Sister Rita Clare Gerardot (far left) shares her life story of being “blessed and encouraged to act justly, love tenderly” at the Gathering in Solidarity at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

My favorite Scipture passage is Micah 6:8: “Act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God.” My parents, Lillian and Henry Gerardot, exemplified this passage by the way they lived. Mom not only cared for the ten of us but also her own mother during the last years of my grandmother’s life. Mom was very involved in the St. Louis parish where she played the organ and directed the adult choir for 50 years until the doctor forbade her climbing the stairs to the choir loft. She was often seen at the piano when social events in the community included entertainment. Mom loved tenderly and walked humbly.

Raising a family of 10 during the depression years was no easy task and was accomplished because my dad was not only a farmer but also an employee at the lnternational Harvester Co. in Ft. Wayne. When my dad and several other employees witnessed men being fired and new men hired, they realized that the company was being unjust because newer employees without seniority meant the company reduced its payroll. They were also aware that safety precautions were not being followed. This small group of men decided that a union was necessary to protect workers’ rights. I remember my dad standing at a mirror practicing the talk he was giving at a Union meeting. Due to their efforts, the Harvester became unionized in the early 1940s. ls. 1:17 tells us: “Make justice your aim; redress the wronged.” Dad and his buddies were following this command. This was a powerful lesson for me concerning justice.

As a member of the Sisters of Providence for 72 years, l have been blessed and encouraged to act justly, love tenderly. When the first Congregat¡on Peace and Justice Committee was formed, I became a member.

We tackled a number of social justice issues. ln 1999, when I was asked to consider visiting a man on death row at the federal prison in Terre Haute, I gave this serious thought and prayer. This has led to a friendship with a man spanning 18 years. I have learned a lot from him, and I believe I have brought joy and hope to a man who could be just a number in the prison system. Many of our sisters and some Providence Associates are involved weekly or monthly in prison ministry. The Sisters of Providence continue to work and pray for the abolition of the death penalty. Each month we post the names of those scheduled for execution in the U.S. These persons are remembered at the daily liturgy.

Our community has always been involved in social justice issues, the death penalty being one of them. I used to meet monthly with a local group at 7th and Cherry Streets in Terre Haute displaying a very large banner denouncing the death penalty. Some who passed in cars would wave and honk while others expressed their displeasure in ways that were not affirming. At each of the three executions that have taken place at the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, a large group, including Sisters of Providence, gathered on the prison grounds in silent prayer hours in advance of the 7 a.m. scheduled time for the execution. Once it was announced that the execution had been carried out, we formed a circle and a minister led us in prayer. Then we dispersed in silence.

For years, Sisters of Providence have been present at the annual November gathering at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia, where the School of the Americas is located. This is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers supported by American tax dollars. The graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC have left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned. This has always been a peaceful protest. One year, three Sisters of Providence along with 90 other people crossed from the roadway onto government property. We were immediately arrested and handcuffed. This led to our spending a night in the local jail. That was an unforgettable experience! Later when I brought pictures to show to a group, some individuals turned away, not wanting to look at the pictures. This was a clear indication to me that they did not approve of our actions. One of our sisters spent six months in prison for her protesting in Georgia. She has not been deterred but continues to work for justice and peace.

We have just completed the Year of Mercy so designated by Pope Francis. In one of his books he tells us and I quote: “l believe that this is a time of mercy. The Church is showing her maternal side, her motherly face, to a humanity that is wounded. She does not wait for the wounded to knock on her doors; she looks for them on the streets; she gathers them in; she embraces them; she takes care of them; she makes them feel loved.”

A favorite prayer of mine is the Litany of Non-Violence. I pray often: “Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain. Grant us the desire and the humility to listen with special care to those whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own. Deliver us from the silence that gives consent to abuse, war and evil. Grant us the desire and the courage to risk speaking and acting for the common good.” We are here today speaking and acting for the common good of all citizens. Together WE CAN build a culture of compassion and justice.