Thousands of Sisters (Nuns) across the United States and throughout the world work with the poor and oppressed every day in service and leadership living out the best teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. They fight for justice, educate children living in poverty, feed the hungry, house the homeless, support refugees and immigrants and help people to find their own voice.
As a community organizer with faith communities, I have had the honor of working with many ordinary women doing extraordinary things. Sister Dolores and Sister Jane in Philadelphia and Sister Veronica in Camden, NJ who are part of the Sisters of St. Joseph, of Philadelphia, are three such amazing women. They have taught me more about my faith than any male leader leading a Saturday service or a Sunday worship. An admission at this point is required, I am Jewish!
Sister Dolores and Sister Jane run an elementary school, an education oasis, in Kensington, one of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. Over 450 children, a United Nations of diversity, learn and grow together at Visitation BVM School. Sister Veronica works to assist immigrants in finding their own voices at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral in Camden, one of the poorest cities in the United States. They do this with creativity and a healthy sense of anger toward injustice and humor.
Last April, the Vatican, the male leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, issued “an assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (55,000 American Nuns) stating that “this organization is challenging church teachings on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood.”
The Sisters were also reprimanded for public statements “disagreeing with or challenging bishops who are the authentic teachers of faith and morals.” The Vatican is accusing American Nuns of spending too much time on human rights and helping the poor. What would Jesus say?
All these and others Sisters do is live out the best values of the prophets of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus from the New Testament. Sister Veronica brings immigrants together to build community and better understand how to navigate our public systems that are often unresponsive to all of us but are even more difficult for our newest arrivals.
Sister Dolores and Sister Jane have created a Visitation BVM School that provides a wonderful learning environment for Catholic and non-Catholic children. After their combined 34 years of leadership and service, the children come back as adults who are successful and contributing members of society. But, the work of Visitation is as much about values as it is about skills. Visitation graduates routinely want to give back to the community from which they received so much.
This has been my learning about my own faith as the Jewish people wait for the Messiah. But, having worked with Christian faith communities, it is also my belief that the ministry of Sister Dolores and Sister Jane and Sister Veronica and thousands of other women religious represent the real “Body of Christ.” It is the God in all of our hearts.
The Vatican should be supporting the Sisters not attacking the real “Body of Christ.”