May 8, 2014

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS Speaks at Inaugural Dorothy Day Lecture

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS

On Sunday, April 27, 2014, the executive director of progressive Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, spoke at the inaugural Class of 1971 Dorothy Day Lecture in the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall. In 2012, Sr. Simone and a group of Roman Catholic nuns toured the country in a wrapped bus to rally support against Congressman Paul Ryan's budget, which proposed cuts to vital programs for the poor and middle class. Her work with the organization and stories from the road--some of which are detailed in her new book, A Nun on the Bus--were the focus of her talk.

Emmanuel President Sr. Janet Eisner, SND opened the lecture by reflecting on the long and continued history of social justice at Emmanuel College.

"So many of us remember well our time here at Emmanuel," Sr. Janet said. "Some of you remember the lectures and the courses with [former sociology professor] Sr. Marie Augusta Neal, where the class began with the question, "How is it that two-thirds of the world goes to bed hungry, when we have the technology and the ability to feed the world?"

Decades later, Emmanuel students are still addressing the same question. In March 2014, 20 students involved with Emmanuel's Alternative Spring Break spent the week at the College's new Notre Dame Campus in Roxbury, engaging in the issues surrounding food justice in Boston. Beginning in the fall, 30 students will continue this work as a part of the campus's living-learning community. It is notable that the Notre Dame Campus is also home to the former residence of prominent 19th-century abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

Rosemary Hanrahan Maher '71, who serves on the lecture series' governing committee and as chair of the speaker selection committee, explained that the origins of the series began in 2010, when she and her classmates struggled with how to honor the members of the Class of 1971 who have passed.

"Our struggle to do the right thing caused us to reflect on the profound social and political changes that were occurring in the late sixties and early seventies," Maher said. "Our college experience was broader than this campus and its classrooms. We left this campus believing that change is always possible and that silence in the face of injustice is not an option."

In response, the class decided to develop and endow and annual alumni lecture, named in honor of Dorothy Day, "a courageous, 20th-century woman of faith" who established the Catholic Worker Movement in the 1930s. Day also spoke on the topic of "Ethics for Peace" at Emmanuel 50 years ago, in 1964.

"This lecture series has been generously endowed by the Class of 1971, and is our way of saying, 'Thank you,' for the lessons we learned here and for the gifts of enduring friendships that have come from our years at Emmanuel," Maher said.

A longtime Sister of Social Service, Sr. Simone began her talk by expressing awe over the events of the past several years--events that have led to her "notoriety"--including her support of the Catholic Health Association's (CHA) views in favor of the Affordable Care Act. At the same time Sr. Simone was writing a letter of support for the CHA and sending it around to her fellow Catholic sister leaders for signatures, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued their own statement opposing the bill because they feared it contained federal funding for abortion.

"Fear can drive us into a separate, fighting, defensive posture," Sr. Simone said. "And what we want to talk about today is stepping into joy, which requires letting go of fear."

She referenced Pope Francis's four points for peacemaking, which were detailed in his November 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel). These points include the ideas that "time is greater than space," "unity prevails over conflict," "the whole is greater than the part," and her favorite, "realities are more important than ideas."

Sr. Simone shared the realities of several individuals she has met while traveling across the country, including a husband and wife with two teenage boys who rely on food stamps and free dinners at the local church because their hours were cut during the recession; a young woman who works full time at a national department store, yet still lives in a homeless shelter because she is unable to afford rent in her city; and a young entrepreneur who pays all of his workers a living wage, but faces the reality that his tax dollars go to support safety-net programs that exist because his competitors refuse to do the same.

"We're in this together, but the reality needs to be engaged...because with just the economic theories, we get detached from the real story of the hundred percent," she said. "That's the challenge."

Sr. Simone described Dorothy Day was as great and intimidating woman of action who let her heart be broken by a few people, and that in our security as the richest nation on earth, we can forget that we also need to be active.

"We've been given eyes to see, but the question becomes, do we let our hearts be broken by that reality, and then, do we act?" she said.

The actions of Sr. Simone, NETWORK and the larger Leadership Conference on Women Religious were named in the Vatican censure in April 2012 for their focus on social issues such as poverty, rather than issues critical to the Catholic faith, such as abortion and homosexuality. The censure came just four days after NETWORK celebrated its 40th anniversary with a party at Trinity Washington University, when the organization was struggling both financially and with how to better spread the word about their decades of work on Capitol Hill. 

"Four days later, the Vatican answered our prayer," Sr. Simone said. "My prayer then became, 'Come, Holy Spirit. How do we use this moment for mission?'"

Sr. Simone closed by again referring to Pope Francis's Joy of the Gospel, which NETWORK is using as their theme this year.

"'A joy ever new, a joy which is shared,'" she read. "The whole idea is...you can only know joy if you're connected to others. Isn't that fantastic?"

Watch a video of the lecture here.

For more information on the Dorothy Day Lecture Series, including dates for future lectures, please click here.