The Weight of Something Precious
Erin Zubal, OSU, Chief of Staff
May 9, 2022
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*).