Africa, Asia, North America

Nuns on the Bus 2015 - Reflections from the Road

Return to the main page for SSND Nuns on the Bus links

Share your prayers, blessings and support

Sisters Judith Best, SSND, and Eileen Reilly, SSND, are traveling with NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus” this month to bridge divides and transform politics. We are posting updates from them here throughout the journey. 

(Sept. 25, 2015) Crowd support demonstrates "where one is ... all of us are"

With the U.S. Capitol in the background, speakers and sisters (the nuns) faced a large, animated gathering of colleagues, other advocates, supporters and NETWORK allies. SSNDs among them were Sister Ann Scholz, associate director for social mission at the Leadership Conference for Women Religious (pictured on the right with Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND), and Sister Anne Marie Gardiner of Silver Spring, Maryland. Many SSNDs welcomed the bus and supported its efforts at the various rallies and stops as well as with prayers and moral support from home.

Sisters Eileen Reilly and Judith Best, as part of Nuns on the Bus, and all who supported them demonstrate yet another way in which collaboration among religious women with support of many lay colleagues, Catholic or not, confirms the SSND constitution, You Are Sent, "where one is … all of us are," and Pope Francis’s conviction that “bridging the divides” can transform lives and politics.

Read the full report from Sister Anne Marie Gardiner, SSND, who attended the rally in Washington.

(Sept. 23, 2015) Seeing the Pope at the White House

Left: Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, shares pictures of Pope Francis, taken by her companions, from her vantage point on the lawn. Above: Sister Eileen leans out a window to wave to fans and supporters from the bus. 

We Nuns on the Bus were on the South Lawn of the White House this morning to welcome Pope Francis – along with 13,000 others!

President Barack and Michelle Obama were there to welcome him. The president's words were from the heart. He had high praise for U.S. Catholics and what they contribute to our society. Obama recalled his own experience in community organizing with Catholics on the Southside of Chicago.

He thanked Pope Francis for the many ways he has challenged us and shown real moral leadership.

The pope began his remarks by saying, "I am the son of an immigrant family," and then he noted how pleased he was to be in a country largely built by similar immigrant families.

Although brief, his remarks touched on many of the anticipated topics, like climate change, inequalities and religious liberty, and he reminded us that we cannot leave the climate problems to the next generation.

Today, the air in Washington, D.C., is electric. As we circle the city in our bus for one more round, we have opened the windows and are greeting people on the street as they cheer the Nuns on the Bus!

Three weeks ago during a virtual papal audience hosted by ABC News, Pope Francis called Sister Norma Pimentel forward from the congregation gathered to see him though live-streaming and expressed his heartfelt affection for her and "all American nuns." We have felt this same kind of heartfelt affection as we have traveled 2,000 miles, through seven states and 33 stops to share the "Bridge the Divides" message of the Pope and the Nuns on the Bus. 

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(Sept. 22, 2015) Days on the Bus

Sister Eileen Reilly tries out the driver's seat (but doesn't actually drive the bus).

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, displays a cartoon she received about the Nuns on the Bus. She is joined by (from left) Sisters Mary Joel Curcio, SLW; Jan Cebula, OSF; and Eileen Reilly, SSND.

Sister Eileen Reilly signs the bus.

We Nuns on the Bus begin our days in the early morning hours and end them well into the evening. We have been generously offered hospitality along the road with Daughters of Charity, Benedictines, and Dominicans - but unfortunately we arrive after dark and leave each morning as the sun is coming up, so we haven't meet many of the sisters.

Each day is very different, but they all begin with a time of prayer together and end with a gathering to reflect on our day.  So far, four hours has been our longest drive time between events. Bill, our very capable bus driver is great friend to us.  He's been the driver for all four Nuns on the Bus trips.  Although he lets me sit in his seat, he doesn't really let me drive.

During these drives we use the time to blog, to finalize the plans for the next event and to share pictures and stories, and we have even found time play Scrabble.

