Four “Nuns on the Bus”rolled into Milwaukee Tuesday, June 19 – the second day of their 15-day tour to highlight the work Catholic sisters do for people at the economic margins and to protest Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s House-passed budget proposal.
Sister of the Precious Blood of the Virgin Mary, Mary Wendeln of Ohio, said she volunteered to be one of the 14 nuns rotating on and off the tour bus because she’s a member of, and believes in, NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C., sponsoring the nine-state tour that includes visits to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
Riding with her in Milwaukee were Sister of Social Service Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK and a lawyer, Sister of Social Service Diane Donoghue of Los Angeles, and Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Marge Clark of Wasington, D.C, a lobbyist for NETWORK.
“I think it’s important for the American people to understand what’s at stake in our culture, in our country, in our beautiful country….” she said in between bites of food at St. Ben’s Community Meal site, a Capuchin Franciscan ministry that, through sponsoring organizations and volunteers, serves hot meals to the poor Sunday through Friday. “I have worked with the poor for many, many years and some of the things that are being proposed (in the Ryan budget) would probably hurt the people that I work with…but we just cannot hurt the poor.”
Beginning in Ames, Iowa, on Monday, June 18, until the end of the tour in Washington, D.C., on Monday, July 2, the sisters are scheduled to talk with politicians, hold press conferences, visit ministry sites, and have “friendraiser” events to meet supporters and to ask for support in each state.
Gloria Hays greeted the nuns as they arrived at St. Ben’s Tuesday, standing with a small group of supporters on the sidewalk.
“I came to lend my support to what these wonderful women are doing,” she said, explaining that she’d soon post the photos she took on her phone to Facebook to help spread the word and gain support for the nuns.
After reaching into her wallet, she subtly folded a $20 bill into Sr. Diane’s hand.
“I just asked if I could make a monetary donation to help with the cost of gas, and it wasn’t much, but it was what I had in my wallet and I wanted to share that,” said Hays of Soldier’s Grove, who came to Milwaukee for a funeral.
“I think that the majority of people in America aren’t aware of some of the laws that are changing right now and what’s at stake for women, children and people of minorities….” said Hays, who was raised Catholic at St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee. “It really is a social justice issue and I just want to support them.”
Later that day the bus took the sisters from St. Ben’s Meal program to their friendraiser at St. John’s on the Lake, a lakefront retirement community.
Bill and Sue Chandler, members of St. Bruno Parish in Dousman, greeted the nuns in the parking lot, where people clapped and cheered as they exited the bus.
The couple traveled from Delafield to show their support.
“Because it’s so important that we keep the social safety net for all of society, because it’s the moral thing to do,” Bill said about his reason for being there.
Sue also said that the sisters were speaking what the Catholic faith is all about, and what so many people are feeling.
“I just pray that they can actually speak right to the budget committee in Washington,” she said. “They would be such a strong, powerful voice for all the people that can’t get there and they’re articulate and they know what they’re saying and they have all the statistics, and it’s just wonderful. I said to one of the nuns as she got off, ‘Today, I feel proud to be Catholic,’ that they’re doing this.”
Sr. Mary said that the sisters were “graciously received” when they visited with representatives at Ryan’s Janesville office earlier Tuesday.
“We talked and (Sr.) Simone talked about what would happen – that the Ryan Budget proposals would really hurt the poor….” she said, noting that the NETWORK website has a breakdown of how the states on the tour would be affected by the budget cuts. She also said that the women religious asked Ryan to reconsider the budget by presenting their alternative budget proposal, “The Faithful Budget.”
Sr. Simone said the sisters stand with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in saying that Ryan’s budget is wrong.
“We know that many of the budget proposals right now are wanting to cut health services for children and for adults and this will be devastating and we have – we’re standing with the Catholic bishops saying that’s wrong – that’s the wrong place to go,” she told the press Wednesday morning after touring St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Dental Clinic, a Columbia St. Mary’s sponosored program that provides dental care to people in poverty without access.
The Faithful Budget – faithfulbudget.org – was the collaboration of Christians, Jews, Muslims and other faith communities and organizations – not an easy feat according to Sr. Simone.
“We thought we were going to lose it several times like they do in Congress,” Sr. Simone said, “but the fact is if you work hard, if you want to solve the problem, you can do it and we came up with what we know we need as a nation – is we need reasonable revenue for responsible programs. We don’t want to fund programs that don’t work, but so many programs like the health clinic here work. HeadStart works. Food stamps work and supporting programs that work with reasonable and responsible revenue is the way forward.”
In response to the nuns’ visit to his Janesville office on June 19, Ryan released a statement that said Washington leaders are responsible to address the fiscal and social issues like “an economy that falls short of providing ample employement opportunities, a safety net that is failing those that need it the most, and a crushing burden of debt that threatens to leave our children and grandchildren with a diminished future.”
The national debt is preventing people from rising from government dependency into self-sufficient lives, according to the release.
“As a result, more and more of society’s most vulnerable remain reliant on public assistance programs whose outdated structues often inadvertently hinder upward mobility. Economic stagnation and a growing dependency on government assistance continues to push this country toward a debt crisis, in which those who get hurt the first and the worst are the poor, the sick and the elderly, the people who need government the most.”
To avoid that, Ryan said, “Washington owes the American people bold and targeted reforms and real solutions that address today’s most urgent fiscal challenges.”
During their time in Wisconsin, the sisters also visited about 300 Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in Sinsinawa – they left with a basket of homemade cinnamon bread, according to Sr. Mary, and the Palermo’s Pizza plant on W. Canal Street, where they spoke with people picketing on the sidewalk and with company representatives, including Giacomo Fallucca, CEO and president.
People on the sidewalk said workers wanted to form a union and that so far the company wasn’t recognizing it. Fallucca told Sr. Simone during their conversation on the grass in front of the plant that the company respects workers’ rights to unionize and that the company is cooperating fully with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent federal agency with the power to safeguard employees’ rights to organize and determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative as stated on the NLRB website. The sisters, on a tight schedule, had to turn down a tour of the plant, but did take some pizza home.
“I think it’s going amazingly well,” Sr. Marge said, noting that the people who have disagreed with them have disagreed on topics unrelated to the budget. “I’m consistently surprised at the number of supporters that come out in every place we are. It’s just been absolutely amazing.”
The biggest goal is to work together, said Sr. Mary, who turned 72 while on the trip.
“Not one of us can do this alone.”