The mission continues …
Mother Joseph Province sisters put their efforts into advocacy
What do Sisters of Providence in Mother Joseph Providence do today, now that they no longer are running hospitals or schools? The answer is: Plenty! Even the most elderly sisters are engaged in a ministry of prayer and presence. For others who remain active in the community, the ministry of advocacy – meeting needs and influencing policy – puts them at the forefront of a host of issues related to their central focus of social justice, reclaiming Earth, women and children in need and much more. Every single day, Sisters of Providence are somewhere, striving to improve the lives of the most poor and vulnerable among us. Prayer, discernment and dialogue prepare them to act.
Catholic Advocacy Day
On March 16, Catholic Advocacy Day in Olympia, Wash., four of the sisters from Mother Joseph Province were among 500 Catholics who descended on the Washington State Capitol to meet with officeholders in 49 legislative districts. They were in good company at this annual event sponsored by the Washington State Catholic Conference, the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center, the Archdiocese of Seattle, Catholic Community Services/Catholic Housing Services (CCS/CHS), and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Sisters came prepared to discuss “heavy” topics
The day began at St. Michael Church in Olympia, Wash., with briefings on legislative priorities identified by the state’s Catholic bishops, including criminal justice, housing, economic justice, and life and dignity issues. After Mass celebrated by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, participants headed for meetings with individual legislators. Sisters of Providence were well-prepared to discuss some heavy topics, among them:
- the Housing Trust Fund, homeless housing and assistance;
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the related Work First program;
- legal financial obligations of released prisoners, the Fair Chance Act, relieving former prisoners of having to disclose their previous incarceration on job forms;
- the Safe Surrender of Newborn Children law;
- and a law that would require posting of public notices in languages other than English.
As eager as the sisters were to interact with their legislators, they were especially delighted to find a group of seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Joseph School in Chehalis, Wash., among their group. It is never too early to start thinking about the needs of others and trying to make a difference.
That was the aim of a faithful group of Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates who joined a group in downtown Seattle’s Westlake Mall on Sunday, April 2, for a vigil to raise awareness about human trafficking. The monthly vigil, held from 1:30 to 2 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month, is one of many sponsored by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, which provided a toolkit with signs and outreach suggestions. All that’s needed to pull off a successful anti-trafficking vigil is informed minds and open hearts. Sisters of Providence who cannot make the outdoor vigil are happy to join in one at the same time at St. Joseph Residence in West Seattle. There is even more social justice advocacy practiced by sisters who disseminate information and rally support for initiatives against the death penalty. Letter writing campaigns, petitions, speakers and participation in meetings and rallies keep sisters and others up to date on what is happening in this fast-changing arena. Mother Joseph Province has had a corporate stance against the death penalty since 2013.
Comprehensive immigration reform
Another corporate stance the sisters of the province adopted, in 2015, is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. The action was taken “in response to the current crisis of refugees coming into our country from homelands racked by social unrest and extreme danger to their lives.” The sisters have experienced the scope of the crisis and the resulting trauma it inflicts on families firsthand. Two sisters assisted women and children who flooded the border between the United States and Mexico, fleeing from the threat of violence in Central American countries in 2015. As immigration issues have become intensely focused on the southern border of the United States, sisters and associates who are part of the Peace Community and once made an annual pilgrimage to join the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) at Fort Benning, Ga., now find themselves gong to the border at Nogales, Ariz., to stand in support of refugees from Central America. Other sisters administer a scholarship program in El Salvador that for two decades has given young people in the Bajo Lempa region of the Usulutan an alternative to joining gangs or becoming gang victims.
Sisters cannot stand by in silence
Immigration remains a hot-button issue as the impact of a change in leadership in Washington, D.C., begins to take shape. In addition to social media campaigns calling for 100 Days of Prayer for the new administration and a social media campaign calling for “Kindness,” the sisters recently spoke out to denounce anti-Muslim immigration policies. Their words were: The Sisters of Providence join their voices to those of the many U.S. faith groups that have spoken out in support of the humane treatment of refugees fleeing from violence in their homelands. The recent presidential ban on Muslim refugees ignores and contradicts basic human rights, as described in Catholic social teachings. The ban also violates the principles outlined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and setting out, for the first time, “fundamental human rights to be universally protected.” The right to asylum is among these rights. As Sisters of Providence, we cannot stand in silence when government policies violate our beliefs about the dignity and rights of each human person. Instead, we stand in solidarity with refugees and people of faith who denounce such discriminatory policies as those banning refugees from predominantly Muslim countries.
Protecting the environment
Sisters of Mother Joseph Province also have taken a stand on protection of the environment. In 2006 they endorsed the Earth Charter and in 2009 they endorsed water as a basic human right. The sisters know that climate change is real and that it is a perilous threat to all and to the planet Earth. The sisters’ advocacy through the Reclaiming Earth Committee begins with sharing information through a weekly broadcast email called “Wednesday Earth Wisdom” and educating themselves about Laudato Si’, the encyclical by Pope Francis that intensified discussion of climate change worldwide. The sisters also have given their support to Native American tribes fighting fossil fuel transport.
Women and children in poverty
In everything they do, the sisters of Mother Joseph Province are extremely conscious of the fact that those who are most harmed by the problems they advocate against are those least likely to have a voice in what is happening to them: women and children in poverty. It is on behalf of them that the sisters actively support Jubilee Women’s Center in Seattle, which now includes the Providence sisters’ Sojourner Place ministry, and the intercommunity Transitions ministry in Spokane. These programs allow the sisters to help ensure the health, safety and security of the population that their foundress, Blessed Emilie Gamelin, first set out to serve in Montreal in 1848. The sisters are proud to carry on her tradition and legacy in this way. These are some of the works of the sisters’ hands and their hearts, but they also actively use their voices for advocacy as members of a host of boards, a few of which follow:
- Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC)
- Women of Providence in Collaboration (WPC)
- Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)
- Providence Health International
- Mercy Housing Northwest
- Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment (NWCRI)
- UNANIMA International
As you can see, though the sisters of Mother Joseph Province are fewer in number and older in age than in years past, their commitment to and enthusiasm for their mission continues. Providence of God, we thank you for all!