Each day contains a few scheduled events - and often some unscheduled events. On Friday we all got the opportunity to visit the public radio station studio where Sister Simone and Sister Jan Cebula were interviewed live on NPRs All Things Considered.

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(Tuesday, Sept. 22) A few stops along the way

At each stop along the way we Nuns on the Bus (Sisters Mary Joel Curcio, SLW; Simone Campbell, SSS; Jan Cebula, OSF; and Eileen Reilly, SSND) invite people who also commit to "Bridge the Divides" to sign our bus. Space on the bus is hard to find as we near the end of the journey so some folks are getting very creative (above, left photo).

We have also experienced much creativity in the ways the folks we met are trying to bridge the divides. At the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, there has been a huge campaign to provide fresh produce, not just canned goods, to the food pantries and soup kitchens they serve so they adopted the slogan pictured here (above, center photo)

In Wheeling, West Virginia, we were joined by Sister Joan Marie Van Beek, SSND, and SSND Associate Anna Dawkins (pictured at right) for a tour of Farm 18. SSND Associate Dianne Tribo (not pictured) also came out support the travelers. The farm is aptly named since it sits on the empty lots on 18th Street that resulted when several houses were torn down to allow for a highway to come right through the neighborhood. Danny, the farmer at Farm 18, was so proud to share the creative ways they found to farm on a lot that still has the foundations from the demolished homes.

From the farm, we walked over to the Catholic Worker House where we were invited for supper. The neighbors were out on the street to welcome us. They found several ways to entertain themselves and us with drums, and hula hoops (above, right photo). The CW House is named House of Hagar. The residents take inspiration for the words of Hagar in the Old Testament, "I see the God who sees me."

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(Monday, Sept. 21) Eat Well. Grow Well. Live Well. Be Well.

"If there was a theme for our Nuns on the Bus day in Indianapolis on Friday," reports Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, "it could be summarized in the title above." In Sister Eileen's post on the Nuns on the Bus website, she shares what she learned from the folks from Indiana Institute for Working Families; “Growing Place Indy,” a community gardening project; and a town hall meeting. Read the entire report from Sister Eileen on the Nuns in the Bus website.

(Thursday, Sept. 17) Bridging Divides in Evansville, Indiana

You can imagine our surprise when we Nuns on the Bus walked into the UCC Church in Evansville, Indiana, for our Town Hall Meeting on Thursday night and saw Pope Francis standing in the front! Of course, we rushed up to greet him and have our picture taken with him. We were also greeted by nuns from several different congregations who live on the area. (Pictured with the life-size cutout are, from left: Sister Judy Best, SSND; Sister Jan Cebula, OSF; Sister Mary Joel Curcio, SLW; Sister Eucharia Madueke, SNDdN; Pope Francis; Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND; and Sister Simone Campbell, SSS.)  

The format of our Town Hall Meeting is similar each day, but the content is very different in each location. Our theme, "bridge the divides," takes on a different meaning in each setting as we invite the participants to surface the issues that divide their community. For example, it was very moving to hear members of the Evansville group note that the only black person in the room was one of the Nuns on the Bus and that they needed to find a way to bridge the racial divide in their own community.

The day ended with the Daughters of Charity welcoming us to their retreat center in Evansville for a night's rest.

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND (pictured at right)

(Thursday, Sept. 17) Thistle Farms - Nashville

The thistle plant, which is actually a weed, is famous for its sturdiness. It has been known to break through cement in its efforts to survive.  The women of Thistle Farms - who the Nuns on the Bus visited today - have broken through addictions, prostitution, and human trafficking to begin again to live healthy, productive lives. We were greeted with a chorus of welcomes from these women all wearing t-shirts with their "Love Heals" motto.   

Thistle Farms offers employment opportunities for these women who produce and sell a variety of beauty products. In addition they have a "Shared Trade" shop with products from other women around the world. Adapting a well-known slogan, they say, "We are acting globally so that women feel freedom locally."

After our visit, we enjoyed a delicious lunch next door at the Thistle Stop Cafe which also employs these women.  Courtney (in the picture to the right) was eager to tell me how excited she was to meet the Nuns on the Bus since she had never talked to a nun before.

