Viewpoint: Stand with nuns for social justice

Special to The TribuneAugust 5, 2012 

This Tuesday, Aug. 7, we have an opportunity to say “Thank You” to the Catholic sisters who have enriched so many of our lives — including the Immaculate Heart Sisters who taught here for more than 100 years.

We will meet at Mission Plaza, near Monterey and Chorro streets, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:05 p.m. in a show of support for the “Nuns on the Bus,” who have been lobbying for social and economic justice across nine states. Please bring homemade posters thanking the sisters and joyful singing voices.

The sisters on Nuns on the Bus have asked communities across the country to stand with them Tuesday as they begin five days of prayer and reflection on their future.

Sister Simone Campbell, Sister of Social Service, director of NETWORK, the public policy lobbying arm of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, organized Nuns on the Bus in response to the Vatican’s charge that the sisters are failing to speak out against same-sex marriage, abortion and the ordination of women.

Here are some examples of the differences that these remarkable women have made in so many lives:

Recently, a bus from Sacramento pulled into the California Men’s Colony for the recent Get on the Bus visit of children with their incarcerated fathers. On board was our friend Sister Catherine Connell, a quiet, spritely, 71-year-old Sister of Social Service. Sister Catherine, a mental health therapist, has had several major bouts with cancer, but she made the long journey so she could calm the kids if necessary. Happily, it wasn’t.

Our family loves the Sisters of Social Service. The Vatican or some bishop might say something that really upset my (Liz’s) parents, Bud and Paula Ogren, both daily communicants. But there have always been the sisters.

My dad especially loved Sister Elizabeth Prus, whose wrinkled face bore the most beatific smile we’d ever seen. Daddy always talked about the time he picked up Sister Elizabeth at the train station in L.A. and she was showered with abrazos by a large Mexican family. At age 92, my frail mother made her last car trip to attend Sister Elizabeth’s funeral in L.A.

We got to know Sister Elizabeth’s sidekick, Sister Diane Donoghue, who turned neglected big Victorian homes filled with lead poisoning into brightly hued, comfortable apartments for the working poor in Los Angeles. Sister Diane made the recent Nuns on the Bus tour to highlight the need for social justice in the federal budget.

In recent years, when Dan taught the Holocaust at Cal Poly, his students read “Cries in the Night.” The Sisters of Social Service , who saved more than 2,000 Jews in Hungary, merit a chapter. Sister Margit Slachta, who founded the Sisters in 1923, had been the first woman elected to the Hungarian parliament. Sister Margit personally investigated the plight of Jewish refugees pouring into Hungary. In largely Catholic Hungary, most of the clergy and all but one bishop were anti-Semitic.

At the sisters’ 1944 Easter retreat, Sister Margit asked, “Is it the conviction of every Sister of Social Service that a moral organization can be safe for the future only when it lives up to its moral convictions?” And “what does it help us if our work, our property, our lives are left to us but when we come to give account we have to hide our face shamefully before the eyes of God?”

Sister Sara Salkahazi, another member of the order, was executed by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party, along with six Hungarian Jews. Sister Sara was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2006.

Liz Krieger taught history and government in Catholic schools and was a children’s librarian for 38 years. Dan Krieger taught history at Cal Poly. He writes The Tribune’s Times Past column.

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