50 Years: Maureen Newman, SP

Maureen Newman was born into a close-knit and faith-filled Catholic family. Growing up, she witnessed migrant classmates being disrespected and saw her parents react to discrimination. So she was paying close attention as a teen in the 1960s, when youngsters pushed America to live up to its promise of freedom and equality. As an adult, she took stands for social justice. And today, she is helping the religious community in the transition to intercultural, international and intergenerational membership.

Maureen was born at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane in 1945 and grew up in Sprague, Wash., and the lower Yakima Valley. Her mother, Ruth Martin, was from a large pioneer family in Walla Walla and married her college beau, Harold Newman. Together, they raised three children. The family included cousins like Providence Sisters Barbara Schiller and Elizabeth Mary Schiller. Sister Maureen recalls sisters joining the family to swim and play at Sprague Lake even before she entered the first grade at St. Joseph Academy.

Wanted to be active in making the world better

When the family moved to Grandview in the Yakima Valley, the sisters served in ministry there, and when the Newmans moved to Tujunga, Calif., Maureen’s mother taught with the sisters at Holy Rosary School in Sun Valley. When Maureen began to explore a call to religious life, she was a high school boarder taught by Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, but she chose life as a Sister of Providence. They were apostolic sisters, engaged in communities and in ministries other than teaching, focused on service and committed to works of mercy – everything that Maureen’s formative years had been leading her toward. She wanted to teach, but also to act to make the world better.

She entered the Sisters of Providence in 1964 at Providence Heights in Issaquah, Wash, and joined the College of Sister Formation with sisters from other religious communities. In 1972 she received a bachelor’s degree in education from Seattle University, and later a history degree.

She began her education ministry as a teacher’s aide at St. Michael School, Olympia, Wash., and then as a member of a primary grade teaching team. She taught for 35 years, including at St. Joseph School in Vancouver, Wash., and at St. Therese School in Seattle, where she also was assistant principal. The ethnically and culturally diverse students at St. Therese touched her, as working at a day care for migrant workers, tutoring for Hmong tribespeople and working in Central America with Going Home and Witness for Peace had done.

Jailed for an act of civil disobedience

Sister Maureen has always been determined to live her faith. So at the 13th annual demonstration at the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) at Fort Benning, Georgia, in November 2002, she was arrested for trespassing on the base. “I wasn’t teaching at the time. I informed (then Provincial) Sister Barbara Schamber that I would probably do civil disobedience, but not if there was any indication of violence.” Sister Maureen knew what the consequences could be. “Mom told me that civil disobedience would mean the students would have a substitute teacher, and that my first responsibility was to the students.”

Sister Maureen was jailed for more than 18 hours, released and then ordered to return for trial in January. Of the 89 arrested, she was one of seven nuns. Fifty-seven-year-old Sister Maureen was convicted and held in the federal prison in Dublin, Calif., from April 29 to July 25, 2003.

Since that experience, Sister Maureen has had the opportunity to work on committees for the religious community’s 150th anniversary and for the 150th celebration of Catholic schools in the Seattle Archdiocese, and to serve as staff and interim administrator at St. Joseph Residence, Seattle. For the last five years she has been a provincial councilor on the Leadership Team for Mother Joseph Province.

Experience deepened her spirituality

She has no regrets. “In retrospect, I understand the experience. The opportunity deepened my spirituality,” she explained. It brought back memories of more than 10 years volunteering to teach arts and crafts in the King County Jail, where most of the women she encountered were mentally or physically ill, reeling from sexual abuse as a child, or mourning the loss of a sibling, parent or grandparent at a young age.

That was just one of many learnings in recent years, Sister Maureen said. She grew through observing how the Sisters of Providence leadership responded to the apostolic visitation of communities of women religious and to the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). “Seeing how to respectfully challenge gave me hope,” she said. “That was a blessing for me.”

Serving on the leadership team offered another important learning experience. “It was a marvelous group to be with; rich and rewarding.” She made her first trip to the international headquarters in Montreal and also worked with sisters from other religious communities. “I received a lot of support from the sisters and from the team,” Sister Maureen said. “And it was a blessing to serve the sisters of the province.”

What’s next in this Jubilee year? First, a family party in Walla Walla, and then a retreat and perhaps a sabbatical, she said. Then, it’s back to the peace and social justice journey she has been on since childhood.