by Mary’s Pence board member, Katie Lacz
It would appear to be a complicated time to navigate what it means to be a religious sister – to be told that you are part of a dying breed, on the one hand; and yet alive enough to pose a threat to Catholicism with your “radical feminist” tendencies, on the other. For Sr. Simone Campbell, though, what it means to be a religious sister is clear, if not always easy: “We walk with people in everyday life and try to live the Gospel in that context,” she writes in her memoir, A Nun on the Bus. “This living reality gives us hearts of compassion for the struggle of our world. We strive to be faithful to Jesus’ call to love everyone.” (p. 109)
A Nun on the Bus is a vibrant history of the walk – or, in this case, bus ride – in which Campbell and her fellow sisters sought to bring the message of the Gospel to the U.S. debate on poverty and inequality in the context of the budget vote of 2012. It is a quick-moving, passionate witness of Campbell’s experiences of a woman, and a religious community, caught in an extraordinary confluence of circumstances that led to the famous bus ride; even more so, it is a reflective examination of the work of the Holy Spirit hovering over the surface of those chaotic waters.
The book is part memoir, briefly touching on Campbell’s upbringing as a Colorado transplant to California, the nudges that guided her towards religious life, and her years bringing her passion for law, policy and advocacy into play with her calling as vowed religious. It is part insider’s view, taking the reader behind the scenes of some of the decisive moments that led to the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, Campbell’s subsequent fame, and the moving stories of the people the sisters met along the way. But the book is at its best when Campbell explores the challenge of bringing together the strands of Catholicism that have felt so divided in the U.S. in recent years, and urges both sides to a higher understanding: “I am convinced by faith that we must strive for policies that include the 100 percent and involve the 100 percent in their formulation,” she writes. Even as she jokes that she might be the “stomach acid” in the Body of Christ, she does so with an awareness that even the people she finds most annoying and frustrating are necessary members, to be loved and worked with and journeyed alongside.
For people for whom words like “progressive” and “Catholic” are not a contradiction – people like supporters of Mary’s Pence – it is encouraging to see a thoughtful defense of the Gospel call to stand with the “least of these,” and to read the journey of a woman who is walking the walk, stumbles and all. Campbell begins and ends her book with the ancient cry, “Come, Holy Spirit!”, and her book gives a glimpse at the many small ways that the face of the earth is being renewed by the efforts of ordinary people.