’ by establishing a national reparations commission via executive order.* As Catholic institutions, including orders of women religious, grapple with and make reparations for their pasts, so must the United States.

The sinful legacy of white supremacy and the enduring racial wealth gap must no longer be allowed to deny Black people good health, educational, and economic outcomes. It is time to act on your commitments to dismantling racist laws, policies, and frameworks, and to advance racial equity by establishing a reparations commission. We implore you to answer this urgent moral imperative to advance justice and build a better future for our country.


Catholic Sisters and Associates

*President Biden said during his campaign, “a Biden Administration will support a study of reparations.

Sisters and Associates – Add Your Name

*This sign-on letter is now closed. To continue making your voice heard, please send an email to the White House.

Affirming the Black Catholic Voice and Presence in Our Church and Our Country

Affirming the Black Catholic Voice and Presence in Our Church and Our Country

Joan F. Neal
Aug 10, 2022

NETWORK applauds the National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC), National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, National Association of Black Catholic Deacons, and the National Association of Black Catholic Seminarians for a successful four-day gathering and congratulates the newly elected NBSC Board, including Sr. Addie Lorraine Walker, SSND, NBSC’s new President, who received the organization’s Harriet Tubman Award, for being the “Moses for her people.” As she accepted, Sr. Addie Lorraine said she would “only accept the award if those in the banquet hall would accept the responsibility of being Black in a white-dominated American Catholic church.“

The National Black Sisters’ Conference, which was founded in 1968 to serve as the unifying voice and forum for religious Black Sisters, held its Board election as part of the general assembly. The new Board for the 2022 -24 term includes:  President:  Sr. Addie Lorraine Walker, SSND, who has served on the NBSC Board since 2019; Vice President: Sr. Melinda Pellerin, SSJ, who has also served on the NBSC Board since 2019; Secretary: Sr. Nicole Trahan, FMI, who will be serving on the Board for the first time; and Treasurer:  Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, who has held previous Board positions.  The other elected members of the Board include:  Sr. LaKesha Church, CPPS, Sr. Roberta Fulton, SSMN, Sr. Gwynette Proctor, SNDdeN, Sr. Patricia Ralph, SSJ, and Sr. Callista Robinson, OSF.

Sandra Coles-Bell, NBSC Executive Director reported from the gathering, “After a two-year hiatus, 150 attendees and members of four national Black Catholic organizations met for four days of reflection, study, conversation, planning, and prayer on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana with the unifying theme of ‘Come Together Children.’ Participants were reminded of the importance of walking together in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and the relevance of the Black Catholic voice and presence in maintaining the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The South African principles of UBUNTU and SAWUBONA engaged participants in robust conversations on how to move prayerfully forward as Black men and women with the full force of Catholicism informed by the faith and experiences of Black people in this country.”

National Black Catholic Sisters Receive Inaugural Justice-Seeker AwardEarlier this year, NETWORK awarded the National Black Sisters’ Conference with the inaugural Distinguished Justice-Seeker Award to honor the NBSC’s dedicated and persistent witness for racial justice in the Catholic Church and society. NETWORK looks forward to collaborating with NBSC’s newly elected Board and commends the continued prophetic witness of the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

Sr. Simone receives Medal of Freedom from President Biden

Watch Sr. Simone receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Watch Sister Simone receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom  

Mary J. Novak
July 7, 2022

On July 7, 2022, President Joe Biden awarded Sister Simone Campbell, SSS and 16 other extraordinary Americans with our country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. While leading NETWORK from 2004 to 2021, Sister Simone propelled NETWORK’s mission of political ministry into the national spotlight with her committed advocacy for justice.   

President Biden said that Sister Simone and her fellow medal recipients “embody the soul of the nation — hard work, perseverance, and faith,” and I strongly agree. It is people like Sister Simone and each of you — advocates for justice, participating in politics to dismantle systemic racism and advance the common good — who give me hope.  

As we witness rising tension and growing threats to our democracy, it is more important than ever to lobby for federal policies that dismantle systemic racism and create a country where all people can thrive. 

