In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week in March, women religious in the St. Louis area are asking others to stand with them on issues of social justice.
The St. Louis Catholic Sisters, a group of 14 congregations in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, are bringing awareness to the many ways in which women religious and their supporters stand up for issues in the community, including racism, immigration, human dignity, oppression and care for the earth.
These themes are featured on five digital billboards throughout the area and in messages on social media, using the hashtag #StandWithSisters, and at
“We’re asking not only to pay attention to what we’re doing, but to join us and be with us in this,” said Sister Rose Dowling, a Franciscan Sister of Mary.
Sister Glynis Mary McManamon, a Religious of the Good Shepherd, noted that the underlying message of these issues calls to mind a passage from the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus said, “whatever you did for the least of these, you did to me.”
“Everyone is included here — no one is excluded,” she said. “Those who are on the margins in particular, we are calling attention to them. We’re standing with them.”
Sister Maria Teresa de Llano, a Ursuline Sister of the Central Province, noted her community’s involvement in areas such as the English Tutoring Project, co-sponsorship of Marian Middle School, work with food banks, and incarcerated women, among many other ministries.
She moved to St. Louis in 2017 to serve on the Ursuline Sisters’ leadership team, after spending many years working in southern United States, most recently in the border town of Laredo, Texas, with refugees — mostly women with young children — who were granted temporary asylum. Sister Maria Teresa helped provide basic needs, including showers, clothing, meals, bus tickets and more.
“The biggest thing that touched me personally was listening to their stories, and the suffering and the pain,” Sister Maria Theresa said. “Most of them have more than one child but they only bring one or two — that’s it. The rest of the children are left behind … a lot of the members of the immediate family are left behind. And in the Hispanic culture, the family is so critical. To have made a decision like that was not at a whim. They’re very desperate situations. If we could listen to each other’s stories and put ourselves in their shoes, our attitudes would change.”
Care for the earth is another area of interest. Since 2014, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary have had a presence at West Lake Landfill, which has been contaminated with radioactive waste, and supporting groups such as Just Moms STL and Missouri Coalition for the Environment. The religious community also is involved in other efforts, such as the St. Louis Food Policy Collaborative, and in mission-related investing (also known as impact investing), through the Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative.
“It’s about telling the stories of how Catholic institutions or organizations have chosen not just to divest from fossil fuels and things like that but also invest, and help sustain a viable climate through things like forestry and farming,” said Sister Rose Dowling.
The sisters also are reaching others on social justice issues through the arts and highlighting the importance of human dignity. Sister Glynis Mary McManamon, a Religious of the Good Shepherd, founded Good Shepherd Arts Center in Ferguson in 2015. She saw it as an opportunity to heal divisions in the area — but it’s gone well beyond that.
Exhibits have ranged from Catholic school students and their works in recognition of Black History Month; an exhibit of art on Ferguson created by Ferguson residents; and a returning exhibit of work by women religious and priests. The current exhibit, “Beauty in Diversity,” shares the diverse lenses through which people view themselves and each other.
“The whole point is to just stop for a moment and look through the lens of another person,” Sister Glynis said. “You do not have to agree or adopt their point of view. Just pay attention. These are human beings no matter what they do or don’t do, or are or aren’t. They have an integral right to be treated with dignity.”
Congregations participating in the St. Louis Catholic Sisters campaign:
Adorers of the Blood of Christ
Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul
Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, N.Y.
Franciscan Sisters of Mary
Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
School Sisters of Notre Dame
Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sisters of Loretto
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon
Society of the Sacred Heart
Ursuline Sisters of the Central Province