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Nuns on the Bus 2016 - Reflections from the Road

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Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, began traveling with NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus on July 19 to help "mend the gaps." We are posting updates from her here throughout the journey. For more information about the tour, visit NETWORK's Nuns on the Bus website.

Above left: Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, takes a picture with her cell phone during the Democratic National Convention. Above right: Sister Eileen (standing) with other travelers from the Nuns on the Bus witnessed history being made at the convention. (Photos courtesy NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

(July 30, 2016) Nuns on the Bus spend final days of tour in Philadelphia

Lemonade & Listening Underscore importance of dialogue


Sister Eileen Reilly pulls the Nuns on the Bus wagon (right) for their "Lemonade Ministry," handing out free lemonade to hot Philadelphians (below) and listening to them share their concerns about the election (above). (Photos courtesy NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)


“Lemonade Ministry” was on the agenda for the Nuns on the Bus Wednesday morning. With the temperature rising into the 90’s, many folks were happy to receive an ice-cold cup of lemonade from our little red wagon that we pulled through the streets of Philadelphia. Some just took the lemonade and kept walking. Others stayed a few minutes to answer our three-question survey:

  1. With whom in your family is it difficult to discuss politics?
  2. What are your fears in this election cycle?
  3. What gives you hope in this election cycle?

One young woman, when asked the first question, answered “my grandfather” and began to cry. She told me that her grandfather had just “unfriended” her on Facebook when he found out she supported Bernie Sanders! Dialogue is so sorely needed in this election cycle – even between grandfathers and granddaughters.

In the late afternoon we were back at the convention site where the security perimeter had become much tighter in anticipation of the visit of President Barak Obama and Vice President Joe Biden later in the evening.

I was thrilled to be in the arena when they both spoke. I was also happy for the time to just mix and mingle with convention participants and hear their stories. Our Nuns on the Bus t-shirts attracted attention and became a very easy way to start a conversation. I was so surprised at the number of convention-goers who recognized Nuns on the Bus and wanted to talk, donate, take a picture or thank us for our work.

The Sisters of St. Joseph, who provided hospitality for us in Philly, were only about one mile away from the convention site which was great since the convention ended after 11 p.m. each night.  

Praying for our nation, peace  at oldest Catholic Church in Philly

At the workshop in Philadelphia, Sister Eileen Reilly (far right) and other Nuns on the Bus travelers listen to concerns and share statistics about how wealth is distributed in our nation. Sister Eileen is sitting on the far right of the stage in the photo below. (Photos courtesy of NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

Old St. Joseph Church in central Philly was the site for a liturgy that we attended Thursday morning. The church prides itself on being the oldest Catholic Church in Philly. Jesuits began celebrating liturgy there in the 1700’s when religious liberty was still a dream for many of the original thirteen colonies.

The liturgy drew on the best of our Catholic tradition. We were invited to pray for our nation, for world peace, for justice and fairness. (No candidates' names were mentioned!) Once again, I was surprised at the name recognition for Nuns on the Bus.

We continued our “lemonade ministry,” often surprising passersby with an offer of free lemonade and leading to some great conversations about hopes and fears for this election cycle. Our afternoon workshop drew a really diverse group of participants – including many local nuns, “Mrs. Georgia,” (complete with a tiara) and her four daughters, a few local health center employees on their lunch break and lobbyists for the teachers union.

One component of our workshop is a “Human Bar Graph,” where we sisters pace off the steps that represent the wealth of each quintile of our population. The nun representing the top 20 percent got to take 12 steps forward to represent the 60 percent that their incomes have grown over the past 40 years. However, since I represented the bottom 20 percent, I have to take two steps backward to represent that this group’s income has actually decreased almost 10 percent in the past 40 years. When we broke it down further to the top 5 percent and then the top 1 percent, the figures were staggering.

The evening brought some of us back to the arena for the closing night of the convention. As hard as it is to believe, in a crowd of 20,000 participants, one of the nuns from Brooklyn found herself sitting next to a gentleman also from Brooklyn, and Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of NETWORK and Nuns on the Bus, found herself seated beyond one of the major donors for the Nuns on the Bus project. Again, it is hard to even begin to estimate how many pictures were taken, hugs were exchanged and how much gratitude was expressed for our work

Closing rally & Blessing

Our closing rally and blessing on Friday was held at a local Catholic High School, St. Joseph Prep. As always, we invited local participants to share their stories of efforts to “mend the gaps.” A local community organizer shared that when a group of clergy went to the Philadelphia Airport to advocate for living wages for the baggage handlers, the American Airlines executives whom they asked to meet with not only refused to talk to them, but had them arrested. When the police responded to the call and realized who they were, they were shocked and reluctant to actually arrest them, but American Airlines insisted. They were held for a few hours but released as soon as possible.

