Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck Reports from Nuns on the Bus

By: Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck

The "Nuns on the Bus" at a rally in Chicago. (Photo courtesy
of Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck)
Oct. 15 found 10 new travelers boarding the bus for the second leg of the four-legged trip on its way to Mar-A-Lago. You have read the experiences of Sr. Phyllis Tierney (Rochester) and Sr. Julie Fertsch (Philadelphia). The exciting aspect about part two is that it was a continuation of the experience of meeting equally dedicated and determined members of "we the people" from Omaha to Cleveland.

Throughout the week we visited four Congressional Offices. Constituents were also with us speaking about the impact on their lives of the tax policy and their fears about the anticipated shredding of the safety net. At one office the constituents brought a cardboard cut-out of the Congressman explaining that is the way they "saw" him rather than in person.

The greatest energy and hope came from those who met us at the rallies, shared their stories, signed the pledge cards and signed the bus. We the People are alive and well.

A "townhall" event in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Sr. Mary
Ellen Gondeck)
The Town Hall Meetings were in Cedar Rapids at Mount Mercy University, St. Alphonsus "Rock" Liguori Church in St. Louis, St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago, and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in East Lansing, MI.

The message at each was about the great disparity in our country because of the Tax Policy. The presentation was a very "live" portrayal of the dollar differences among the five quintiles used as a measure of household income. It also presented the income of the corporations. Each gathering was unique, the highlight being hearing directly from "our friends" about their felt impact and the ideas to remedy the great pain that so many were experiencing because of the tax policy. At each site the Tax Justice explanation was very well received with the request for a way to replicate it more broadly. It was a real "eye opener" for most of the participants.

We were also energized by the agencies offering valuable and creative services to many in their communities. In Des Moines it was YESS (Youth Emergency Services and Shelter), the largest youth shelter in the state offering many significant services for youth from infant to teenagers — all surrounded with the love and compassion that was so needed to deal with the trauma experienced by the 50+ children who come every day.

In Peoria, IL we visited the Heartland Health Services which began in 1991 as a free clinic with volunteer doctors and nurses and in 2004 became, a federally qualified healthcare center and now runs five clinics with two more "out-county." Programs include pediatric, immunization, acute chronic illness, women’s health, behavioral health, and midwife services for over 5,000 people each year. 

One of the "tiny houses" in Detroit. (Photo
courtesy of Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck)
By Saturday we were in Detroit to visit the Cass Community Social Services. Rev. Faith Fowler shared with us the Tiny House program for people who are homeless. It provides a home for $250/month rent. At the end of 7 years, the home belongs to the resident who during this time receives home-ownership training, finance management training, and other support and wrap-around services to ensure success as a home-owner. At the same time, the residents are adding to the beauty of Detroit and creating community in the neighborhood. What could be better? The goal this year is 25 new homes.

The last agency that we visited was the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) in Cleveland, another place offering a number of programs. We learned about the culinary program, Chopping for Change, which is a partnership with LMM, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry. It is a pre-release workforce development training and behavioral health service for women in the criminal justice system. The smiles of the women told the whole story about the path from "making a big mistake" to being employed in a life-giving job.
Our travel time between events gave us a good opportunity to learn more about our colleagues, the nuns, the staff, the videographer and bus driver. Invaluable time! We were Simone Campbell, Mary Ellen Lacy, Quincy Howard (all from Network), Mumbi Kigutha, Jan Cebula, Linda Werthman, Ilaria Buonriposi, Gwen Hennessey, and Robbie Pentecost, and myself all with wonderful stories of their own ministries and lives.

Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck
The bottom line for me was that everyone we met was absolutely determined and dedicated even in their pain and struggles to make a difference for the common good. It was said over and over again that "we the people" will not be defeated.

The overall spirit was that we are strong together in addressing the changes needed for the common good. Simone reminded us that the lie being spread about the need for individualism is contrary to the very words of our Constitution, "we the people." We are a community, which was the message I felt from the folks gathered as they signed the pledge cards and the bus.

[Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck is a member of the Justice Team for the Congregation of St. Joseph]

Friday, October 19, 2018

Sr. Phyllis Tierney Reports from Nuns On The Bus

Nuns on the Bus Week 1, October 8-11, 2018

By: Sr. Phyllis Tierney

Sr. Phyllis Tierney (Courtesy of NETWORK).
My sleep-deprived body is home after an exhilarating and exhausting week with Nuns on the Bus, joining Sister Simone Campbell, SSS and NETWORK staff to spread the message that tax justice is not achieved by permanent income tax breaks that benefit the wealthy but deprive the poor of programs that help to maintain their health and wellbeing. On Sunday, October 7 I took an early morning flight from Rochester to Los Angeles to join nine other Sisters and NETWORK staff on a week of adventure and spreading the message of the need for economic justice for all.

