By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Sister Simone Campbell, whose “Nuns on the Bus” tours for social and economic justice drew national attention, has been named recipient of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award. The executive director of NETWORK, a nonprofit Catholic social justice lobby, Sr. Simone will receive the award Sept. 21 in Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
The interfaith award honors St. John XXIII and commemorates his 1963 encyclical letter Pacem in Terris, which called on all people to secure peace among all nations. Previous award recipients include John F. Kennedy (posthumously), Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Cesar Chavez, Sister Helen Prejean, Lech Walesa and Jean Vanier.
“Sr. Simone is someone who really exemplifies the purpose of Pacem and Terris and raises awareness of social concerns in many different areas,” said Bishop Martin Amos, who will present the award. “I feel she will challenge us to grow in our awareness of many issues.”
The 68-year-old nun expressed appreciation at being “acknowledged as a peace builder because Pope John XXIII was such a huge influence on me as a teenager, and Pacem in Terris was such a big development in Catholic social teaching. Pope John spoke to the heart of the world, to everyone. It was so historic.”
For 50 years as a Sister of Social Service she has advocated for systemic change on behalf of people living in poverty and on society’s margins. Organizing for a tenants’ rights push in the earlier years of her ministry inspired her to pursue a law degree so that she could lobby more effectively. She founded and served as lead attorney of the Community Law Center in Oakland, Calif., for 18 years before taking a break to “give birth to a new idea.” For five years she served as leader of her religious community before taking charge of Jericho, a program engaged in legislative advocacy for people living at the margins in California. That position eventually led her to the top post at NETWORK.
Sr. Simone has also traveled extensively to troubled spots in the world: Chiapas, Mexico; Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Her day-to-day experiences with ordinary people at home and abroad move her deeply and motivate her to advocate with ever greater intensity for people who don’t have a voice. “A lot of (our) work is about storytelling, telling the story of real people,” she told The Catholic Messenger.
Concerned that nearly 50 million Americans lacked any form of health-care insurance, Sr. Simone and NETWORK stood out front in support of the national health care reform bill.
In 2010 she drafted a letter and secured signatures of numerous leaders of women religious congregations in support of the health care reform bill, which later became law. In 2011, NETWORK established a concerted lobbying strategy seeking to push back Sen. Paul Ryan’s proposed federal budget that called for significant cuts to programs for the needy, including food stamps.
Sr. Simone said she shared with Sen. Ryan of Wisconsin some of her real people stories, like the one about Billy and his wife, who depend on food stamps as do others among the working poor. “Those were the people he wanted to knock off food stamps,” Sr. Simone said. Ryan told her the working poor were not targets of his program. Sister disagreed. “To me, they were going to be the victims of this program even if they weren’t the targets.”
The Sisters’ support of health care reform, which became law, resulted in the negative results of the Vatican’s investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sr. Simone believes. The Vatican singled out NETWORK as being complicit, especially focusing too much on the social justice mission of the Church.
The Vatican’s censure prompted deep spiritual reflection which in turn led to the first “Nuns on the Bus” tour of nine states, including Iowa, in 2012 to lobby against the Ryan budget and for economic and social justice. “This whole trip was a twenty-seven-hundred-mile tribute to the work of these great religious communities, and of all those sisters who were laboring away at the works of mercy we sisters have been doing for decades, centuries,” Sr. Simone wrote in “A Nun on the Bus.”
The following year, Sr. Simone organized the second, longer Nuns on the Bus tour, on behalf of immigration reform.
“Trust in the Holy Spirit is the driving force for Sr. Simone,” observes Diocesan Social Action Director Kent Ferris who chairs the Pacem in Terris Coalition. “Rather than seeking comfort and the familiar, Sr. Simone has demonstrated an incredibly deep, faith-filled expression of concern for others. As with many past award winners, she has taken the time to know those in great need personally and in turn taken her God-given talents to affect change on the large, national scale. She is greatly admired by those in her faith, and from other faiths, so important to the interfaith award committee.”
How she chose her religious name
Born Oct. 22, 1945, in Santa Monica, Calif., Mary Campbell entered the Sisters of Social Service in 1964, took the name of Simon Peter, but tweaked it to “Simone.” In her book, “A Nun on the Bus,” she writes:
“I had always had a great affection for Saint Peter; I love the story when Jesus calls Peter, amid a storm on the Sea of Galilee, to leap out of the boat, to trust him to keep him safe. And Peter, great and flawed Simon Peter, jumps over the side … “I am still enthusiastic, like my namesake, still making mistakes, still overextending, and still leaping out of boats – and on some days fully trusting in the call. I pray I always will.”
What: Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award presentation
When: Sunday, Sept. 21, 3 p.m.
Where: Christ the King Chapel, St. Ambrose University, Davenport
Award co-sponsors: Diocese of Davenport, St. Ambrose University, Augustana College, The Catholic Messenger, Churches United of the Quad City Area, Pax Christi Quad Cities, Muslim Community of the Quad Cities, Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Sisters of St. Benedict, Rock Island, Sisters of St. Francis (Dubuque, Iowa), Sisters of St. Francis (Clinton, Iowa)
Details: Contact Kent Ferris at ferris@davenport
diocese.org or by phone at (563) 888-4211