Working for justice and peace through the lens of our CSJ spirituality

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The Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston have a long history of commitment to justice and peace. Our earliest ministry of educating immigrants in Boston set us on a path to empower marginalized people. In the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, sisters marched for voting rights and for peace and supported migrant workers in California by boycotting lettuce and grapes in local supermarkets. The work of justice continues today.

In 1972, a new structure emerged: the RNR Committee (Rerum Novarum Revisited) was established and remained in existence until the 1990s. Members of the committee met to discuss current issues, to devise ways to address them, and to educate the whole Congregation and invite them to action.

At the Chapter meeting in 1986, the Office of Justice and Peace was established to better coordinate our justice activities, and in 1987, Sister Patricia Lambert became the first director of the office (1987-2001). The mission of the office from the beginning was education and advocacy.

Pat brought many gifts and skills to this position, including her earlier experience at the State House. She had a deep commitment to justice and collaborated with every imaginable organization in the city of Boston, together with sisters from congregations in the area who supported one another in the work for justice. Pat was charged with implementing our corporate stance on Non-violence and Nuclear arms. She joined demonstrations against the School of the Americas and traveled to El Salvador with a delegation of election observers.

The second director of the Office of Justice and Peace was Sister Carole Lombard (2002-2012), a scientist and theologian by training and a lover of the earth by disposition. During her tenure in the position, Carole worked with an Earth Committee within the Congregation to educate all of us in the New Cosmology and promote our Corporate Stance on Behalf of the Earth (1992). In addition, she became skilled in shareholder resolutions and proxy voting. She appeared in many corporations' annual meetings to present resolutions on justice issues. In 2009, she worked with Congregation leadership to develop our Corporate Stance Against Human Trafficking.

Sister Helen Sullivan (2013-2016) became the third director of the office. Prior to serving in this position, Helen had been ministering in the Brighton-Allston area and had excellent connections and relations with local groups. Helen continued to bring issues to the attention of the sisters and to suggest advocacy and/or direct action to address them. In particular, on the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 31 years after our corporate stance against Nuclear Arms, Helen worked collaboratively with other organizations to call for nuclear disarmament.

Sister Betty Cawley, CSJ, assumed the position in 2016 after many years teaching at the high school and college levels and serving for 14 years as assistant president of the Congregation. She came to the position with over 20 years of experience in justice work on the RNR Committee and the Advisory Board of the Office. The name of the position was changed to justice promoter and Betty continued the work of education and advocacy around a variety of issues, working in collaboration with many religious and other coalitions. Betty has led the Congregation's involvement in the Laudato Si' movement, a global undertaking to turn the papal encyclical into a lived reality. As we continue our work toward creating a project for the Laudato Si' Action Platform, our choice of actions to address the goals of Laudato Si' will be guided by the interrelated principles of Environmental and Ecological Justice. We will do this through the lens of our spirituality, our ongoing concern for the respect of human dignity for all and examination of our lifestyle in keeping with the goals of Laudato Si'.

In August 2023, Sister Peggy Comfrey, CSJ, became justice promoter. Sister Peggy comes to the position with many years of experience in justice ministry with a number of groups. She will continue the work of the great women who have gone before her in this position through education and advocacy on the issues facing us as a society.

One of the most pressing issues facing us today is that of gun violence. Along with over 50 other communities of women religious, the Sisters of St. Joseph participate in a new coalition called "Nuns Against Gun Violence" to affirm the value of human life through prayer, education, and advocacy for the prevention of gun violence. Our commitment to empowering immigrant people throughout the years continues in collaboration with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy coalition as we try to work toward a more just and humane immigration system. Concern for families and children living in deep poverty is the basis for our involvement in the Lift Our Kids coalition, which advocates to meet the basic human needs of these families. The work of the office is an important way that we raise our corporate voice for justice.