Monday morning began with an opening rally and bus blessing on Santa Monica Beach. Sister Simone greeted the crowd and explained our mission, "Reasonable revenue for responsible programs."

Take-Aways from this experience:

The first evening that we gathered, Sr. Simone gave each of the bus riders a simple bracelet: a piece of elastic with one glass bead that symbolizes Hope, a hope that we bring with us and a hope that we share with all that we encounter, that together we can bring about a change, a conversion of heart, metanoia, so that we will see tax justice as caring for our neighbor in need, and not just the accumulation of wealth for ourselves. From the Kick-Off Rally with Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Jimmy Gomez to the Town Hall for Justice in Tucson that was attended by approximately 200 people (by my scan, at least!) there was great enthusiasm and appreciation for Nuns on the Bus and their message. We also encountered those who didn't like us, consider Democrats to be doing the work of Satan, etc... but it was important to hear those voices because they signify the deep divisions in our country. We were blessed by the visit to Homeboy Industries, founded by Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle. Workers shared their stories of "Fr. G.'s" belief in them when they had given up believing in themselves. My eyes teared when George said his son asked "Are you ever going to love us? Do we even exist for you?" Today he can say "I can only save myself…I do this because I have to give back to my community." Today George has his family back and George is here to help others who are trying to fight their way back from addictions and gang membership. 

Tuesday in Las Vegas we met members of the Culinary Union 226 who are fighting for hospitality workers in the casinos. This union represents immigrants from 173 countries. Its composition is 54 percent Latino and 55 percent women. Its' diverse membership speaks over 40 different languages.

They are working for new contracts for 2000 workers in three casinos whose owners have refused to
Sr. Phyllis Tierney canvassing with Culinary Union
Local 226 in Las Vegas (Courtesy of NETWORK).
give them the pay and working conditions they are entitled to, yet spend millions of dollars on their own personal entitlements and gifts to charities where their name is recognized. On Wednesday morning we accompanied workers who took voluntary furloughs from their jobs and cuts in pay to work for the union canvassing the community to identify residents who have not voted in recent elections and to encourage them to register and vote for Democratic candidates that will support workers and fight for tax laws that benefit the working class, not corporations!

Union workers who canvass neighborhoods have been working from 9 am in the morning to 7 pm, six days a week. They return to addresses where no one is at home during the day to try to personally speak with persons they are trying to reach. We spent only about an hour and a half in the morning but we had a taste of what workers do every day, trying to find persons at home, encountering those who are angry and those with fierce dogs who will not answer the door!

In Phoenix, we visited the Human Services Campus where we witnessed all the social agencies sharing a common area where persons in need of assistance could obtain central access. This vision has enabled agencies to concentrate on their own specialty instead of trying to stretch resources across multiple needs. The sign at St. Joseph the Worker reads "No one can go back and make a brand new start. Anyone can start from now and make a brand new beginning."

Town halls each evening had their own flavor — Each one was different! Sister Simone and her staff have a well-scripted scenario that describes persons of different income levels and the effects of the Trump tax cuts on each. Each night we drew names to see which part we would take. Most of us had the opportunity to represent a different income quartile and the benefits given to us by the tax cut, as well as the losses we can expect when social programs are cut. These cuts affect those at the bottom levels the most as we to try to finance our extraordinary financial debt which will not be recouped in our lifetimes or beyond! Audience members raised issues and concerns regarding the Republican tax plan. When they were asked to generate solutions in every audience, someone said: "we have to build community." We can't talk to each other on a political level before we share with our neighbors. We have become a society of isolated individuals who thrive on fear rather than hope.

At the end of every gathering, participants were invited to sign postcards and then sign the bus! We passed out copies of Network’s Connections, stickers, and postcards. We listened as people told us there very personal stories, including their faith journeys. What I realized is that tax justice may be the message but it is our presence and persistence that are so valued in these times when so many feel isolated and disenfranchised.

Sr. Phyllis (fourth from the left) in front of the bus
(Courtesy of NETWORK).
Finally, I need to say a few words about my traveling companions! There were ten Sisters including Sr. Simone and two of her NETWORK staff members, Mary Ellen Lacey and Quincy Howard, and seven of us: Julie Fertsch, Reg McKillip, Bernadine Karge, Dusty Farnan,  Michele Morek, Chris Machado, and myself. We were joined by NETWORK staff members and Abbey Watson, trip director. Melissa Regan, videographer, has been filming Nuns on the Bus events since 2012 and has hopes of finishing her film soon! We were a congenial group, sharing stories, singing songs (a few!) and keeping busy with e-mails and writing blogs! Abbey kept us on track down to the minute for take –offs and arrivals. The staff kept us well-fed with meals and snacks!