NETWORK's reparation vigil featured Reverend Traci Blackmon

NETWORK’s Reparations Vigil in Cleveland Featured Revered Traci Blackmon

NETWORK’s Reparations Vigil in Cleveland Featured Reverend Traci Blackmon

Elissa Hackerson
June 17, 2022

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice hosted Repair and Redress: A Vigil for Reparations (In-Person) on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 at St. Aloysius – St. Agatha Parish in Cleveland, OH. People in the parish church and school community, sisters, the Cleveland NETWORK Advocates Team, justice-seekers, and NETWORK staff made a powerful stand for reparations for Black Americans and called for an H.R.40-style reparations commission by Juneteenth. NETWORK’s reparations vigil in Cleveland featured Reverend Traci Blackmon, Associate General Minister, Justice and Local Church Ministries (United Church of Christ). The United Church of Christ shared a condensed video presentation of her remarks.

Rev. Blackmon’s stirring and powerful remarks spoke to the theological call to repair a society broken by the sin of chattel slavery and the racism that has followed in its wake and addressed society’s need to atone and provide redress.  Rev. Blackmon declared that it is time to end government charity for Black people (giving fish) and deliver justice (equitable access to the lake).

The reason we have not reckoned with racism in this country–decision makers have decided that God cannot be Black, that God cannot be Brown. That God indeed must be white and therefore we have created a fractured and disabled society.Rev. Traci D. Blackmon

A classically trained violinist from Venezuela added music to the vigil.

NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda calls for a society where we all share equally in God’s abundance. For this to happen, our country’s laws, policies, and norms must:

  • Dismantle Systemic Racism
  • Cultivate Inclusive Community
  • Root Our Economy in Solidarity
  • Transform Our Politics

As Rev. Blackmon stated so clearly in her vigil remarks, “Reparations is about the church and the people and the society moving from charity to justice. Moving from hand out to hand up. Moving from simply offering to give someone a fish to giving them access to the lake so they can fish for themselves.”

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

From the Archives: Called to Challenge the Treatment of Poverty

From the Archives: Centering Encounter for 50 Years

Sr. Mara Rutten, RSM
April 7, 2022

Dear Friend,

As we get ready for our 50th Anniversary Advocates Training and Gala next week, I invite you to reflect on the words of Sr. Jan Cebula, OSF:

“Yes, we face some critical choices as we decide
what kind of a people-a country-we want to be. It’s OUR choice
and we all have decisions to make at this pivotal time. Are
we going to choose: to remain isolated or recognize the strength
of community? To be fearful or reach out with compassion and love?”

~ Sister Jan Cebula, OSF, Nuns on the Bus 2016

In recent years, NETWORK continued to build on the legacy set by the lobbyists and organizers who came before, harnessing the power of community to advocate for federal policy change.

From 2012 up through a virtual campaign in 2020, NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus NETWORK's Nuns on the Bustrips encouraged communities across the country to share their stories of how national policy issues of immigration, health care, and federal budgets are not just statistics, but have real impact on their personal experiences.

NETWORK lobbyists and organizers worked with people in the communities the Bus visited to meet with Members of Congress and advocate for policies that better serve their families and communities.

Throughout 2019 and in early 2020, NETWORK Lobby Raises Rural Voiceswe hosted roundtable discussions listening to diverse groups of more than 250 people living in rural communities all across the United States. NETWORK published a report titled “Raising Rural Voices,” lifting up their hopes and hardships, to help guide federal policy decisions in Washington.

“This report reflects the ‘active listening’ that doesn’t occur frequently enough within states or with policymakers in Washington. Too many decisions are made without understanding the perspective of rural residents or acknowledging the values of shared obligations.”

~ Kathleen Sebelius, Former Kansas Governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Forward to “Raising Rural Voices”

And friend, over the last year the NETWORK community has continued to prioritize encounter in our organizing. NETWORK's Title 42 White House ProtestJust last December, more than 80 Catholic Sisters and their advocacy partners rallied outside the White House to bear witness to their experiences serving migrants at the Southern Border and protest the inhumane misuse of Title 42 and call for its end. While strides forward have been made, there is still much to do in order to build a humane and just asylum system.

As we celebrate NETWORK’s 50th Anniversary, we recommit to centering encounter in our advocacy. This important work can only happen in community, and we are grateful to count you as part of our NETWORK community.

I have enjoyed sharing my stories with you over the past few weeks. Through the many changes in technology and shifts in politics over the years, NETWORK has remained steadfast in our political ministry. Together, we will continue to work for economic and social transformation for many years to come.

Read From the Archives: NETWORK’s Vision Comes to Life
Read From the Archives: Spirit at Work from the Beginning
Read From the Archives: Called to Challenge the Treatment of Poverty

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*).

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!