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Sister Kathleen on the pages of Rolling Stone magazine

Sister Kathleen Desautels is known for many things.

She has been arrested many times for “acts of non-violent civil disobedience,” including being charged for trespassing on federal property at Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia as part of a peaceful protest aimed at calling attention to perceived civil rights abuses by the U.S. government. She served six months in a state prison for that action. She was also featured in the 2012 documentary, “Band of Sisters.”

Sister Kathleen Desautels ministers in social justice ministry at 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago.

Sister Kathleen Desautels ministers in social justice ministry at 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago.

Sister Kathleen, or “Kak,” as many call her, was also featured in a February 28, 2013, article in Rolling Stone magazine.

While Rolling Stone is known for its pieces centered on entertainment, it has delved into the political forum. Writing pieces evolving around issues within the church is not common, however.

The article, “The Sisters Crusade,” written by Mark Binelli, discussed how many sisters across the United States felt at the time of the Vatican’s investigation of women religious congregations.

“My understanding from (Binelli) was that the publisher of Rolling Stone was outraged by this investigation,” Sister Kathleen said.

The magazine article also featured Sister of Social Service Simone Campbell and her work with NETWORK, known for its Nuns on the Bus tours. Sister Simone is the executive director of the organization.

Sister Kathleen ministers at 8th Day Center for Justice, based in Chicago. The center was founded in 1974 by six congregations, including the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. The goal for the organization is to have religious congregations join together resources to promote social teachings of the church.

Sister Kathleen said Binelli was visiting Chicago and came upon the center. While there, he wanted to discuss the investigation and she was a willing participant.

Speaking up for justice

She meets with actor Martin Sheen at a breakfast for International Worker Rights Day sponsored by ARISE-Chicago.

She meets with actor Martin Sheen at a breakfast for International Worker Rights Day sponsored by ARISE-Chicago.

“At the time, the Vatican spokespersons and some of the United States Cardinals were probably the ones who prompted or promoted the investigation,” she said. “They were critical of sisters who were doing social justice work.

“That was the environment in which this magazine wanted to do the article, on a variety of sisters who were doing social justice work.”

After the Rolling Stone article was published, the sisters received so much support, Sister Kathleen said.

“I think for the most part, people were surprised that Rolling Stone published the article,” she said, “and they were delighted that they picked up the story because I think it reflected what a lot of people who were Catholics and/or former Catholics and supporters for 8th Day and religious communities were thinking. They were absolutely surprised and quite supportive.”

Sister Kathleen said her brother “got a kick out of it” and made a plaque for her to commemorate the moment.

The result of the exposure? Well, Sister Kathleen said it was not expected.

“Many Catholic women and men in the pews were very upset,” she said, referring to the investigation. “There were so many petitions and letters. It got bad press for the Vatican, really, here in the United States.”Following the Rolling Stone article, many columnists – including The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd – picked up where Binelli left off.

“The topic they covered is not easy,” Sister Kathleen said. “There were a number of opinion pieces in large metropolitan newspapers and magazines. I think Rolling Stone was certainly helpful with this. The investigation was a political issue in the church.”

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

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