As the Bus continues its journey, I send prayers for the safety of the occupants, for the audiences that hear the message, and I pray that many will find hope in the message and in the messengers.

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on NETWORK's website. Follow along with Nuns on the Bus at and don't forget to join the conversation on their Facebook and Twitter pages, where you can also find if Nuns on the Bus is visiting your area.

[Sr. Phyllis Tierney is the Justice Director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester.]

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Sr. Julie Fertsch Reports from Nuns on the Bus

By: Sr. Julie Fertsch, SSJ

October 8, 2018

Sr. Julie (third from left) at the kickoff event in Santa Monica.
What an unbelievable first day! Every moment of it was so full — sacred, privileged, and special. We were all so incredibly humbled and deeply inspired! What a gift!

At 8:30 a.m., after a healthy breakfast and a fruitful morning prayer, we loaded up the bus and headed out for our kickoff event at Ocean View Park in Santa Monica, CA. We received quite a welcome from the many supporters who were anxiously awaiting our arrival. There, we heard from Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, CA Representative Jimmy Gomez, Angela and Myka Eilers from the Little Lobbyists, Joe Sandberg of CalEITC4me, Gene Sperling, Former Director of the National Economic Council, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. These fine men, women, and a little girl named Myka challenged us to come together, to remember that we are united, and to speak out and to share the stories of the families who are struggling the most. They called us to stand up for the children in this country, to hold our elected officials accountable, and to remember that WHO WE VOTE FOR MATTERS! They reminded us that our national budget is a reflection of our values, our priorities, and how we affirm the dignity of the human person, and they inspired us to take care of each other, to listen to each other, to feed the hungry and to be beacons of light and surpluses of hope in these very dark times. At the end of the program, Rabbi Sharon Brous offered the blessing: "Each of us is called to do whatever we can to heal the world and bring about the Kingdom of God. Go and help free us from a politics that invisibilizes, marginalizes, disenfranchises, and steals from those who need the most, a politics which hatred, intolerance, and heartlessness poisons the water of our nation. Go and proclaim liberty throughout the land. Go, and remind our nation, aching under the weight of injustice, that it is precisely in the dark of night that we can see the stars. Go, go in peace."

Courtesy of NETWORK Lobby

After the crowd signed their pledge cards and the Bus, we made our way to our next venue: Homeboy Industries. According to their website, Homeboy Industries "provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community. Each year, over 10,000 former gang members from across Los Angeles come through Homeboy Industries' doors in an effort to make a positive change." Boris, Janet, Christina, Selena, George, and Allison created an incredible experience for us! The "Nuns on the Bus" had the opportunity to assemble a tray of cookies in the bakery with Christina and to hear a bit of her story. She reminded us of the importance of opportunities and chances and articulated how Homeboy Industries gave her just that...the opportunity and chance to become the woman she is today...the woman her children are so proud of.  We met George, the security guard for Homeboy Industries, who often comes in on his days off to give tours to groups like ours. He found his road to recovery and healing because of his love for his children. After many years, he still returns monthly to juvenile hall to speak with the kids he encounters. He said "If I can save one by my witness, then that is enough." Boris and Janet, a newly married couple, have worked together for a number of years at Homeboy Industries. They also inspired us with their stories of radical transformation, of the many ways they found "home" at Homeboy Industries, and how they continue to feel excited and grateful to be a part of such a wonderful organization.

Sr. Julie (second from the left) with some of the "Nuns on the Bus" (Courtesy
of NETWORK Lobby).
Finally, we closed up our first full day with a Town Hall for Justice at All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA. There, we received an overwhelmingly warm welcome from the community and the Rector of the Church, Mike Kinman. We heard from CA Rep Judy Chu and then the group of us engaged the community in a way that really brought Tax Justice to life. There was great energy! What a gift to hear the concerns, ideas, and solutions that the group surfaced!

Earlier in the day, Joe Sandburg of CalEITC4me used a quote written by Dr. Suess: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." All day, we had the fine, beautiful privilege of meeting people on the journey who do, in fact, care a whole awful lot. These caring people shine like stars in very dark times. Let us train our eyes to recognize, see, and focus our attention on them! And let us continue to be amazed by the gift of their light and love!

