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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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The nun on the bus

Image courtesy of NETWORK

A Q&A with Sister Simone Campbell


Sister Simone Campbell, head of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, does it all. In addition to being the executive director of NETWORK, she is also a Sister of Social Service and has a law degree from the University of California, Davis. Campbell is the founder of Nuns on the Bus, a Catholic pressure group that advocates for social issues like immigration reform, universal healthcare, and wealth disparity.

I spoke with Campbell about her experiences, including the work she has done with NETWORK, the stance she has taken in support of universal healthcare, and her positions on gender issues and human rights.

Angela Christaldi: What inspired you to join the Sisters of Social Service? 

Sister Simone Campbell: As a young person, I was really committed to civil rights and justice, and that’s what my community works at. I was doing it with secular groups, but I realized I wanted to do it with people who shared not just the goal, but the reason for doing it. It’s always been about faith. So it was just a natural fit. I joined my community the year after my freshman year in college [at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles], and I’ve been at it a long time.

AC: The Nuns’ Letter changed the course of the Affordable Care Act. What made you feel so strongly about the act? 

SC: So when the Catholic Health Association came out in support of [the Senate bill], I immediately knew that we needed to stand up with them and support their positions, because they are actually the ones who really know the inside workings of healthcare, and they knew it was a good bill. And we knew it was better than what we had, so I thought, ‘Well, together, we can stand up and make a difference.’ I wrote the letter on a Sunday, and I sent it out for signatures to Catholic sisters on Sunday night by email, and no one knew when I wrote it and sent it out that the bishops were going to come out opposing it, so that was a real surprise.

AC: The Catholic Church as a whole, particularly the Vatican, has come out against NETWORK for being too radical. What are your thoughts on that? 

SC: In the censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which is the organization of the leaders of Catholic sisters of the United States, the Vatican said that NETWORK was a bad influence on Catholic sisters because we work too much for people in poverty, and not enough for [opposing] abortion and gay marriage. In many ways, I felt like it was a badge of honor that they had acknowledged that we were doing our mission, but it was really frustrating to be willfully misinterpreted. The bishop’s staff had told him that the Affordable Care Act had federal funding of abortion in it, and it does not.

AC: What inspired you to start the Nuns on the Bus movement? 

SC: Oh, I’d say it’s the Holy Spirit, I hope. But we [NETWORK] had all this notoriety because we were named in the censure document from the Vatican, and I knew that we should use this moment for mission. We asked our secular colleagues for help, and they’re the ones that came up with the idea. We had a meeting on May 14, 2012 and 35 people came to the meeting. But for me, the sign of the Holy Spirit is that nobody remembers who first said, ‘Oh, we should go on the road,’ and that was what the consensus of the group was after an hour and a half meeting. And then I said, ‘Well, we’d do it if we could raise the money,’ and then we raised the money in 10 days. It was all just really the work of the Spirit. And a surprise to me, I’ll say.

AC: As a part of Nuns on the Bus, what do you think the most impactful thing you’ve worked on has been?

SC: Oh, glory. The things that are most powerful for me in many ways are meeting people in local communities—seeing and hearing the stories, the struggles. There’s a lot of community-building in our nation that goes unseen, and I think the bus goes to places where we have a chance to see it and nourish it, and then be able to talk about it.

Speaking out against [Paul] Ryan’s budget was really helpful in keeping it from becoming law. [Author’s note: Ryan introduced a budget that would have cut funding to the poor and working families, and cited his Catholicism as a major reason why he backed this budget].

We helped to get immigration reform out of the Senate by supporting [Democratic] senators. We were unsuccessful in getting it out of the House of Representatives, which was a tragedy. I think generally, the bus stirs people up. Oh, and I have to say, going to the conventions this summer was a good thing. We went to the Republican and Democratic Conventions, and had some amazing conversation. That was important.

AC: What do you consider to be the biggest issue our country is facing today?

SC: I think it all stems from the income and wealth disparity that exists. [It’s] the huge difference between those at the bottom and those at the top, and folks all in between. Because people are not sharing in our nation’s prosperity. While I don’t think that that’s a problem, that people at the top have more wealth, what I do think is a problem is that that wealth is not shared by those who helped create it. And that’s where I think we’ve gone astray, is not seeing that we’re in this together.

AC: What do you hope to work toward in the future? 

SC: Well, our big project right now is “Mend the Gap,” which is some of what I’m going to talk about at Saint Joseph’s University. The income and wealth disparity in our nation, and our access disparity are, I believe, sucking the life out of our nation. That’s why we’re working to change the income and wealth gap, and to change what we call the “access gap.” Those are our big projects that we’re working on. We think that during the next Congress, we have a change to begin to make some progress on these issues.

Sister Campbell will be speaking about Nuns on the Bus and their mission to “Mend the Gap” of wealth and access inequality at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28 in the Cardinal Foley Campus Center on the Saint Joseph’s University campus.


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