After a few other speakers, we invited everyone to sign our bus,  join us in blessing it and, more importantly, pray for all the thousands of people whose names were already inscribed on the bus.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Philly train station, waiting for the train home to New York City. I confess, that even for an extrovert like me, the past 10 days on the bus have been overwhelming.  So, I removed by Nuns on the Bus t-shirt and am traveling home anonymously!

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(July 27, 2016) Witnessing historic moment firsthand

Philadelphia streets alive with supporters

Sister Eileen Reilly's view Tuesday night from within the Democratic National Convention.

Excitement rose on the bus Tuesday as we began the two-hour drive down the New Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia, the site of the Democratic National Convention. When we arrived in the city before noon, the streets were alive with supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton – all eagerly awaiting the roll call vote scheduled for the evening.

We, Nuns on the Bus, presented a workshop for some of the convention participants. It was a modified version of the caucus that we had presented in every city along the way. We were please and amazed at how many people knew of us, recognized us and affirmed the work we were doing.

The credentialing process for the actual convention reminded me of the United Nations process. Several different credentials were needed to gain access to the various venues for the convention, so we were all walking though the site displaying several passes.

Thrill of hearing roll call, witnessing nomination at Convention

We arrived at the site just in time for the nominating speeches which were followed by the roll call vote. It was just like the movies! “The great state of . . . casts seven votes for Bernie Sanders and seven votes for Hilary Clinton." And so it went. After a very gracious speech by Bernie at the end of the roll call, Hillary became the official nominee of the party. We were there for this historic moment! What a thrill.

The remainder of the evening was a combination of speeches by supporters, appearances by celebrities and video presentations on some of the key issues. Perhaps the highlight was a presentation by the Mothers of the Movement – a group of mothers of children who have been murdered by police in the last several years. Their’s was a message of hope; a plea that not one more mother ever has to join their group.

One more time, local nuns offered a warm welcome and overnight hospitality to we Nuns on the Bus – and the good news is that we were closer to the site of the convention than most of the delegates!

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(July 26, 2016) Rallies, sharing personal stories 'raise up the gaps' in New Jersey, Pennsylvania

Left: Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, (far left) listens to presentations at a Nuns on the Bus stop at a treatment center in Newark. Right: Nuns on the Bus travelers (Sister Eileen is third from right) at New Life Assembly of God Church. (Photos courtesy of NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

Addressing the path to citizenship, living wages in Scranton

The 3½-hour ride from West Hartford, Connecticut, to Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Monday was the longest drive so far on this bus trip. It was a great opportunity to catch up on email, chat with the other nuns on the bus, enjoy the scenery and plan our strategy for our presence in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention. In addition, the NETWORK staff members riding with us provided such gracious hospitality with coffee and snacks and anything else we needed to keep us “fueled” for this bus ride.

In Scranton, we had a rally to "raise up the gaps" that are experienced there. A woman from Bhutan shared the story of her path to citizenship, and we heard about a recent study at the University of Scranton that looks at what would constitute a living wage in the Scranton area.


Sister Eileen Reilly (center) poses with members of a local youth group who attended the rally in Newark. (Photo courtesy of NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

Touring a treatment center, holding a rally in Newark

Our next stop was Integrity House in Newark, New Jersey, the largest residential addiction treatment center in the state. The caring, family-like environment there was amazing, especially given the size of the program. The director there identified a huge “gap” when he explained to us that residential drug treatment is not covered by Medicaid. This gap became very real when a few of the residents shared their experience of finally realizing they needed help, only to be told by other treatment centers that since they were on Medicaid, they could not come until they had the funds to pay for their treatment.

Several of the staff and residents of Integrity House accompanied us to our next stop, a rally. The event had been scheduled in a local park in Newark, but as the day went on, the weather forecast convinced us that would never work. When all of our phones pulsed with flood watch alerts, we knew we had made the right decision to move the rally indoors. With only a four-hour notice, Father Luigi Zanotto welcomed us to nearby St. Lucy Church and opened the event with a prayer that deeply touched all of us as we sang the refrain, “Let My People Go.”