As our conversations continued and deepened,  it became obvious that these women who shared such a deep sense of community found common ground with nuns who live community and understand its power to transform lives.

Perhaps one of the most poignant moments was when a woman named Jennifer shared that she now puts as much effort into healing as she once put into dying when she was on the streets. We also heard the story about a couple who were so moved after their visit to Thistle Farms that they asked for Home Depot gift cards for wedding gifts and spent their honeymoon laying the new floor at Thistle Farms with the wood the gift cards purchased.

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(Sister Judith Best, SSND, also shares a report from Thistle Farms on the Nuns on the Bus website.)

The bus stops at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee.

Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, (third from left) talks to town hall participants.

Sister Judith Best, SSND, (left) talks to town hall participants at Vanderbilt.

(Thursday, Sept. 17) Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, Joins Tour in Nashville

"I was so excited to join the Nuns on the Bus in Nashville, Tennessee. As I approached the bus for the first time and read Pope Francis' words on politics, they became my prayer. The theme of this year's bus - 'Bridge the Divides: Transform Politics' - became so real at the Town Hall meeting we facilitated at Vanderbilt Divinity School. The participants reflected the diversity of the city and our conversations were about what really matters if we are to truly 'bridge the divides': immigrant rights, racism, poverty and wages."

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND 

(Wednesday, Sept. 16) What's It REALLY Like to be a Nun on the Bus

What Does It Take to Ride with Nuns on the Bus? It's a question the riders are asked so often these days. Sister Judith Best, SSND, shares a few ideas in her post on the Nuns on the Bus Blog. "It’s as close as I’ll ever get to being greeted as a 'rock star.' Read the entire report from Sister Judith on the Nuns in the Bus website.

(Wednesday, Sept. 16) Racism and the Quest for Justice

In Memphis, the Nuns on the Bus travelers visited the Civil Rights Museum and the motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot - "an experience of reliving the courage of ordinary men, women and youth who put their lives on the line to realize their rights," said Sister Judith Best, SSND. "Repeatedly, I was moved to tears, even as I am now." Sister Judith's heartfelt reflection is posted in full on the Nuns on the Bus website.

Sister Judith Best, SSND, (right) meets with Nuns on the Bus supporters at the Empowerment Center in Little Rock. (Photo courtesy Nuns on the Bus)
The Nuns on the Bus tour arrives at the Empowerment Center in Little Rock. (Photo Courtesy Nuns on the Bus)

(Tuesday, Sept. 15) Ministering to the Ministers in Little Rock

In her latest post, Sister Judith Best, SSND, notes: "As I tried to melt into the present moment I realized what a ministry this trip is becoming. Certainly an offshoot of this visit is that we are 'ministering to the ministers,' those struggling in neighborhoods to find their corporate voice and vision. This is especially difficult in The Delta region of southeastern Arkansas. It helped me focus on the regional divides that challenge every state. Read the entire report from Sister Judith on the Nuns in the Bus website.

(Sunday, Sept. 13Remembering Mothers to Mothers

I’m still feeling the intensity of our conversation with five mothers who opened the fragility of their lives with us on Thursday. When Amy Hunter began by asking: “What is it like to raise a black son in St. Louis?” I suddenly felt like the outsider I really am to my neighbors who are African-American. As she shared some of the examples of intrusion her son had experienced, I could only feel her insecurity. White mothers don’t have the same concerns for their sons, cautioning them about how to speak with humility, how to honor a tradition of hope for fair play within a context of “uniformed” prejudice that can change lives with a glance, reaching into a pocket when asked for a driver’s license, etc. Read the entire report from Sister Judith on the Nuns in the Bus website.  

