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Election and inauguration reflections

President Barack Obama (Image is in the public domain.)

After the 2008 election and the inauguration of President Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2009, the Sisters of Providence were asked by the staff members of Archives to reflect on this event. The following are portions of their reflections. As you can see, the Sisters of Providence represent a cross section of the country.

Click here for Sister Barbara Battista’s eyewitness account of the inauguration.

Sister Judy Birgen

This presidential election was different for many reasons. For me, one of the differences was in perspective. I was in Uganda for the 2008 presidential election.

Since I ordinarily live on the south side of Chicago and am a registered Democrat, I have been an ardent supporter of Barack Obama. I remember when he was a member of the Illinois State Legislator [Legislature]. He supported the Illinois Hunger Coalition on several of our legislative endeavors including universal school breakfast and summer feeding programs.

Obama spoke at Chicago State University, where I teach, when he was running for U.S. Senator. I supported him then and, if I remember correctly, I gave my students extra credit for going to listen to his talk. I would have done the same for the other candidate if he had bothered to speak on our campus. He didn’t. Obama did. It was exciting to have an intelligent, articulate African American candidate running for Senator.

When Obama announced his candidacy for the presidency, it was almost unbelievable. I supported him and even gave a little donation through MoveOn.com. One Saturday I spent a couple of hours calling people trying to get their support for Obama’s candidacy. Some supported him, some were non-committal and others were Republican.

When I moved to Uganda in August I sent in the application for an absentee ballot which arrived in Nkozi, Uganda after the election. I had to go on-line to get a ballot to vote. Fortunately, the US Embassy was helpful in providing information to make voting easier. …

During the past few weeks, even now, I hear snatches of conversation that I don’t understand only to hear the word “Obama”. Ugandans, and many Africans, are truly excited about having an African American in the White House. It’s not just that Obama is African American, it’s that his father was Kenyan. Kenya neighbors Uganda, so in many ways it feels like Obama belongs to Africa.

Sister Donna Butler

I sensed that Obama could inspire people to reclaim their citizenship not only by voting, but by really participating in the ongoing decision-making process of government. Not only America, but the state of the world and the planet were compelling us to make a radical change in how our government operates. His being elected president is a watershed moment, certainly a profound moment of healing and pride for African-Americans, but a quantum leap for all of us. Having lived through the civil rights movement, I am so happy to be alive to see this moment.

This election tells me that transformation is wrought of many individual and group efforts that in time become a groundswell for change. It takes commitment for the long haul.

Sister Mary Pat Cummings

I was born in the mid twenties, grew up in the thirties and forties in New Albany, Indiana, a small Hoosier town on the Ohio River directly across from Louisville, Ky. Even as a child I was aware of racism. The blacks were located in the west end of town, the poorest section, but I knew they were there. I attended Holy Trinity School and was taught by the Sisters of Providence. I do not recall any reference to this problem in school by my teachers, but I was certainly aware of the unrest especially in Louisville.

Another vivid remembrance was of Father Bernard Gerdon, a young priest serving at Holy Trinity. Every Sunday he gathered a small group of blacks in the back of church for Mass after spending time instructing them during the week. The Sisters employed a black lady, Rosie, who did their cooking and cleaning. All of us knew her, liked her, and ran in and out of the laundry she hung up on the lines. We found it fun to find our teacher’s [sic] clothes and thought the number and name sewed on listed their age.

My Mother took us to a black, highly respected physician, Dr. Alexander, whose office was right next to one aunt and uncle’s home. All of our cousins went to him and he treated everyone in need regardless of race and financial standing. I remember him very well as I ended up in his office after falling off a bed post I had been told NOT to climb up on.

With these remembrances vivid in my mind I was delighted and excited about the election of Barach [sic] Obama as President. It was long overdue. I wish him the best. He has my support and prayers.