Once again, local residents shared the gaps that touched their lives, including wage theft, a situation in which employers do not pay the promised wage or neglect to pay overtime rates to those working more than 40 hours a week. When we came out of the church, we were greeted by a beautiful rainbow – and a wet bus. Those attempting to sign our bus had to dry a spot first!

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(July 25, 2016) - Meeting with Connecticut congressman, reviewing virtues needed for this time

The Nuns on the Bus travelers met over brunch with U.S. Rep. John Larson (far left) and other supporters in Connecticut on Sunday.
 (Photo courtesy of NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

Sharing concerns over brunch with U.S. Rep. John Larson in West Hartford

Sunday on the Bus was unique. We began the day with a brunch hosted by a congressman from Connecticut – U.S. Rep. John Larson. Over the years, Larson has been very supportive of NETWORK and Nuns on the Bus so he welcomed us to his district in West Hartford and invited other sisters in the district to join us.

Meeting with Moral Monday Connecticut

Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, greets supporters of the Nuns on the Bus tour in Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo courtesy of NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

The brunch was followed by a meeting with a group called Moral Monday Connecticut. They describe themselves as a group that “gathers voices in the struggle for freedom and justice for black and brown people…supported by people of faith.”

One of the members touched me deeply when – in talking about the inequalities in the school systems in Connecticut - she said, “I would gladly give up French classes for my son in kindergarten here in West Hartford so that the high school students in Hartford could have science text books."

Caucus at Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center, West Hartford

As always, we ended the day with a caucus. This one was our largest so far, with an overflow crowd of more than 250. Each caucus ends with an invitation by Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, to embrace the four virtues needed for our time.

Joy is the first virtue she mentions. She reminds us that if we are to invite others to join us in the quest for justice we must convey joy in the struggle. The second virtue is Holy Curiosity – the curiosity that invites dialogue. Simone suggests that our conversations in the grocery store line could be about more than the weather and sports. She proposes asking the next person in line what they think about living wages or homelessness.

Her third virtue for our time is Sacred Gossip. Sacred Gossip includes sharing the stories of those who are struggling for justice as a way to make the struggle about more than statistics. An example of sacred gossip is the story of John from Erie, Pennsylvania, who told me that although he is working, he lives in a tent in the woods because he never can save enough money to pay a security deposit on an apartment.

Her final virtue for our age is Do Your Part. She cautions us that too often we act as if we must do it all. Rather we are each invited to do our part.

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(July 24, 2016) - Hometown connections, living wage, steps that mend the gaps highlight Saturday's stops

Rally on the lawn of Boston College High School

Above: Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, (left) introduces Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, at a rally in Boston. ( Photo courtesy of Sister Mary Lou Simcoe, SUSC)

Right: Watch Sister Eileen's speech in Boston. (Video courtesy of Sister Joanne Gallagher, CSJ)

I was thrilled to be with the Nuns on the Bus on Saturday morning for the first-ever visit to Boston, my hometown. As the temperature rose into the 90’s, the huge crowd that had gathered moved their chairs under the awnings we provided or under the nearby trees. Although dispersed across the lawn, the crowd of a couple of hundred people was engaged and enthusiastic as we presented our “Close the Gap” program.

As always we begin with some local people sharing the stories of the gaps they experience and the steps they are taking to close them. The “Fight for $15” campaign shared the story of working for a living wage, and hopefully in the future, a $15-an-hour wage. A speaker from the local Catholic Worker House not only shared their stories of struggle but also provided lunch for the Nuns on the Bus from the bakery/café they have opened in what was once one of the most blighted areas of the city.

We, Nuns on the Bus, take turns speaking at the various events, and since we were in my hometown, I was happy to be one of the speakers, sharing why we ride the bus and what we are learning. It was great to share the event with family, high school classmates, friends and many nuns I knew from my days in Boston.

McAuley Ministries site visit in Providence, Rhode Island

A short bus ride to Providence, Rhode Island, brought us to McAuley Ministries for our next site visit. The Mercy sisters sponsor three ministries that serve those in need in south Providence. We visited McAuley Village, a program of transitional housing for homeless women and their children. Clearly, “Sister Joan,” who was lovingly mentioned by so many women we talked with, offers a supportive presence to the women and children there. The other ministries include McAuley House, a meal site and social service center, and The Ward-robe, a thrift store which provides clothing and household items.

We enjoyed dinner at Amos House which is celebrating “forty years of helping people help themselves.” Their campus of 14 buildings includes a restaurant, supportive housing, a mother-child reunification center, a 90-day recovery program and job and literacy training. One of the three men I sat with for dinner asked me to pray with him since his wife had just died. As I ended the prayer, one of the other men said, “I think some of that rubbed off on me.”

