Back on the Bus With Top Ten Nuns


Nuns are back in the news as the latest Nuns on the Bus campaign started in Iowa and Jo Piazza released her new book, If Nuns Ruled the World: Ten Sisters on a Mission. We celebrate our own top ten nuns for their courage and commitment to women’s, children’s and LGBT rights inside and outside the church.

Unfortunately, the Vatican continues to investigate the nuns’ actions instead of praising their service. In particular, American nuns have been criticized for spending too much time working for social justice, caring for the poor, defending immigrants’ rights, and advocating health care reform instead of promoting the church’s teaching on abortion and sexuality. Earlier this month, the Cardinal in charge of investigating the nuns announced that he wanted to “clarify that we are not misogynists, we don’t want to gobble up a woman a day.” [!]

Our top ten, in alphabetical order, are:

  1. Sister Simone Campbell, the Executive Director of Network, a social justice organization, wrote the nuns’ letter on behalf of 59,000 nuns supporting the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when the Act was in political trouble because the bishops incorrectly believed it sponsored abortion. After that, Campbell organized the 2012 Nuns on the Bus tour to criticize the Paul Ryan budget for its inattention to the poor. This year’s tour is focused on getting 100% of voters out to vote.
  2. Sister Joan Dawber is Executive Director of LifeWay Network, which provides safe housing for women victims of human trafficking. The housing, which is always in a hidden location, is designed like a home, so that every former slave has her own space to recover from her abuse.
  3. Sister Margaret Farley is the Gilbert L. Starks Emerita Professor of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School, where she was the first woman to receive tenure. The Vatican denounced her award-winning book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, for its support of same-sex relationships and remarriage after divorce.
  4. Sister Maureen Fiedler is host of the talk radio program “Interfaith Voices,” which she started in response to the attacks of September 11. Fiedler, who has decried the “hostile takeover” of the nuns in the investigation by the official church, fasted for thirty-seven days in 1982 to encourage Illinois state legislators to approve the Equal Rights Amendment.
  5. Sister Jeannine Gramick is co-founder of New Ways Ministry, which was started 35 years ago to work for reconciliation between the church and its LGBT members. Gramick was one of the earliest supporters of LGBT Catholics and continues to lobby Pope Francis for church reform that will treat gays and lesbians with dignity.
  6. Sr. Karol Jackowski is the author of numerous books, including the first rumination on the sexual abuse scandal by anyone in a religious order, The Silence We Keep: A Nun’s View of the Catholic Priest Scandal (2004).
  7. Sister Elizabeth Johnson is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University. Her book, Quest for the Living God, was criticized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for its unorthodox ideas even though Johnson believes that church officials never read it.
  8. Sister Theresa Kane is an associate professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the School of Liberal Arts at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. In 1979, when Kane was head of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, she welcomed Pope John Paul II to Washington, D.C. by publicly and unforgettably urging the pope to “respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries.”
  9. Sister Donna Quinn, head of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN), defended the right of women to choose an abortion by escorting women to abortion clinics. Quinn was reprimanded by her order for providing escort services. Under Quinn’s leadership, NCAN sponsored an open letter criticizing the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame, and other Catholic organizations that opposed the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.
  10. We offer honorary nun status to the first Catholic Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, who recently launched the Nuns on the Bus Tour in Iowa, and, more importantly, told Pope Benedict XVI to lighten up on his investigation of American nuns and later praised American sisters to Pope Francis.

Despite his liberal rhetoric on some issues, Pope Francis has continued the investigation of American nuns and has asserted that the question of women’s ordination is closed. Thus we cannot make the pope an honorary nun.

Leslie C. Griffin

Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law. Professor Griffin, who teaches constitutional law, is known for her interdisciplinary work in law and religion. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.