Sister Barbara Doherty

From the very beginning of this election time, I was for Barack Obama. I am a dedicated feminist, but I saw in Obama the only person who had the capability we desperately needed, if anyone could do it, to bring back our nation to some economic stability. The numbers out of work are the worst, even beyond the Great Depression of the 30’s, and daily more businesses are announcing their lay-offs. We’re really in dreadful times.

I was overjoyed when Obama won, not by three or four votes, but by a landslide. Perhaps then we could go forward. …

I’m not certain why many felt called upon to call him “African American” except due to the fact that he is one of the few that has a true African father and a true American mother. The latter was white. Thus Obama is a black/white president, and African/American geographically.

If “campaigning” means talking strongly about why I intended to vote for Barack Obama, then yes, I campaigned. I did work one day for the voters of Terre Haute and visited many homes to ask people to vote the Democratic ballot.

Sister Alma Louise Mescher

I have been involved in the struggles of the black people since 1965, so this is especially meaningful for me. …

In 1965 the Summer Community Organization for [and] Political Education (SCOPE) under the aegis of Doctor Martin Luther King [Jr.] and Hosea Williams together with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference asked students to work in twenty southern black countries [counties] to try to get enough blacks educated to vote. Sister Mary Jean [Mark, RIP] and I, together with seven students, spent ten weeks in Albany, Georgia. In 1968, Doctor Martin Luther King was assassinated. But today his dream has come true.

At first I was for Hilary [sic] Clinton, but when she dropped out of the race, I was very much for Barack Obama. He is a vibrant young man, intelligent and with many good ideas. At this time our country is at its lowest point in many years. I don’t expect Obama to work miracles, but he has chosen wisely the people in his cabinet. We all need to dust ourselves off and begin to help out. All of us, no matter of what political persuasion, have to work side by side.

This was my first inauguration to view. I was impressed by the two million or so people, who watched from many places, this historic happening.

Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara

I was very moved throughout the primaries, election day, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I felt like a wave of renewal was washing over us, an awakening of desire and responsibility of young people and many others who had not participated in the political process previously, an enduring hope in those who had been active.

In some ways, it reminded me of the hope I felt after Vatican II in the Church. It was as if our dreams, values, and spirituality were coming alive and being made more visible. …

The faces and stories of the people in the crowd moved me the most: the Tuskegee Airmen, persons who had integrated schools in Arkansas and Mississippi, freedom riders, and civil rights icons — the young and the old, all races and creeds who wept as Obama took the oath of office. And I remembered the faces and stories of people in the news media who were reporting the story but were moved beyond words and touched by the core by this transforming event.

Sister Susan Paweski

President Barack Obama! I was not sure during this long election that these would be words of history. I am elated! To say I feel hopeful and excited again for the country, and the world, sounds trite as this point since we have heard it said thousands of times already, yet, I am hopeful and excited. Obama’s election has energized the nation after so many dreams were dashed during the past eight years. His agenda to put the plight of the poor in the forefront bodes well for the tenor of his term. The environment, health care, education are all the issues that so many in the nation view as essential for our survival.

I pray daily for the success and safety of this new administration. I just celebrated by 60th birthday and this is the ultimate birthday present: President Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States of America. I am waving my flag again!

Sister Margaret Quinlan

On Tuesday, January 20, I turned on the television at 9:00 a.m. and watched almost all day until early evening. The dignified ceremony, leading up to the swearing in, the swearing in itself, and the celebration after, the dignitaries, Mr. Obama and his family, and most of all, the two million, give or take a few, in the mall were all astounding. The fact that I could join most Americans, and indeed millions of other people in other countries, to witness such a ceremony, was astounding. We watched C-Span most of the day. They encouraged people to call in with their reactions to the day. Many of the callers were children in classrooms or teachers in classrooms. What a wonderful experience for children to take part in. Whether they are Black children or white, immigrants or Native Americans, rich or poor, all should be inspired by this man. Over and over they said, “I know now I can be anything I choose to be.” That may or may not be true in the long run, but the possibilities are still wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Mr. Obama will not make everyone ecstatically happy, but I think he will do “the right thing,” as often as he can. I pray for him, for other people in power in our country, for all the citizens of the United States, and for peoples of all countries on our planet.

