Embracing Faith Through Advocacy: Women Religious Advocates

By Katie Beckmann, Communications Manager

This week’s “Embracing Faith” article will focus on Embracing Faith through Advocacy.

When you think of an advocate or an advocacy group, many prominent names and organizations come to mind.

W.E.B. Du Bois, who was a civil right activist, the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard, and the founder of the NAACP, as well as Achieve, an organization dedicated to ensuring that all high school students are ready for college, careers, and citizenship when they graduate.

While these individuals and organizations have become well known for their efforts, many might not know about the impact Women Religious have had on various social justice issues through their advocacy work.

In Blauvelt, Mother Mary Ann Sammon, founder of the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt, New York, came to Blauvelt in 1878, in hopes to find a place outside of New York City where orphan children could live and be educated.

Sisters Mary Ann Collins and Arlene Flaherty at Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers

Over 130 years later, there are many members of the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt, New York, especially Sisters Arlene Flaherty, Ceil Lavan, Didi Madden, and the Blauvelt Social Justice Committee, who are carrying on Mother Mary Ann’s advocacy efforts.

Sister Arlene ministers as the Director of the Office of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation for the School Sisters of Notre Dame and has participated in many advocacy events such as the Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers.

In her role as Justice Coordinator for the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt, New York, Sister Ceil has traveled to Standing Rock, North Dakota.

Sister Didi serves as the Promoter of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation for the Dominican Sisters in Committed Collaboration (OPSCC).

As a congregation, the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt, New York, have partnered with the North American Dominican Promoters for Justice, Peace, and Care of Creation and the OPSCC to work together for systemic change and follow the mission of Mother Mary Ann Sammon.

Sister Ceil Lavan in Standing Rock, North Dakota

A nationally prominent Women Religious activist is Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, of the Sisters of Social Service. Sister Simone is a prominent Women Religious activist and has ministered as Executive Director of NETWORK since 2004. Not only is Sister Simone an activist, but she is also a religious leader, attorney, poet, and the catalyst behind the “Nuns on the Bus” movement, which attracted a tremendous amount of attention throughout the United States. Sister Simone has lobbied extensively on issues such as immigration reform, economic justice, and health care. (1)

Education advocacy has been another area where Women Religious have been active. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, SC, of the Sisters of Charity, established her religious community that was dedicated to the care of the children of the poor and founded the first free Catholic School in the United States. The founding of this school would lead to the Catholic parochial school system in the United States. (2)

Dominican Sisters participating in Nuns on the Bus

While these Women Religious have made significant impacts in their advocacy efforts across the United States, many Sisters and Associates are responding to a need overseas, as well as at the border.

Currently, Pat Ginty, OP, of the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt, New York, is staying a few miles from the Mexican Border. She recently wrote to Sisters and Associates on March 14th and shared her experience.

“We are a few miles from the Mexican Border. I am staying at El Convento which is no longer a convent of Loretto sisters. It has been converted to office space for non-profit agencies. There are some rooms available for volunteers. I am ministering at Casa Nazareth, one of 13 sites of Annunciation House. We receive 40 to 80 guests a day. They are released from ICE Detention because they have family or a sponsor in the US who are willing to pay air or bus fare to their address. The family sponsor is called and explained the process for getting the ticket. We make sure the guests have enough food and drink for the journey. Some bus trips take 3 days imagine. The guests come to the site with nothing as everything – phone, money, bags of clothing, medication, shoe laces and hair scrunches are confiscated and thrown away in their presence - part of the criminal justice system requirement. They are not prisoners but treated as such. We give them bed sheets, towels, toiletries and three meals for as long they need to stay until travel plans are made for some less than 24 hours for others 3 to 4 days. My time is spent making sandwiches, sorting clothes, preparing bags for travel and calling for drivers. We never know when guests will come - they are just dropped by border patrol. I am learning the ropes. I am tired but glad to be here. The gospel from Matthew on last Sunday was so appropriate for the ministry here.”

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