"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

Justice Through Action

By Erin Reder

As the only Sister of Charity living in the Washington, D.C. area, S. Louise Lears (right) expresses her gratitude for the opportunity to be present on the Community’s behalf in the nation’s capital.

Collaboration with others to reach a common goal has always been near and dear to S. Louise Lears’ heart. Most recently she has found the perfect opportunity to bring her passion for justice work to a ministry of action and advocacy.

After eight years in congregational leadership, S. Louise took time during a sabbatical and the pandemic to reflect on her next step. Wishing to be closer to her family in Baltimore, Maryland, and hoping to become more involved in the peace and justice arena, S. Louise found herself being called to the Washington, D.C. area. With the full support of the SC Leadership Council she moved to the nation’s capital to begin a new chapter.

As S. Louise explained, she only knew one thing when moving to the area – where she would be living! As a member of the Sr. Anne Montgomery House in the northeast section of Washington, D.C., she is living in an intentional community founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (RSCJ). The house is named for longtime peacemaker S. Anne Montgomery, RSCJ, and provides a one-year experience of community living for two to four young women interested in spirituality and social justice. Currently there are five women living in the house — three women religious, a young woman from Burkina-Faso and another young woman born in the U.S. Both are studying at local universities. The women share morning prayer, cooking responsibilities and chores, and they keep each other up-to-date about what’s going on in the peace and justice world in Washington, D.C.

“It is a real gift for me,” says S. Louise. “I am particularly inspired by the faith and desire for community of the young women. It’s a marvelous living community, very welcoming.”

S. Louise Lears (second from left) is grateful to be living at the Sr. Anne Montgomery House, an intentional community founded by with Sisters of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

When she arrived in Washington, D.C., S. Louise began attending vigils, rallies and protests related to current justice issues. This allowed her the opportunity to begin thinking about what groups she might want to work with, and one that consistently was present was the Franciscan Action Network (FAN). She reached out to the organization’s executive director and shortly after found herself on staff in FAN’s Washington, D.C. office.

A well-established organization in the area, FAN is recognized for its advocacy efforts within core issues related to peace making, care for creation, poverty and human rights. S. Louise was immediately attracted to the Franciscan spirituality and values – and says she considers herself to also be a Franciscan-hearted person, a well-known term amongst Franciscans.

In her volunteer role as director of creation care advocacy, S. Louise keeps herself updated on the many facets of care for creation, the relevant issues and how we can act. She admittedly says that this was not her area of expertise and so, first thing she did after agreeing to take on this particular action platform, was to call Sister of Charity Caroljean Willie, former United Nations NGO liaison. S. Caroljean was able to offer information and suggest particular hot topics that she should be paying particular attention to.

“It’s fun to be in DC and to follow this legislation and to know it’s happening right down the street,” she says. “I read up on a particular topic, then get the word out to FAN and they send the information out to all their Franciscans and Franciscan-hearted people. We have a lot of partners, which is the only way to operate because we are all in this together!”

She is inspired by the SC Charism Statement, recognizing the needs of those most often left out and seeking ways to challenge the policies in place that perpetuate injustice. She reminds us that there are many ways that we can act – calling our congresspersons, writing letters or an op-ed, holding a prayer service. “This is the way God is calling me to do that in this time of my life. This is what we are supposed to be about and the way to hazard yet forward. It’s one way of many and I’m very aware of that.”

S. Louise says she is most encouraged by the many people who are collaborating and partnering with one another. In addition, she is grateful to have the opportunity to be there on behalf of all of her Sisters and Associates. “That’s thrilling to me, and I’m very aware when I’m there that I’m there on behalf of everyone. I look back on all those years I used to think I would love to be there in DC – and now I am! I get to see how many people are working together on all these issues – racial justice, voting rights, creation care. So much collaboration is going on, especially amongst people of faith, and it’s really exciting.”

S. Louise Lears (second row, right) attends a voting rights rally in Washington, D.C.


Connecting the Dots: Climate Change, Immigration and U.S. Policy

Legislation and policies regarding climate change and immigration are priorities for many faith-based justice groups in the United States. Though these two issues may seem unrelated at first, they are closely connected.

Consider the climate-related impacts on Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Food insecurity, recurring droughts, decline in agricultural production, and water scarcity are main drivers of climate displacement in these countries. Overall disruptions in the climate system result in significant economic losses for smallholder farmers. Coastal areas face an increase in sea level rise and destruction of local ecosystems, which threaten fishing-dependent communities. Experts estimate that climate change could displace up to 3.9 million people across Mexico and Central America by 2050. (See www.harvard.edu and search for “Shelter from the Storm.”)

The U.S. is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. We have the opportunity, through legislation and policies, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help fund climate change adaptation measures for highly vulnerable countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. At the same time, we can improve our current immigration policies to ensure that those who migrate can do so with security and dignity.

In response to the grave threat of climate change and its wide impacts, leaders of the world’s major religions met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in October to issue a joint appeal to government leaders. The faith leaders wrote, “We are currently at a moment of opportunity and truth. We pray that our human family may unite to save our common home before it is too late.” They continued, “Future generations will never forgive us if we squander this precious opportunity. We have inherited a garden: we must not leave a desert to our children.”

For legislation regarding climate change from a faith perspective, see www.catholicclimatecovenant.org. For immigration laws and policies, see https://cliniclegal.org.

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