Caucus at St. Michael the Archangel in Providence

As we arrived at St. Michael Parish for our caucus we were welcomed to the tune of When the Saints go Marching In by the Extraordinary Rendition Band. As always, we had a lively discussion about the gaps and the steps that might mend them.

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(July 23, 2016) - Song, storytelling help bring into focus the suffering caused by 'gaps'


Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, (standing fourth from left) at the caucus in Manchester, New Hampshire.


Sister Eileen Reilly talks with participants at the caucus in Manchester. (Photos courtesy of NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

Rally at the New Hampshire state capitol

As we continued down the road with the Nuns on the Bus, we visited Concord, New Hampshire, on Friday morning for a rally at the state capitol. We were greeted by a local musician who had composed a song just for the occasion. Here is the chorus from the song: (sung to the tune of “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep”)

We’re all riding with the Nuns on the Bus
We’ve got issues that we need to discuss
Get on board and ride with us
Now’s the time to mend the gaps

Several of the verses touch on issues like voting rights, housing, student loans and “the one percent.”

The rally was a great illustration of the power of storytelling. We nuns can identify the gaps that need to be mended, but when a single mother tells the story of having to choose between working and paying a large portion of her salary for daycare or staying home and raising her own children, the gaps become real. When an African-American college student told us she carries her student ID in front of her driver’s license in her wallet in case she gets stopped, we knew that the racism gap is real – especially for whites like us who would never have thought of such a thing.

Public housing tour, Manchester

In the afternoon, the Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP) of New Hampshire invited us to visit a public housing development in Manchester composed of 250 units which are occupied by an extremely diverse community. Some of the residents there proudly described their newly organized Resident Council which has developed a “homework club” for students, English language classes for adults, and some social activities for the whole community. It was so encouraging to hear them describe the very positive relationship they have developed with the local police department.

Caucus at Holy Cross Center (St. George Manor), Manchester

The evening brought another caucus, which reflected some of the uniqueness of New Hampshire. My role at the caucus was to facilitate the discussion on tax justice. The participants shared that since New Hampshire has no income tax or sales tax, property taxes are the state's biggest source of revenue. This can be a huge burden for those who are retired, on a fixed income and who need to continue to pay the same tax on their property. They also noted that New Hampshire has an extremely large state legislature with 320 members who are each paid less that $120 a year. This means that only those with enough wealth to do this job for almost no pay are able to be in the legislature.

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(July 22, 2016) Understanding first-hand experiences, hardships and actions because of 'gaps'

The Nuns on the Bus rolled into Albany, New York, on Thursday where they were greeted by a crowd at the steps of the New York Capitol. Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, who is traveling with the bus, is on the far left in the first photo.
   (Photos courtesy of NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

At the New York State Capitol Building

“Mend the Gaps” became so much more than a theme or a slogan when we gathered on the steps of the New York State Capitol Building in Albany on Thursday and listened to Albany residents share their stories of the gaps they were experiencing, and in some cases, the steps they have taken to mend them.

After years of wishing for better public transportation, the citizens of an Albany neighborhood formed an organization called A Village Inc. Willy White, its director, told us that for the residents of his neighborhood, the 1.3 mile steep hill that separated them from the local hospital was without bus service for years. After collecting thousands of signatures on a petition, they succeeded in pressuring the city transportation authority to provide bus service. Since its inception a few years ago, it has become the most used bus line in the city.

Eloy, a Mexican farm worker who has been in the United States for more than 15 years, works 12 hours a day, six days a week and still struggles to survive. Martha, also from Mexico, came to be with her husband, a farm worker in a similar situation. She was deeply concerned about his health because of the long hours he works.  Coming to the United States also meant leaving their older daughter back in Mexico. She struggles daily with the gaps in our immigration laws which don’t allow her to go back to Mexico or for her daughter to come to New York.

Sister Eileen Reilly (left) meets with community members at a parish potluck in Bennington, Vermont.

Amanda, who works for minimum wage in the fast food industry, was pregnant with her second child when she was told she was not entitled to any medical leave and would have to quit her job when she gave birth to her child. Similarly, her mother lost a job when she needed to care for Amanda’s grandmother who was critically ill.

