In the 8th grade, Sister Mary Gilbert forced me to learn how to write. I owe her a great debt. One important lesson I learned from her was how to compare and contrast. In 1961 and 1962, when I was subjected to her stern and demanding tutelage, there was more to compare about those in religious life in the early 1960s than there was to contrast. Now, however, the contrast is stark and extreme. The two pictures below illustrate what I mean.
Every older person has his or her “back in the old days” stories. A large part of my “back in the old days” resides in a period when I was raised by Catholic religious. From 1st grade through graduation from high school, religious brothers and nuns like Sr. Mary Gilbert taught me in the Catholic schools I attended. In 1957-1958, during a period of family crisis, I was under the full time care of good and holy nuns at Parmadale, a Catholic orphanage near Cleveland. In 1962-1963, I was guided totally by the good and holy priests at St. Charles Borromeo Minor Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio. Each of these priests and religious were dedicated to the Lord and the salvation of souls by their direct labors. My experiences provided insights into the nature of religious vocations. A strong vocation was always, always centered on the Eucharist and the imitation of Christ in all actions.
As I said, there is now a stark and extreme contrast between various religious groups and orders. On one hand we have monks like the ones in my picture from the this year’s March for Life. On the other hand we frequently encounter so-called religious groups, deeply involved with “social justicism” and politics. The “Nuns on the Bus” and the NETWORK Lobby, founded by Sr. Simone Campbell, are clear examples of the contrast that I see in the religious life today. It is not necessary here to recount all the details of how these so-called religious departed from the path followed by those religious I knew “back in the old days.”
Let me simply state, on January 22nd, I did not see a blue bus belonging to the “Nuns on the Bus” nor did I see any banner displayed that would have told me that Sr. Campbell or any of her associates were at the March. They “march” to the beat of a different drum.
You might ask, how did it come to pass that the Nuns on the Bus came to be in front of St. Charles Borromeo Parish on that morning in 2012? Many have commented on that event, but few have discussed the mechanism that made it possible. Let’s look at a small part of the chronology of events:
2012-10-12: St. Charles Advocacy Supplement — Nun from the Bus Is Coming!
“I thought that you might be interested to know that eight days from now, the keynote speaker at SALT’s advocacy conference in Fairfax will be Sister Simone Campbell, one of the “Nuns on the Bus” who toured the country last summer to advocate for government spending decisions that reflect concern for the poor and vulnerable.” (Read more …)
2012-10-29: St. Charles Advocacy DOUBLE Supplement: Nuns on the Bus at St.C & Healthcare for DREAMers
“I’m writing because I have the pleasure of inviting you to join us at St. Charles for an exciting event on the morning of Friday, November 2. You’ve probably heard of “the Nuns on the Bus” – a group of nuns who took a bus tour this summer through several states to speak out against the Ryan budget and to speak for the responsibility of the government to care for the poor. (Here is a link to a segment about them on the Bill Moyers program).
“On Nov. 2, they are planning a day trip through Virginia, stopping in Richmond and Hampton Roads at the Bon Secours sisters and other social service providers. And…they have asked to kick off the trip at St. Charles!
“They will join us for daily Mass at 9 AM, followed by a breakfast reception (fuel for their journey!), at which there will be very brief presentations by some of our social service ministries (Project Lazarus, Marymount nursing services, Borromeo Legal Project, and jail ministry), and then a response from Sister Simone Campbell (the leader of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobbying organization).” (Read more …)
2012-11-01: Statement Regarding the “Nuns on the Bus” Campaign and Saint Charles Borromeo Church (Arlington)
“Today, it came to the attention of the Diocese of Arlington that one of our parishes was planning to host the ‘Nuns on the Bus’ at a parish event tomorrow, in the lead-up to next week’s elections. The diocesan Political Activity Guidelines require parishes to submit a proposal in advance and consult with our Virginia Catholic Conference with regard to any planned event involving political or public policy issues. Those required steps were not taken for this event.” (Read more …)
2012-11-02: Nuns Launch Virginia Bus Tour in Arlington
“A group of nuns critical of Republican budget plans launched a one-day bus tour of Virginia today (Friday) in Arlington.
“The advocacy group Nuns on the Bus held a reception, speaking program and press conference this morning at St. Charles Borromeo Church (3304 Washington Blvd) near Clarendon. The event was the launch of a one-day bus tour of Virginia, which includes planned stops in Richmond and Virginia Beach.” (Read more …)
The arrival of the signature blue bus at the doorstep of St. Charles Borromeo so close to the national election was no chance occurrence. The St. Charles Social Justice Advocacy network openly demonstrated its admiration and promotion of Sr. Campbell as early as October 12. The communications leading to the visit by the blue bus were already underway.
Interestingly though, according to the Diocese of Arlington, “… required steps were not taken for this event.” Obviously, there was time to take those steps, but they were not taken. Obviously again, the Diocese was not happy that a “planned event involving political or public policy issues” was to take place at a parish within the Diocese without proper and timely notification.
One would think that the pastor at St. Charles would have been very unhappy that his parish was being openly admonished by the Diocese. One would expect that he would have had a rather pointed discussion with the parish Social Justice Coordinator. Perhaps that happened, but, based on the Coordinator’s proudly displayed list of achievements on an openly viewable Linked in page:
“• Coordinated visit of Sr. Simone Campbell and the Nuns on the Bus in Nov. 2012.”
The Social Justice Coordinator retained that position at St. Charles through the reassignment of the pastor to St. Peter’s.
So, why is it that there was such strong support for Sr. Campbell and the Nuns on the Bus? I don’t really know. However, I will offer a couple of observations:
1. Our current pastor is a Spiritual Reflector for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVF). Now, if you followed that link for IVF and opened the pdf document, the very first thing you would have seen is Sr. Simone Campbell, a longtime favorite of IVF.
2. As early as April 15, 2007, St. Charles Borromeo has been a strong supporter of Sr. Campbell as can be seen from this parish bulletin. That was before the time that our current Pastor was the pastor of St. Charles, but it shows that this way of thinking was well entrenched there.
While at St. Charles Borromeo, our current pastor had many tools at his disposal. The Social Justice Coordinator was not only an employee, but is also a Cursillista. Our pastor had much influence on the person filling that position because, not only was he the employer, he was (and still is) also the Spiritual Director for Cursillo in the Diocese of Arlington. Likewise, many of his parish staff were also Cursillistas.
The St. Charles Social Justice Advocacy network served as a force multiplier for mobilizing parishioners to act. The Social Justice Coordinator was able to get the word out quickly. The network was used to promote Sr. Campbell at the SALT event and for the kickoff of the one-day bus tour.
This post is not intended to criticize any individual. Rather, I am attempting to show the type of tools available to a radical pastor. These tools can be used for good. After all, the Church does have a sound teaching on social justice. My concern, however, is focused on a different point. Of the two pictures above, my wife and I prefer the first picture. Those dedicated men are the same type of religious that influenced my life “back in the old days.” They cared for me as an individual and not as part of a group. They were there to nourish my intellect and soul as well as my body. They didn’t lobby in the halls of Congress. No, the lobbied in the depths of my soul and heart.
If St. Peter’s needs a radical pastor, I believe it should be one who is radical for the salvation of souls. It should be one who works ceaselessly to feed his sheep and protect them like the pastors and religious “back in the old days.”