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on NETWORK's website. Follow along with Nuns on the Bus at and don't forget to join the conversation on their Facebook and Twitter pages, where you can also find if Nuns on the Bus is visiting your area.

[Sr. Julie Fertsch is a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, who will be one of the 'Nuns on the Bus' for part of their trip.]

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Interrupt the Contagion of Hatred

By: Sr. Nadine McGuinness, CSJ

This is a plea and a suggestion: that Sisters of St. Joseph (CSSJ) be public and outspoken in support of our brother, Pope Francis.

Many are frustrated by Pope Francis’ latest letter on the topic of the evil and sinfulness of the sex abuse incidents and the cover-ups that have occurred in our country and around the world.

To me, this is a sacramental moment. We must each recognize and own up to our biases and blindness. 

We need to let others show us how we have hurt them and ask them how we can help them heal from those wounds. 

We need to change the systems within our Church that have allowed the disease of pedophilia and the sins of arrogance and authoritarianism to fester and remain hidden.

The victims of this abuse must know that we love them and want all that can heal them to be theirs.
The perpetrators, too, must know that we love them and will walk with them as they live in accountability for the harm that they have done and for their abuse of authority.  

In the past five years, Pope Francis has offered us several of his visions: of evangelization; of love of our earth, our common home; of admiration and joy in witnessing family love; and of practical responses to God’s call to be holy. These messages give voice to so many who have not known how to hope or forgive; how to change in the midst of our own history. Yet, there is still much more Pope Francis can do to condemn evil and encourage justice and mercy. 

Our religious faith communities, our consecrated life communities, and all of our world stretching to be its best possible self, need a guide to show the way forward during this tragic and confusing time.  Let us interrupt the contagion of hatred and offer Pope Francis encouragement to lead us where we need to go.

Sisters of St. Joseph are not the only group that must speak up and bear witness to God’s great love.  Likeminded friends and associates are essential to speaking inclusively and offering suggestions for how to change the systems which have allowed this betrayal of children, parents, community-building societies, and hope-filled faith communities.

For these reasons, I make this plea and suggestion: that we, Sisters of St. Joseph (CSSJ), be public and outspoken in our support of our brother, Pope Francis, as he works to respond to the challenges of standing as leader of our Roman Catholic community.

Nadine McGuinness, CSJ
A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange

Sr. Nadine McGuinness

[Nadine McGuinness, CSJ, a catechist who has been writing and speaking on the documents of Pope Francis since 2013, is a Sister of St. Joseph of Orange, CA. She works at Emmaus Spiritual Ministries in Orange, CA. She received a doctorate in systematic theology from the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Canada.]

Editor's Note: This perspective is in response to the U.S. Federation's August 2018 Press Release regarding the sexual abuse by clergy. Perspectives on this blog don't necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph but are rather meant to spur further thoughtful discussion on important and timely topics. Please feel free to post your comments below.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Leading in the Footsteps of our Founders

By: Andrew Mercado

As the new academic year is in full swing, students across the country at colleges founded by Sisters of Saint Joseph will be exploring leadership through a newly developed webinar series “Leading in the Footsteps of our Founders.” Through generous funding by the C. Charles Jackson Foundation, The Association of Colleges of Sisters of St. Joseph (ACSSJ) has partnered with member campuses in bringing together opportunities for students to intentionally and actively explore leadership development in the spirit and charism of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The webinar offerings for the fall semester include:
  • Who are we called to be? Journeying into the past and leading into the future
  • Student and Leader: A path towards excellence & service to the “Dear Neighbor”
  • Leading with Purpose & Striving a Balance: A conversation for all on the complexities and necessity of women’s leadership in today’s world 
  • Live your Why.

Since the very founding of our institutions, love for the “dear neighbor” has been and continues to be a central hallmark that shapes the student experience while on campus and influences who they become. In an increasingly interconnected world, this webinar series seeks to empower students to live as engaged leaders called to create hospitable and caring communities, manifest concern for all without distinction, address the needs of the times, strive for excellence in all endeavors, work to make a difference in the local and world community. The webinar series presents a unique opportunity for students across the country to explore the historical and contemporary footsteps of the Sisters of Saint Joseph as a model of leadership in service to the “dear neighbor.”

The webinars are open to the public, please join us. For registration information, please go to or email

[Andrew Mercado is an ACSSJ Graduate Intern and 2016 graduate from Elms College majoring in Health Care Management and Sociology. While at Elms, he was actively involved in Campus Ministry programs and took part in multiple mission trips. He recently graduated from Boston College with a Masters in Higher Education focusing on spirituality, faith, and formation. Andrew is also currently in the process of becoming an associate with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Springfield.  He is also the Vocations Coordinator at The Augustinians of the Assumption.]

