President Barack Obama kissed her on the cheek. She chatted with Stephen Colbert and annoyed Bill O’Reilly. She spoke at the Democratic National Convention. And she is a nun.
“Catholic sisters are not interested in shoving the spotlight on ourselves,” said Sister Simone Campbell, director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobbying group.
Yet, Campbell is no stranger to the limelight. On Wednesday, March 27, she shared her passion for ending economic injustice in the United States with students at the College. Her lecture, “Hearts on Fire: Spirituality and Activism,” was an event sponsored by the women’s and gender studies department for Women’s History Month.
“It was fantastic to see women’s leadership,” said senior women’s and gender studies major Chaya Himelfarb, who thought Campbell was “definitely a good role model.”
“Within the Catholic church, women have not been seen as leaders for a very long time,” said Campbell, who opted to wear a black blazer and dress pants instead of the traditional religious sister’s habit.
In April 2008, Campbell and her fellow sisters garnered media attention, when the Vatican released a statement chastising their promotion of “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Campbell said that their opinions on healthcare reform troubled many leaders in Catholic church.
“They’re saying we’re a bad influence,” Campbell said. “We do fine work, working with the poor and keeping quiet, but they don’t like that we are speaking up for the poor.”
This past summer, Campbell traveled to nine states on a tour called Nuns on a Bus, intended to persuade voters against Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which she said would hurt impoverished citizens of the United States.
On the steps of the Education Building lecture hall, Campbell organized five student volunteers into a human bar graph, to illustrate the change of income between classes over the last 30 years. The activity showed that citizens who have the highest income each year, the top 20 percent of society, have seen their incomes dramatically increase over the last three decades, while the bottom 20 percent — known as the working poor — have seen their yearly incomes significantly decrease.
“The fact is, it doesn’t have to be this way,” Campbell said. “Tax policy can make a difference, but it is not enough.” Change, she said, “calls for us to be bold.”
“The bar graph was a great way to show how disconnected we are,” said junior biology major Stephanie Cervino. “We don’t really focus on the lower half.” Campbell emphasized that in order to create change, we need to develop empathy and understanding of those in our country who identify in the lower half.
“How do we the people form a more perfect union when we’re so far away?” Campbell said.