Nuns on bus tour to protest federal budget-cut proposal

6/25/2012
BY MADELINE BUXTON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sister Diane Donoghue steps down from the 'Nuns on the Bus' in Toledo. The group is visiting nine states to protest the U.S. budget pushed by Rep. Paul Ryan.
Sister Diane Donoghue steps down from the 'Nuns on the Bus' in Toledo. The group is visiting nine states to protest the U.S. budget pushed by Rep. Paul Ryan.

It's not the kind of bus you'd expect to see every day. In fact, it's not a bus that has ever traveled the country before this month.

When the brightly colored "Nuns on the Bus" vehicle, emblazoned with the words "Nuns drive for faith, family and fairness," pulled up to the curb behind the Padua Center, it was met with enthusiastic applause, whistles, and placards of support from a crowd of about 40 men and women.

Many had traveled from across Ohio and Michigan to catch a glimpse of the sisters who have recently made headlines in their calls for social welfare and governmental reform.

"I think a lot of times people aren't aware of particular items in the budget," said Sister Virginia Welsh, the pastoral leader at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church and the director of the Padua Center, a Christian community-based presence at 1416 Nebraska Ave. that offers local education and counseling services.

"This is making awareness in a novel way. … Washington is in Washington, but we are affected by those decisions."

Organized by NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, and the NETWORK Education Program, the group of about 14 nuns -- who ride the bus in rotation -- are traveling through nine states to protest federal budget cuts proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.).

In planning the tour, NETWORK emphasized that Mr. Ryan's budget would have a particularly negative effect on already struggling families.

The organization cited tax breaks to wealthy individuals and decreased funding for health insurance programs for low-income individuals as two of the main problems in the proposal.

Sisters Simone Campbell, left, and Reg McKillip talk with Terry Crosby, educational director of the Padua Center, and 10-year-old twins Matthew, left, and Mark Henderson.
Sisters Simone Campbell, left, and Reg McKillip talk with Terry Crosby, educational director of the Padua Center, and 10-year-old twins Matthew, left, and Mark Henderson.

For some who attended the event at the Padua Center, which followed a mass at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, the nuns' words directly addressed the focus of their own work.

"The nuns have always reached out and provided programs for low-income groups," said Karen Krause, social justice chairman of Toledo Area Jobs with Justice and Interfaith Worker Justice Coalition, part of a national network that advocates for the rights of working individuals.

"The Ryan budget breaks the circle of protection around the poor and vulnerable," Ms. Krause said.

Since the nuns boarded the bus in Ames, Iowa, on June 18, they have spread their message to Catholic-sponsored social service agencies in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan while also visiting the offices of Mr. Ryan and Reps. Steve King, Joe Walsh, Joe Donnelly, and Justin Amash.

They are to conclude the 15-day tour on July 2 in Washington.

The trip came on the heels of a statement issued in April by the Vatican that criticized the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for concentrating its efforts on social justice and neglecting to denounce issues that include abortion and homosexuality.

Despite the proclamation, Nuns on the Bus, led by Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, is firmly rooted in issues of social welfare.

During her brief visit to the Padua Center, Sister Simone called on Sister Virginia and Terry Crosby, the educational director at the center, to speak about their efforts to aid the community.

Mr. Crosby emphasized the success of Padua Possibilities, an alternative school suspension program that provides educational support for youths in grades K-6.

Bev Bingle, right foreground, holds a sign with others who turned out to greet the nuns on the bus tour.
Bev Bingle, right foreground, holds a sign with others who turned out to greet the nuns on the bus tour.

"We're trying to make sure programs like yours have help from the federal government," Sister Simone said. "The reason we're on this big bus is to let everyone know about programs like yours."

She went on to encourage two young participants in the center's educational programming, 10-year-old twins Matthew and Mark Henderson, to send notes or drawings to Washington to reinforce the importance of governmental financial support for the center's efforts.

"It's really important that sisters all over the country are doing this kind of work," said Bev Bingle, of Toledo, who attended the event. "They never call attention to themselves, but they are seen as the backbone of the church. They keep us going."

Contact Madeline Buxton at: mbuxton@theblade.com or 419-724-6368.