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A Medal for the Nun on the Bus

Simone Campbell, S.S.S., was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom this month, so I thought it was appropriate to feature her and her book in this month’s Book Note. Describing Sister Campbell as “a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare policy,” the announcement from the White House said that the award is given to Americans “who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.”

In A Nun on the Bus, Sister Campbell, former head of the Catholic social justice lobbying organization Network, tells the story of how in the summer of 2012, she and her fellow sisters embarked on a 2700 mile tour that took them to hundreds of events across nine states, to call attention to the need for an expanded social safety net, and to protest a budget that would cut many of those essential services.

Sister Simone inherited her energy and faith from a Catholic family with deep roots in American culture: her great-grandfather was an acquaintance of “the unsinkable Molly Brown,” her maternal grandfather resumed going to Mass when the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on their front yard. She recounts her early years as “an organizer” when she rallied the other 5th grade girls to establish their own section of the playground “so we didn’t have to play with the bossy 6th-graders.” Who wouldn’t love this nun?

She briefly tells the stories of how the Immaculate Heart Sisters (teachers at her high school0 stood up to Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles in the late 1960’s, the founding of Sisters of Social Service in 1923 in response to revived Catholic social teachings of Rerum Novarum, the influence of Vatican II, her establishment of the Community Law Center in Oakland, her work with a peace delegation to Iraq, and other adventures in Washington policy-making, especially in the area of health-care equity.

All this preparation led to the 2012 bus tour across the country, where the sisters took their message of faith, justice. and community to the people. The many stories about countless partners in the fight for justice will inspire you, as Sister Simone and her companions labored “to create a community that comes closer to being the KIN-DOM OF God more than the Kingdom that we speak about.”

Luke's gospel - Jesus sends out his disciples as messengers to spread the good news. He tells them to live simply, taking just what they need. Jesus knew that there would be obstacles and rejection ahead for his disciples. But his grace is with those who work for a harvest for all people of the earth and its creatures.

Mary McCarty is a native of Southern California and has been managing the bookstore at the Jesuit Retreat Center for almost 7 years.

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