AMERICAN NUNS

In 1982, the vicar Kathleen Mandeville of St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, asked me about neighborhood issues. We decided that what was needed were people trained in community organizing. I had been working with another person, Jim, on community projects. She met with the Archdeacon and told me the Episcopal Diocese of New York would send me and Jim to the Industrial Areas Foundation training course. In November, Jim and I flew to Texas for the ten day course. Jim spent most of his time schmoozing with the conference leaders and elected officials. One morning, a documentary film about the work of Catholic nuns with Chicano workers in the Texas Rio Grande Valley citrus groves, finding ways to improve their circumstances with the owners, showed the church as a “mediating institution” that helped to bring the sides together. I was sitting next to some of the nuns during the film and the discussion that followed. Afterward¸ as usual, Jim was huddled with the session’s presenter and entourage. I took my time, ambling to the dining room. Jim was sitting with the big wigs. Standing with my tray, I saw ahead of me a long table and the Rio Grande nuns. To my surprise, several of them waved. “Mary, come sit with us!” I sat at the end of the row on one side and told them how impressed I was at what they had been able to accomplish. “I noticed at the end of the film that the Bishop and the priests were at the press conference. Where were you?” “Don’t you know we do all the work and the priests get all the credit?” They were laughing. “So how that’s how it is.” “That’s how it is.” More laughter. These people were the true spirit of the conference. And they knew it. And I knew it. They could not do anything about the hierarchy they were in. But I was on the community level in a democratic society, and I could. I heard Jim’s voice and turned to see him holding out a chair next to him: “Don’t you want to sit here with us?” No, I waved back. “I’m fine.” Absolutely fine. — Mary Clark

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful