By Celine Klosterman
Laura Anderson had worked for the Oprah Winfrey show and Steven Spielberg’s office. But nothing in the entertainment industry resonated with her as much as her current work for the Clinton Franciscans.
On Dec. 1, she took a position as co-coordinator for the Center for Active Nonviolence and Peacemaking in Clinton, where she’s working to promote and advocate for social justice issues.
“This is really something I can identify with,” said Laura. “I share so much of the vision with the Sisters.”
That vision helped draw the mother of three to the center, after she spent years in entertainment and media-related roles. She studied at the University of Michigan and University of Southern California, where she graduated with a major in film production, then worked for a decade on various projects including a Jane Goodall documentary and a Paramount movie. She then traveled to Budapest, Hungary, to spend a year as an account executive at a marketing firm. After returning to the United States, she moved to Chicago, where she’d grown up, and created and managed Oprah.com, got married, and had two children.
But the demands of her job eventually proved too much for Laura, who wanted more time to spend with her daughter Molly and son Liam. So her husband, Connor, accepted a job offer in Dubuque, where the Andersons expected that a lower cost of living would allow Laura to stay home with their children.
The couple eventually had a third child, Josephine, who recently turned 8 — making Laura feel as if her children were old enough for her to return to the workforce. So late last year, seven years after moving to Clinton, she joined in the ministry of the Franciscan community.
“The Franciscan charism is one that really resonates with me — the care for creation, the message of peace that St. Francis gave to the world — these are values I am also very passionate about,” she said. Unlike in some previous positions, “where I was getting paid to promote something I might not always agree with, I feel good about the message we are delivering through the center.”
Laura has the passion, skills and ability to interact well with others and creativity needed to deliver that message, said Sister Jan Cebula, president of the Clinton Franciscans. She’ll help the community extend its outreach, Sr. Cebula added.
Laura works with center co-coordinators Sallyann McCarthy and Sister Mary Smith, OSF, all of whom focus on education, publicity and providing resources for activists. The center communicates often with advocacy groups on issues relating to poverty, nuclear disarmament, the environment, immigration, the death penalty and nonviolence.
That last topic can be sticky, Laura said. “I would say one of the challenges of the center is that there’s often a misconception that nonviolence indicates passivity. That’s not at all what we’re about. The word ‘active’ is part of our name; that means we’re committed to finding alternatives to violence.” The center seeks alternatives to war and also strives to bring peace to all aspects of society — including personal relationships, business and the media, she said.
The Clinton Franciscans first committed to a deeper understanding of such nonviolence during their chapter meeting in 1992. At subsequent chapters in 1996 and 2000, they pledged to actively practice nonviolence and later began looking into a center to promote peacemaking in society. They appointed their first center coordinator in 2002 and built an office that houses staffers last year — but the center was never meant to be understood as a specific place.
Instead, all Franciscan Sisters and associates seek “to be themselves ‘centers’ of peace” and act as peacemakers in their families and communities, said Sr. Cebula. The center is a resource for coordinating and facilitating that way of life.
In coming months, the center’s efforts will include bringing immigrant-advocate speaker Erik Camayd-Freixas to Clinton on March 8. In April, activities will take place to raise awareness about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And a Lenten “Peace Soup” series in collaboration with a Pax Christi group at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton will feature presentations on social-justice topics.
“We have a wonderful gift of our Franciscan spirituality which we believe is so important to the times in which we are living,” Sr. Cebula said. “We would like to share our Franciscan message of peace and our mission of peacemaking with others.”
To get involved, join the center’s Yahoo! group, CANV, or contact Laura at email@example.com or (563) 242-7611.