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Religious women - both Catholic and Orthodox, and yes, one Methodist minister - have been a tremendous influence in my life. Right now, American Catholic (mainly) Religious and (some) Nuns (NB: Nuns are cloistered and thus rarely found outside of monasteries; those women who taught you, etc. are Religious Sisters) are under threat from the Vatican. Following in the footsteps of Fr. James Martin, SJ, I'm going to tell you here a bit of what Sisters mean to me.

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
I was born at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, California, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (and now closed). They oversaw the births of most of my aunts and uncles on my father's side, and that of my best friend. They also cared for my grandmother and my great-aunt and great-uncle during their final illnesses. The Sisters opened and are still deeply involved in the operation of the St. Joseph Center in Venice, where I grew up. There, they provide education to the poorest children, meals and shelter to the homeless, mental health services, and much more. When I was a child, their Listo! program provided jobs, money management skills, and family support to immigrants. Many of the Christians in Venice - Catholic, Orthodox, or Episcopalian - employed workers through the center, including gardeners and housecleaners. Some of them worked at my parents' best friends' house. Others worked at ours.

Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
My father, aunts, and uncles went to Maria Regina, a school overseen by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart (my grandparents are listed as "founding parishoners" on this page). My uncle is a Religion teacher for one of their schools; my aunt teaches eighth grade for them. When my youngest aunt was 13 years old (this gets confusing because my grandparents raised ten children), my grandmother suffered multiple brain aneurysms, and my grandparents sent her to a school run by these sisters in another state. She lived with them for four years, and when I went to her high school graduation, we stayed at their guest house.

Daughters of Charity
My great-great-grandmother died in childbirth when my Granny was only a year old. Not feeling up to raising three girls, my great-great-grandfather sent his daughters to live and be educated at the Los Angeles Orphan Asylum (now Maryvale), run by the Daughters of Charity. As children, my grandmother and my great-aunt have fond memories of visiting the Sisters and being thoroughly spoiled by them. They considered the Sisters their grandparents.

Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary
My elementary school years were the last years that the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary taught at St. Mark. Until I was in fifth grade, Sr. Martha was the principal. She was strict but loving, a young woman of faith and integrity. She rode a Honda motorcycle, which made her cool to all the students. As a representative of Apple Computer, she brought computers to school years before any of the other area schools had them. She began a lunch exchange program to limit wasted food; you could trade food for anything another student gave up of similar nutritional value. The librarian was Sr. Katherine, who died when I was in the eighth grade. I never got books back to her on time. Nevertheless, I was a bit of a favorite with her because I was so passionate about books and reading. After her death, I inherited my last unreturned library book. I still have it. Years later, I was able to contribute to their retirement fund through a performance of Late Nite Catechism. (I also won a prize, because I knew that the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the conception of Jesus.)

Sisters of St. Louis
By far my favorite order are the Sisters of St. Louis. My mother and her siblings went to school to them - Louisville kindergarten, St. Mel School, and (for the girls) Louisville High School. I, too, attended Louisville, and I am proud of the education I got there. The SSLs promote compassion and justice. They also value critical thinking skills and spirited, informed opposition. They provided a caring environment to me when I was deeply troubled by the emotional abuse I had undergone. Louisville was a place of healing and love for me. Sr. Molua Conheady (may her memory be eternal) valued me in particular, despite (or perhaps because of?) my tendency to question everything she said in Religion class. I got the Religion One award at her behest. According to my former principal, Sr. Myra McPartland, Sr. Molua talked about me frequently until her death several years ago. Because of her, SSLs I never met think I'm an extraordinary person.

Mystery Sisters (Maryknolls? Daughters of Charity?)
When I was living in Djeol, Mauritania, I had very little access to Christian worship. I tried to fast. I went to Nouakchott for Christmas - there was a church (officially Catholic) there that was shared by all the Christians in the area. Easter, however, was a problem. I tried to fast. I had little truncated Presanctified services (mostly consisting of psalms) by candlelight before the icons in my little shelter. But I didn't have enough time off to find services - or so I thought. Then I heard a rumor of a little group of Sisters living and providing services to the tiny hamlet of Matam, Mauritania (just across the river from the rather larger city of Matam, Senegal). They had guest rooms. I made the journey by bush taxi on the eve of Western Easter and, despite their not knowing me from Adam and having no idea I was coming, I was welcomed with open arms and given a bed in a tiny but comfortable and clean room. Easter with the Sisters was peaceful and lovely, and I will always be grateful that they provided me with a home that year.

This is only a small sampling of what Sisters mean to me. Their voluntary service has put quality education and health care within financial reach of tens of thousands of Americans, among many other things. I am providing a link to a petition in support of American Catholic Religious women here. Please take the time to sign it. Many of our lives have been touched by the unselfish service of these women.