Sister Barbara Sheehan

This has been an historic year indeed. 2008 demonstrated that “we the people” are the people who can make a difference if we believe in ourselves and in one another. Yes, I was one of the people who worked during this election. I had a small part and yet a part as I volunteered and phoned people from the Obama headquarters in Chicago. It was an awesome volunteer experience, as most of my volunteer experiences are. What really was demonstrated this election year, however, was the positive power of community organizing in the manner in which Barack Obama and his people did. People were energized because they believed they could make a difference. …

The “thrill” of being the neighbor (2-1/2 blocks away) of the Obamas and the excitement of the people of Chicago was great. The day after the election I felt as if the entire city had given out a deep sigh and there was this sense of freedom and joy all around … the buses and trains were lively places for sure. That freedom of person to person seems to have lasted as well … there seems to be less tension among the diversity of God’s people here.

Sister Marie Agatha Vonderheide

Senator John McCain (Image is in the public domain.)

I voted for John McCain, not because I thought he was a strong Republican candidate but because he, rather than Obama, shared some of my beliefs.

Obama: “I am a community organizer at heart and that’s what taught me everything I know.” Let’s examine what community organizations have taught him, how they have impacted his life and shaped his political viewpoint.

As a college student, Obama was a liberal activist fascinated by the radical 60’s and influenced by his study of Alinsky, the foremost socialist. In Chicago, he worked himself up to be a trainer in the Gamaliel Foundation, a congregation-based community-organizing group known for its socialism. Its main objective was to bring together the left-leaning black churches for political action. Jeremiah Wright was spokesman for the Foundation; Obama was a member of Wright’s church for 20 years.

As with Wright, Obama denied his close relationship with William Ayers, the former Weatherman terrorist who bombed the U. S. Capitol, the Pentagon, and other American targets. Ayres was more than a neighbor; he helped Obama plan his presidential campaign. In November 2006, Ayres touted that there would be no better frontline for the Left’s revolution than the world’s classrooms. Will Ayres’ view on education influence the new administration?

The Association of Community Organizations Now (ACORN) prepared, groomed, and supported Obama’s campaign. Obama is a smart man, a quick learner, and an apt collaborator with leaders of ACORN whose goal is to change, i.e., revolutionize America. Obama’s mantra is CHANGE, and his basic method for change is the redistribution of wealth. Left-wing radicalism and wealth redistribution are contrary to our system of government.

ACORN members have already destroyed the banking system and the housing market, interwoven catastrophes. Members threatened bank managers in their offices and homes if they did not provide mortgages to low-income applicants. Ironically, Obama, along with Democrat senator Chris Dodd, received sweetheart-deal mortgages on their up-scale homes even during this crisis.

Yes, ACORN is an important player in Obama’s campaign and election. Members overwhelmed election headquarters across the country, bribing voters to vote for Obama A man in Ohio appeared on TV and acknowledged he was offered money to vote for Obama. One voter’s name appeared more than seventy times on a voting roll. FOX News reported that ACORN members scattered over twelve or thirteen states where they coached voters to flood applications and register illegal votes for Obama.

Most troubling is Obama’s pro-choice position. As senator, he voted “no” to the ban on partial birth abortion. During his campaign, Obama declared he wouldn’t want his daughter to undergo an unwanted pregnancy. Obviously, abortion would be the option. Even though many bishops pointed out the obligation of Catholics to respect life, many people believed that voting for a black president was more important than to choose the candidate with a respect-for-life position.

Now that Obama has been elected, I am glad that the Nation acknowledges the potential merits and abilities of a black president. However, I ask: Is he the right person for the White House?

Sister Regina Mary Wallace

I have a great hope and belief that Providence, upon Whom our Founding Fathers expressed complete trust, will become visible to all as the months and years pass. We have always tried to be small participators in God’s Providential designs but I think we will see greater things from now on, greater than we ourselves are capable of. I do not know how, but this is what I expect.

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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