Doers of Justice and Makers of Peace
By S. Marge Kloos
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” ~ Cornel West
As Sisters and Associates of Charity, the call to be doers of justice and makers of peace has been historical, impactful, and pervasive in our ministry endeavors. Moving into our future, embodying the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching will be no less compelling.
In November 2020, the congregation began taking steps to redesign our social justice advocacy and engagement ministry. In the two years since, a visioning task force of Sisters and Associates developed a process to identify the sort of program we need at this time.
Through this process, the visioning task force gathered data about the justice projects and interests Sisters and Associates support. Sisters and Associates were asked to participate in small group meetings, gathering to talk about their passion for social justice and provide their wisdom to the visioning task force.
The task force also set up Zoom conversations with partners from the Sisters of Charity Federation, LCWR, NETWORK LOBBY for Social Justice, Ignite Peace (formerly IJPC, Cincinnati), Giving Voice, Leadership Collaborative, Pax Christi, Ohio Sisters Justice Network (formerly Ohio Nuns on the Bus), Action, and Soteni International. S. Andrea Koverman, educator and passionate advocate for ending the death penalty, took on the task of organizing conversations with younger religious and Associates with the task force, which proved particularly beneficial for understanding the current landscape of justice ministry.
“Catholic Sisters tend to engage questions about the unjust systemic and structural issues,” says S. Sally Duffy, justice advocate and long-time educator. Jenny Brady, SC Associate and director of Soteni International, adds, “Sisters are not scared off by the complex and divisive issues of our time.”
“Catholic Sisters have always been in the forefront of addressing justice issues,” says S. Caroljean Willie, director of EarthConnection, “but we have also become a part of the very systems which are now causing the problems. We need to become aware of our own participation in these systems before we can confront them. This will be both a painful and humbling process, but one to which I think we are called today.”
S. Louise Lears frames the call to justice ministry in today’s world as knowing who we are as public witnesses of the gospel. “We are gradually understanding the depth of our privilege and the responsibility to address that privilege in our justice work,” says Sister, who serves as a creation care advocate at Franciscan Action Network in Washington, D.C. She adds, “We are learning that our justice ministry is still viable and vibrant — and needed!”
For what are Catholic Sisters and Associates needed in the ministry of justice and peace today?
A key value grounding our justice ministry moving forward is collaboration.
Over and over the visioning task force heard collaborators close to our mission describe the reasons for which we are needed at their table. Sisters and Associates have been on the front-lines of justice ministry for decades. What has changed, as our conversation partners acknowledged, is that “Sisters are no longer the initiators or the leaders within the organizations, but rather bring invaluable experience, wisdom and resources to the table.”
“When it comes to justice ministry, Sisters witness the commitment and faith-filled struggle to embrace transformational behaviors, influencing others to risk making necessary changes on behalf of the most vulnerable,” commented Ken Butigan, professor at DePaul University and task force conversation partner.
“Sisters work toward systemic change—even as they provide much needed relief for those living in poverty.” Their approach is “to work patiently, accompanying the most vulnerable, while empowering them to become advocates for themselves,” Dr. Butigan continued.
In the spirit of “solidarity and subsidiarity to which we are always called,” says S. Sally Duffy, “involving the most impacted in any decisions related to their programs or solutions to their struggles must be a priority. They need to be at the table with us—speaking their truth and being fully heard.”
“Collaboration takes place on several levels – among religious congregations themselves (Sisters and Associates), but also with partners in our multiple ministries. Education about the causes of injustice is key as is the need to develop a strong voice which is not afraid to confront with knowledge and concern those in power in the institutions of which we are a part… Learning the tools to do this effectively is important,” says S. Caroljean.
In a time when trust in public figures runs low, “Sisters have ‘street cred’ – especially with the younger generation,” according to S. Louise, ethicist and longtime activist. “Justice ministry moving forward will be intergenerational and even more collaborative. We can learn from one another.”
Can everyone do everything all at once?
Our new program format will likely help us manage the impulse to have “everyone doing everything all at once.”
Over the past year, five Justice Circles have formed. Justice Circles are self-organizing groups of Sisters, Associates, colleagues and collaborators who regularly come together around a focused issue such as immigration reform, renewal of Earth, homelessness, food insufficiency, violence, etc.
Geographically well-represented, Justice Circles meet together on Zoom and in-person unless the members determine otherwise. This makes it possible to include collaborators from all over the globe. They can be initiated by an individual, groups, or the Visioning Task Force.