-Sister Judith Best, SSND

(Saturday, Sept. 12) Today Filled with Laudato Si' Live-In Moments

Imagine watching Pope Francis addressing the joint session of Congress in your local church. This is being planned by the First Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas. They are renting a large-screen TV on which they can watch it together and have a party and discussion afterwards. Their Justice and Peace committee is planning it. Another Laudato Si’ Live-in moment happens in each Town Hall meeting when we ask the question: “What is your reaction to Pope Francis?” The response has often been sheer joy; spontaneous applause, enthusiastic appreciation for his message…

How grateful I am to be both a “Nun on the Bus” and “on the same page as our Pope!” Read the entire report from Sister Judith on the Nuns in the Bus website.

-Sister Judith Best, SSND

(Saturday, Sept. 12We Are Mining Hope for the Nation

Topeka, KS - Our day began with a special breakfast served at the Mercedarian Missionaries motherhouse in Liberty, Kansas, where we had spent the night. By 8:00 a.m., we were leaving for our first “site visit” at the Topeka Rescue Mission. We visited with residents and then toured the facility. Director Anne Freeze told us that the Mission had welcomed 306 residents last night; one more reason why “Nuns on the Bus” is trying to foster an economy of inclusion that might lessen the need for such a facility. Read the entire report from Sister Judith on the Nuns in the Bus website.

- Sister Judith Best, SSND

(Thursday Sept. 10My Heart Is Broken Open by Stories of Economic Hardship


SSNDs gather Sept. 10, 2015, in St. Louis for a Kick-off Rally for the Nuns on the Bus tour.
(Photo courtesy Linda K. Behrens)

I carry with me the positive energy that characterized our kick-off at Kiener Plaza in St. Louis. True to the pattern of Nuns on the Bus, the staff had four presenters welcoming about 50 people sitting in the St. Louis sunshine in the shadow of the old courthouse. The blue sky exemplified the wideness of heart that I felt among our speakers and participants.

Pastor Traci Blackmon introduced herself by saying she was not a Catholic, but had been educated by sisters for her first three grades. She is a leader in bringing together the different voices needing to be heard in St. Louis. Her strength and prophetic voice immediately energized us. She blessed us with her courage and fidelity to building community.

A young Hispanic woman (right) who had graduated from Notre Dame High shared her experience as an undocumented immigrant living in St. Louis, hoping to go to college and live into her dreams. Naomi inspired me with her confidence and clarity of speech; she is a gifted woman speaking for a path to citizenship. Read the entire report from Sister Judith on the Nuns in the Bus website.

- Sister Judith Best, SSND

  Sister Judith Best, SSND, is in the yellow jacket in the center, along with the others who are riding on the bus as it begins its journey from St. Louis. Photo from NETWORK Nuns on the Bus.

(Thursday, Sept. 10This Already Feels Like a 'Laudato Si’ Live-In'

It’s 7:25 a.m. and we (seven sisters and two of the staff) have already spent time praying together from 6 to 6:30 a.m., especially focused on Timothy’s challenge “to preach the word in season and out of season…” one in Spirit with a desire to raise up the voices of those who will share their stories with us these next two weeks.

Last evening - During our quiet time I reflected on our first meeting last night as folks arrived at (SSND) Theresa Center. The “Nun-Bus” seemed right at home on the campus of a convent constructed in 1895. The fidelity of the past was providing safe haven for the adventure of something new. Our guests were greeted by School Sisters of Notre Dame, eager to greet the arrival of the Bus. Some of our guests were introduced to the Mississippi River flowing by in our front yard, calling for our recognition of the “cries of Earth,” represented in her polluted waters. (Laudato Si’) The ten bucks with four point racks looked up from their grazing, welcoming us to their space and time, reminding us to “find our place in the splendid communion of creation.” (Laudato Si’Read the entire report from Sister Judith on the Nuns in the Bus website.

 - Sister Judith Best, SSND

(Wednesday, Sept. 9) "We 'Nuns on the Bus' are traveling together again because we believe in civil discourse that calls forth a new kind of politics — one in which ordinary people speak truth to power and politicians are held accountable." - Sister Judith Best, SSND, and Sister Simone Campbell, SSS - Read their full op-ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Transforming the world through education