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Outrage in New York at Family Separation

By: Sister Susan Wilcox

Shortly after the family separation policy was announced, I found myself looking for engaged neighbors at our local activist fair hosted at a Methodist Church. One of the tables had the sign “Don’t Separate Families”. I knew I wanted to connect with this group. The flyer said they would be meeting on Sunday afternoon at a local synagogue. It turns out that this came about because two alumni parents of a friend's school could not stand by without doing something about children being taken from their parents.  On that first Sunday afternoon, the room was filled with other outraged neighbors. We organized into working groups and came up with several first actions, a New Sanctuary Coalition Accompaniment Training, organizing for the June 30 Keeping Families Together March, and raising donations for organizations working with immigrants and asylum seekers. Some of our members were also deeply interested in actually going to the border; to do what, they did not know.
A map of the caravans' travels in the United States.

We continued meeting, connecting with other groups like the New York Immigration Coalition and others.Then we heard of a grassroots effort coming out of Beacon, New York called Grannies Respond/Abuelos Responden. The idea is that a caravan would head out from Beacon, stop in NYC for a rally and then continue on, making stops along the way. The final destination would be McAllen, Texas – home of the Ursula Detention Center, the largest immigrant processing center in the United States.  Two from our local group decided to participate while the rest of us worked on the NY Rally, creating interest and publicity.  The idea took off as a group from Utah and Los Angeles formed to make their way to McAllen, all converging at once. The NY caravan made stops in Reading, PA; Pittsburg, PA; Louisville, KY; Montgomery, AL; New Orleans, LA; Dilley, TX; and Houston, TX before seeing McAllen. All along the way they had rallies, vigils, and demonstrations, picking up cars and vans of more "grannies" (and "grampies").
At our most recent weekly meeting of Don’t Separate Families on Aug. 20, we hosted a reunion of the NY contingency and reached out to the public to attend (in person or via live stream) to hear their witness stories of desperation, hope, and resilience. What's next? We hope to continue to collaborate with Grannies Respond on their next project, the Overground Railroad, a network of grassroots services serving those seeking asylum.
Editor's note: You can sign up for more information about Grannies Respond/Abuelas Responded and/or the Overground Railroad here.
[Sister Susan Wilcox is a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, NY]

Friday, August 10, 2018

Continuing to Refine the Process of Contemplative Dialogue at LCWR

Sr. Liz Sweeney, SSJ
This year Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) expanded on a process of contemplative dialogue that they have been using for several years.  Led by Sr. Liz Sweeney, SSJ, (Philadelphia) the participants began each of three presentations in a contemplative mode.  

The presenters Sr. Gloria Schaab, SSJ (Philadelphia) began with her presentation entitled, “In the Image of the Trinity: To Be is To Be in Relation.” Click here to read her address.  The new twist was that the other keynote speakers, Heidi Russell and Simon Pedro Arnold, OSB, responded to what they heard.  They were followed by a panel of LCWR members who also responded and then engaged in dialogue about what the presentation might mean to
Sr. Gloria Schaab
them as leaders.  This powerful new dynamic seemed to really help the process go deeper.

After a short break, LCWR participants went to contemplative dialogue groups as has been done in the last few LCWR Assemblies.  In these groups, gatherings of six engaged in contemplative silence and then followed a contemplative dialogue process to hear what was emerging.  There were four to six groups of six in each room.  After two listening processes, the groups of six shared what was emerging with the other groups in the room.  In my group there was a powerful convergence of energy as each group shared their reflections. 

Sr. Judy Donovan

 In each room was a listener who led the process.  When the whole body reconvened 4 listeners shared what they heard emerging so that the body began to get a sense of the communal dialogue of the whole.  Three Sisters of St Joseph, Srs. Judy Donovan, Joan Gallagher, and Janet Lander served as listeners.
Sr. Janet Lander

Sr. Joan Gallagher
LCWR committed to a several year process to use communal dialogue as a mode of hearing God’s voice in their seeking direction for the Conference.  Each year it does seem that the process has allowed them to go deeper into understanding their movement together.
Heidi Russell

Click here to hear Heidi Russell’s presentation.
Sr. Teresa Maya, LCWR President

Sr. Jayne Helmlinger

A highlight of every LCWR is the Presidential Address.  Click here to read this year’s address.

We congratulate Sr. Jayne Helmlinger (Orange) who is the new President Elect of LCWR