NETWORK - Forty Years of Justice and Peacemaking
On December 17, 1971, 47 Catholic Sisters from across the U.S. involved in education, healthcare, community organizing and other direct service gathered at Trinity College in Washington DC to shape a new ministry of justice. This came at a time when the Catholic Church was undergoing dramatic changes in response to Vatican II reforms and calls from the Vatican and U.S. Bishops to seek “Justice in the World.” Women religious boldly joined in the waves of civil rights, feminist and anti-war activism that were sweeping the U.S.During their weekend meeting, they voted to form a national "network" of Sisters to lobby for federal policies and legislation that promote economic and social justice.
To get their organization off the ground, they passed a bag and collected $187, and in April 1972 they opened a two-person office in Washington. Soon thereafter, the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious (now the Leadership Conference of Women Religious) voted its strong support of NETWORK, passing the resolution by a wide margin.
Throughout the 1970s, NETWORK’s first home and staff residence served as a center for Washington-area Catholic justice and peace activism, with Saturday-night liturgies that drew activists from near and far. The justice agenda was far-reaching, ranging from global hunger to nuclear weapons and women’s rights. NETWORK’s famous legislative seminars drew hundreds of participants and presenters who included prominent Members of Congress (e.g., Senators Ted Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, Barbara Mikulski, Walter Mondale and Joseph Biden) and other luminaries like Fr. Bryan Hehir.
NETWORK’s impact continued to strengthen in the years that followed. In January 2001, President William Clinton presented the Presidential Citizens Medal, our nation’s second highest civilian honor, to one of our founders and first Executive Director, Sr. Carol Coston. She was the first Catholic Sister ever to receive this award. During his remarks, President Clinton noted that “…she helped to create NETWORK, a national Catholic lobby that has mobilized thousands of nuns and lay people to fight for social progress in South Africa, for women’s rights and for economic justice. She helped to win passage of the Community Reinvestment Act, which has led to billions of dollars in investment in our inner cities…”
In the four decades since the 47 Sisters’ vision first became reality, NETWORK has grown into what it is today – a vibrant testimony to that vision. Many thousands of NETWORK members and activists work to ensure that our justice advocacy continues to influence and inspire our elected officials, and our work is recognized by the media and public officials. For example, during the 2010 healthcare reform struggle, NETWORK Executive Director Simone Campbell, SSS, wrote the “nuns’ letter” supporting the bill and got 59 signers on the letter, including LCWR. She was thanked by President Obama and invited to the ceremony celebrating its being signed into law.
In the summer of 2012, NETWORK also organized the famous “Nuns on the Bus” tour, during which Catholic Sisters traveled through nine states to protest the effects of cuts to federal safety-net spending proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan. In summer of 2013, the Nuns on the Bus hit the road again, this time driving from Ellis Island to Angel Island for immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship and protects family unity.
Today, NETWORK is also highly visible and active on other critical issues such as peacemaking, comprehensive immigration reform, housing, poverty, federal budget priorities, trade and hunger. It is because of the continued involvement of hundreds of congregations of women religious and thousands of individual Sisters, as well as that of parishes, small faith communities, religious congregations of brothers and priests, and thousands of individual activists that NETWORK continues to be effective AND faithful to its mission of lobbying, organizing and educating for a nation and world rooted in justice.