Congressman Paul Tanko and the mayor of Albany, Cathy Sheehan, both offered warm words of support for our efforts to encourage people to join in mending the gaps. As Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, often reminds people, these gaps are caused by poor policies – so they can be mended by good policies. Those who turned out for this rally were thrilled to walk down the block to add their signatures to our bus and to commit to doing their part to mend the gap.

At Sacred Heart St Francis de Sales Parish Center

After a scenic drive to Vermont, we were welcomed to the Catholic parish in Bennington for a potluck supper with the local community on Thursday evening. This informal gathering at which we mixed with the parishioners gave us opportunities to answer their questions about Nuns on the Bus. (Do you sleep on the bus? No. Is there air conditioning? Yes. Are you exhausted? No.) We were also able to share some of the stories we heard at other sites about gaps and challenge these Vermonters to do their part to help mend the gaps. They too added their names to the bus as we climbed back on for our trip to New Hampshire.

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(July 21, 2016) Conversations, testimony and dialog with congressmen, health care workers, SSNDs

Right: Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, organizer of the Nuns on the Bus trip, talks to the participants at the caucus in Rochester, New York. Behind her are the other bus riders, including Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND (third from left).

Below: School Sisters of Notre Dame at the caucus included (starting second from left) Sisters Evelyn Breslin, Mary Smith, Janice Nadeau and Miriam Therese Roncinske. Also present was Sister Mary Lou Brien. (Photos courtesy of NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

At Saint Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral

The sculpture of the Homeless Jesus on a bench outside the Episcopal Cathedral in Buffalo, New York, was the gathering place for Nuns on the Bus and our supporters on Wednesday. An enthusiastic crowd including Congressman Brian Higgins of Buffalo joined us for a rally. 

As we continue our journey to “Mend the Gaps,” Higgins shared a recent conversation with Congressman John Lewis, the pioneer civil rights advocate who led the famous march in Selma more than 50 years ago. Lewis said that his determination to work for racial justice happened right there in Buffalo. As a young boy, Lewis spent the summer in Buffalo with his grandmother. Having been raised in the south, this was the first time Lewis saw whites and blacks working side by side. At age 11, he resolved that he would work for racial integration in the south to close that gap between blacks and whites.

We also heard moving testimony from a woman who is organizing hospital workers to lobby for better staffing to enable them to perform their jobs more professionally. One of the workers shared that after having a miscarriage, she still felt it necessary to go to work the next day because she couldn’t let her co-workers down. If she didn’t report for work, it would be only two nursing assistants caring for 46 patients, and even the three of them caring for 46 was a big stretch.

At St. Joseph's Neighborhood Center and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

On Wednesday afternoon, we visited St. Joseph's Neighborhood Center in Rochester, New York, which provides health care for those who are uninsured. When I asked about their staffing, the director told me that they had 18 employees and 250 volunteers! Those volunteers include medical professionals from many different disciplines so the center can truly provide for almost all the physical and mental health needs of their clients in one location. 

On Wednesday evening, our caucus was at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School with an overflow crowd. Once again, we invited the participants to name the gaps in their city and then to join us in envisioning how to “Mend the Gaps.” One of the gaps named was the “intentional silence” that can often surround the controversial issues. We Nuns on the Bus hope and pray that our journey and our stops along the way will break open some of that silence and promote true dialogue. 

School Sisters of Notre Dame in Rochester also attended the caucus event to support the Nuns on the Bus. They included Sisters Evelyn Breslin, Mary Smith, Janice Nadeau, Miriam Therese Roncinske and Mary Lou Brien.

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

(July 20, 2016) Identifying gaps and naming policies that could mend them


Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, talks to participants at the caucus in Erie, Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of NETWORK/Jennifer Wong)

The journey of the Nuns on the Bus includes opportunities for sisters to rotate on and off the bus as their schedules permit.  I joined up with the group in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday and will be with the bus for the rest of the tour.

"Mending the Gap" is the theme this year. So, in each city we visit we try to assist the residents to identify the gaps in their city and begin to talk about how they might work to mend those gaps. Our visit to Erie began with a visit to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church which hosts a soup kitchen for the people of Erie. While there, I spoke with a gentleman who told me that he lived in a tent in the nearby woods. He is employed but working at minimum wage, and he is never able to save enough for a security deposit on an apartment. 

At the caucus later in the evening, the people of Erie identified gaps around living wages, family friendly workplaces, health care, citizenship and tax justice. We encouraged them to begin to name the policies that would help mend those gaps. 

The Benedictine Sisters of Erie offered us overnight hospitality in their gracious Benedictine tradition. 

- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND


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