Cokie Roberts calls religious sisters role models for public officials

Categories: Around the Diocese

As in the past, nuns continue to speak out for and serve those in need

Sept. 27, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

The nuns don’t give up, Cokie Roberts said, explaining their dedication for helping people on the margins.

Roberts, speaking at St. John’s University Sept. 18, told the stories of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, who started the first free school west of the Mississippi, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who created the parochial school system and St. Katharine Drexel who established many schools and was especially dedicated to educating Native Americans and non-whites.

cokieroberts“The refusal of all these women to abandon those in the margins earned each of them sainthood,” said Roberts who is a political commentator for ABC News, recipient of three Emmys and a member of the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.

Today, sisters continue to help and speak out for those in need, Roberts continued. Sister Simone Campbell, for example, recently brought the words of Pope Francis, “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need,” to the United States House of Representatives when lobbying for funding for food stamps.

“In this country today we have one in five children going to bed hungry,” Roberts said. “That’s not the America we think of when we think of America. We don’t want our children to be hungry. And the people who are there trying to make sure that we change that are the religious women.

“We have new data just today on the income disparities in the country and how the economic gains in the last few years have been entirely in the top one percent of the population, and bringing attention that is incredibly important if we are to be the society we believe ourselves to be and want ourselves to be,” Roberts said.

Today, with fewer religious sisters in the United States, Roberts said it important for others to step up to make the world a better place. She especially called on young women at the College of St. Benedict and young men at St. John’s University and others who were taught by sisters.

“We are the people who must carry on what they have taught us and we have to be the agents of change in society,” Roberts said. “The official numbers of women religious in this country have fallen, but I think it’s safe to say the number of religious women who are acting on their faith to serve society is higher than ever before. Many of us who feel that calling feel it because of the women religious who taught us. Awe-inspiring, holy women of spirit who push us to create a better world for the people of God, to give voice to the powerless as women religious have been doing all throughout our history. Even if it makes us uncomfortable as it has made them uncomfortable, that’s the courage and confidence we must take into life, especially through public life.”

One way to bring about positive change is through public office, Roberts explained.

She told the story of Tom Dodds, representative and senator from Connecticut, who ended his political career in a disgrace being censured by the senate for campaign finance violations. But still on his death bed he said, “No place on earth other than in public office can one person do so much for so many.”

Daughter of Hale and Lindy Boggs, Roberts saw her family members uphold their beliefs in public office even though it was not always safe to do so. Her father, United States representative from Louisiana, risked his political life and the lives of his family by supporting civil rights. Roberts recalled a cross burning on their lawn.

Robert’s mother, Lindy Boggs, took her husband’s spot in Congress after he died in an airplane crash and served nine terms, became the first woman to chair the Democratic National Convention and was co-founder of the Women’s Congressional Caucus.

She saw nuns as “the role models for successful women,” because they ran schools, hospitals and social service agencies, Roberts said. Her mother fought for women’s rights and “raised the ire of her party because she was pro-life.” As ambassador to the Vatican, she voiced the issue of human trafficking.