By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Four Sisters from the Davenport Diocese were among 11 “Nuns on the Bus” for the Iowa leg of a 10-state road trip to promote voter participation in the mid-term elections. Sisters Elaine Hagedorn, Jeanie Hagedorn and Mary Bea Snyder of the Davenport-based Congregation of the Humility of Mary, and Sister Jan Cebula of the Clinton-based Sisters of St. Francis, made the trip Sept. 17-21. The leader of Nuns on the Bus, Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, capped the Iowa leg of the road trip with her acceptance speech at the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award ceremony Sept. 21 in Davenport.
Here, the Nuns on the Bus from the Davenport Diocese share some reflections:
Sr. Jeanie: “Last night we arrived in Council Bluffs from Des Moines about 11 p.m. after a very full and exciting day. Awakening early for a new day we had our time of prayer together at 7:30 a.m., a time that got us rooted in the soil of good seed which we hope to plant today in good Iowa soil that will bear fruit.”
The Sisters participated in a town hall meeting that drew as many as 75 people — Sisters and people of various denominations. They learned about Interfaith Response, which works to relieve the needs of homeless people of the Council Bluffs area. Afterwards, Sr. Simone “invited everyone who has now pledged to be a voter to go outside and sign their names on the bus. The idea is that all these folks will ride with the nuns in the days and weeks ahead because we are ALL in this together.”
At a town hall meeting in Sioux City, “People, including a good number of elected politicians and candidates, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to come together to discuss important issues in a nonpartisan, respectful and accepting way. Sr. Simone expressed our hope that this can be a model for how things could happen in our communities across the nation.”
In Waterloo, a college student named Logan “shared his reasons for being so committed to participating in the democratic process. The group of us older citizens affirmed Logan and hoped he would be successful in bringing more of his fellow students into the process.”
“The young staff accompanying us is fantastic. They are incredibly organized, energetic, helpful, sensitive to our needs and fun to be with. We also so much enjoy the company of a young and talented photo journalist who has been following Sr. Simone for a couple years and will be producing a documentary of Simone’s life.… All of us have bonded so quickly and so powerfully through these days.”
At a town hall meeting in Dubuque, a “concern about polarization and the need to learn skills for listening to divergent views was expressed, among other issues, for example, the proposed pipeline, immigration and the depressed economy’s impact on daily living.”
In Cedar Rapids, the nuns conversed with residents at the Catherine McAuley Center. “Several women have come from painful situations of drug and alcohol addiction, domestic abuse, mental and physical illness, behavioral problems, felonies and, consequently, time in prison. Now they are putting their lives together with the help of the dedicated staff and volunteers at the McAuley Center. The honest, personal sharing of three of the residents and one of the students was so moving that we all renewed our conviction that we must work for legislation to restore voting rights to felons who have served their time in prison.”
Nuns on the Bus knocked on doors to get out the vote, after arriving in Davenport. “My partner was a wonderful, 85-year-old doctor; we made a good pair with our slower pace and relative inexperience at this sort of thing. But we were so excited that at our first house we succeeded in registering a first-time voter!”
That evening, “we left for St. John Vianney Church in Bettendorf where we had a Gubernatorial Debate watch party. Following the viewing on TV the gathered group shared impressions and ideas about candidates Jack Hatch (an Iowa state senator) and incumbent Gov. Terry Brandstad.”
The Sisters ended the evening at the Humility of Mary Center “where we were welcomed as overnight guests. Before retiring, however, we enjoyed our evening ‘tradition’ of sharing a glass of wine and reviewing the day’s events. This practice, like our morning prayer together, has been a significant part of each day.”
Sr. Elaine: “The spirit of the people on the bus, both nuns and staff, was invigorating and energized me for the five days of our journey. It began with the support of all the people at the rally in Des Moines and the tremendous challenge given by Vice President Joe Biden and Sr. Simone to get out and vote for the issues that benefit the common good. The privilege of spending personal time with the vice president on the bus and at the cafe was a very moving experience for me.
“Then as we began our journey and visited with the people across the state, we found people hungry to share their experiences and grateful for the hope offered by the nuns and all who gathered. We saw such dedicated ministry being done at the various sites we visited and that also inspired us.
“The final stop in Davenport where Sr. Simone was presented the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award from Bishop Martin Amos was a culmination of a memorable journey of hope for the future of our country.”
For Sr. Mary Bea, “The overall experience was exceptionally moving, no pun intended. I’m not real involved in politics, so getting out and hearing what people have to say around different issues was new to me. The issues they were talking about? Raising the minimum wage, immigration reform, domestic violence, guns, etc., etc.
“One of the things that really touched my heart was going into the low-income neighborhoods and talking with people about voting and receiving responses ranging from ‘oh, yeah, of course I’m going to vote,’ to a young woman (who’d probably never voted before) and wasn’t sure.” That young woman and others seemed intimidated about the voting process. It was good having the opportunity to talk with her, because she would like to see the minimum wage raised, Sr. Mary Bea said. “I said, ‘If the person next door doesn’t think it needs to be raised and they vote and you don’t, it’s never going to happen.’”
Sr. Mary Bea noted that Sr. Simone talked a lot about the 100 percent (all voters) and that everyone needs to be at the table. “That struck me significantly. I’m thinking, ‘we can be helping people, taking people to the polls. Who are the people out there who need help?’ It gave me an awareness I hadn’t had before.”
Sister Jan Cebula, a Clinton Franciscan who works as a liaison for the Global Catholic Sisters Project, National Catholic Reporter, shared these thoughts:
“Being on the bus was an energizing experience! All across Iowa we met people who are engaged in their communities, concerned about the growing income gap and working for change. It was a great joy to be with Sisters from the other congregations in Iowa on this itinerant mission. Be sure to get out and vote!”
Nuns on the Bus for the Iowa leg:
Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Davenport: Sisters Elaine and Jeanie Hagedorn of Des Moines and Sister Mary Bea Snyder of Davenport; Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton: Sister Jan Cebula, working in Kansas City, Mo.; Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dubuque: Sister Richelle Friedman, Washington, D.C. (Coalition on Human Needs); Sisters of St. Francis, Dubuque: Sister Marge Stout and Sister Gwen Hennessey, Sioux City; Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dubuque: Sister Mary McCauley, Dubuque, and Sister Marge Clark, Washington, D.C. (NETWORK); Sisters of Mercy, Cedar Rapids: Sister Kathy Thornton, Omaha; and Sisters of Social Service: Sister Simone Campbell, Washington, D.C. (executive director of NETWORK).