By MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN
Children’s Defense Fund
In March Sister Simone Campbell stepped down as Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, the organization she led for 16 years that educates, organizes, and lobbies for economic and social transformation. Many people got to know her work during the debate over the Affordable Care Act when she drafted the “nuns’ letter” to Congress supporting the bill that was signed by 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters. The support played a key role in getting the Affordable Care Act passed, and President Obama invited her to the signing ceremony. She then became widely known as “A Nun on the Bus,” organizing campaigns around the country speaking out on social justice, and her creative, strategic, joyful leadership is a source of inspiration.
Sister Simone grew up in California and received degrees from Mount St. Mary’s College and the University of California-Davis School of Law. In 1978 she founded the Community Law Center in Oakland and served for almost 20 years as its lead attorney, a cornerstone in her lifelong commitment to service and work that puts flesh on faith. Before coming to NETWORK she also served as the Executive Director of JERICHO, a California interfaith public policy organization that protects the interests of people living in poverty, and as the general director of her religious community, the Sisters of Social Service.
NETWORK says its “Spirit-filled network of justice-seekers shapes federal policies to be consistent with the values they hold: a just society includes all and values people over the accumulation of profits,” “a just society ensures that all people the 100% have what they need to live dignified lives,” and “a just society recognizes that we live in an interconnected world.” These values were all on full display in Sister Simone’s leadership.
The famous “nuns’ letter” said in part: “As the heads of major Catholic women’s religious order in the United States, we represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States who respond to needs of people in many ways. Among our other ministries we are responsible for running many of our nation’s hospital systems as well as free clinics throughout the country. We have witnessed firsthand the impact of our national health care crisis, particularly its impact on women, children and people who are poor. We see the toll on families who have delayed seeking care due to a lack of health insurance coverage or lack of funds with which to pay high deductibles and co-pays. We have counseled and prayed with men, women and children who have been denied health care coverage by insurance companies. We have witnessed early and avoidable deaths because of delayed medical treatment … For us, this health care reform is a faith mandate for life and dignity of all of our people.”
Two years later she organized the first “Nuns on the Bus” tour, traveling across nine states to oppose the 2012 “Ryan Budget” slashing social programs. Since then she has led six more trips, stopping everywhere from small towns to the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions to former President Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate and speaking out on economic justice, tax reform, comprehensive immigration reform, voter turnout and mending the gaps in wealth and access in our nation.
Through it all she has displayed her fierce, fiery faith for all the world to see. Sister Simone also has been a friend to the Children’s Defense Fund and participated in our annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. We join many others who have worked with her over the years in our deep appreciation of her grounded, modest, accessible leadership; her incredibly creative approach to popular education, including an especially memorable “human bar graph” she created on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to illustrate income inequality; and her sense of humor and quick laughter.
In a recent message announcing her retirement from NETWORK, Sister Simone shared her determination to keep moving forward: “I am also so excited to look ahead to the coming work to be done together. We have the possibility of finally passing legislation to protect our voting rights. We can in fact fix our broken immigration system for the 21st Century. We can fund common good programs by getting the wealthiest and corporations to pay their fair share. We can invest in our economy so that all work pays a living wage and families can flourish. All of this and more are opportunities within reach if we stay faithful. We must build anew.” Thank you, Sister Simone Campbell, for all you have faithfully done and will continue to do to build a just nation and world for everyone.
Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund whose mission is “Leave No Child Behind.” For more information, visit https://www.childrensdefense.org.