Justice Circles commit to participation in actions, educational opportunities, and resource support, often organized by collaborators who are invited by members of the Circle. Justice Circles also have the responsibility to call themselves to completion. Sisters and Associates can also participate in Circles through the ministry of prayer.
“It has been very exciting to see Sisters and Associates collaborating around shared passions in the Justice Circles,” comments Associate director and member of the task force, Chanin Wilson.
Sociologist and director of the Seton Enablement Fund, S. Patricia Wittberg, agrees. “I have really been impressed with how active the Associates have been in our Justice Circle, and the innovative ideas they have come up with. It has been great working with them and getting to know them better!”
No collaboration seems more natural or timely that that of working with other religious communities. “Our long-term connections with other women religious positions us to have a collective impact on education and advocacy for justice,” says S. Louise.
Injustices are complex, systemic, and relational.
“We are just beginning to imagine how to involve the broader community in shared justice work. And how to address the intersectionality of our issues,” says S. Louise.
S. Caroljean reflects, “Injustices are not single issues, but integrally connected in a system that fosters injustice for the sake of economic gain. Catholic Sisters have long been at the forefront of meeting the needs of the marginalized through providing educational, social service and health care opportunities, but isolated initiatives are not enough when the problems are systemic.”
Intersectionality also acknowledges that “injustices imprint themselves across social institutions,” according to justice advocate and author Eliza Sullivan. “Intersectionality is a framework for understanding the complex way that the many aspects of people’s identities overlap, including their race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and more…”
Justice Circles are also committed to examining issues through the lens of equity. As stated by United Way, equity means “meeting communities where they are and allocating resources and opportunities as needed to create equal outcomes for all community members.” Dominican Charles Bouchard asserts, equity “is the state where each has received his or her due, not necessarily in equal measure, but in a way that matches needs and aspirations.”
S. Emily Tekolste, SP, states, “… equity aligns with our Catholic and Christian notions of human dignity …
“… [W]e see that it is actually an injustice to ignore social, political, and economic systems, our history, and our own individual abilities, needs, and circumstances. Refusing to consider these realities ignores the very image of God that resides in each of us as individuals.” (Global Sisters Report, September 2021)
In keeping with the call from LCWR, Catholic Sisters are working across our congregations to address racism. As Fr. Bryan Massingale notes, “Racism in America is the spiritual cataract limiting our vision, determining who we do and do not notice.” Martin Luther King called racism a “soul-sickness.” As Sisters and Associates of Charity, we commit to the inner-work necessary for healing this soul-sickness of racism.
Removing the cataract of racial bias, white privilege, and pernicious alienation from our shared God-given humanity is a mission priority. Justice Circles are all committing to anti-racism, the “practice of actively identifying and opposing racism by working to change policies, behaviors, and beliefs that perpetuate racist ideas and actions.”
“As we continue to realize the systemic nature of injustice, we can respond through offering education on the nature of systemic change as well as agreeing to action steps we might take to address injustices locally,” comments S. Caroljean. Working locally is a contribution to chipping away at the global injustices that diminish the planet.
“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.” ~ Louise de Marillac
Justice Circles will be supported by the congregation’s new Justice Promoter, Mackenzie Doyle, who began her ministry fulltime in mid-August 2023.
Mackenzie’s immersion into Catholic Social Teaching was as a member of Old St. Patrick’s Parish in Chicago, Illinois, which just happened to coincide with her immersion into the criminal justice system as a police officer. Ultimately, Mackenzie found herself questioning and rethinking her career trajectory, and in time explored the possibility of justice ministry by enrolling in a master’s degree program at the University of Dayton. Feeling at home in this ministry, Mackenzie quickly came to recognize that interrupting unjust systems is about making space for institutional reforms and personal conversion—a path she feels ready to walk with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.
“Mackenzie is such a great fit for our future—she will represent the Sisters of Charity with a passion grounded in her lived experience of institutionalized injustice and her desire to positively influence and empower younger generations,” says S. Mary Bookser, a member of the interview committee.
For more information about joining a Justice Circle or the ministry, contact Mackenzie Doyle at email@example.com.
Members of the Visioning Task Force for Social Justice Ministry commissioned in 2020 by the SC Leadership Council: Associates Chanin Wilson and Vicki Welsh; Sisters Mary Bookser, Sally Duffy, Andrea Koverman, Marge Kloos, Louise Lears, Caroljean Willie, and Patricia Wittberg.