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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Activist nun Donna Quinn has the floor in Chicago
by Liz Baudler

This article shared 866 times since Wed Nov 2, 2016
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The Chicago Women's History Center was excited to bring renowned activist Catholic nun Donna Quinn to the Cenacle at 513 W. Fullerton on the afternoon of Oct. 23. Mary Ann Johnson, the Center's president, placed Quinn's work in the context of the organization's recent focus on women community organizers. Quinn recently published a memoir about her work with Chicago Catholic women and signed copies of the book after the event.

The event began with a presentation by academic Heidi Schulmpf, entitled "Holy Mischief: Donna Quinn, Chicago Women's Religious and the Rise of Catholic Feminism." As a child, Schlumpf said she had absorbed many of the stereotypes about nuns. She added that it was only after she began working in the field as a reporter for a Catholic publication that she realized that "religious women are some of the strongest, most independent, feminist women."

In response to an audience question about why nuns in the United States are so outspoken, Schulmpf described early nuns as attracted to religious life because they didn't want to be held back by social conventions such as raising a family. She explained that in the '40s and '50s, religious orders ended up sending many nuns to college to keep them qualified to teach in schools. This created a generation of educated nuns who were exposed to second-wave feminism in the 1960s and '70s. Organizations like NCAN, or the National Coalition of Catholic Nuns, and Chicago Catholic Women, an organization of both nuns and outside Catholic women, fought for abortion rights and an increased role for women in the church.

In an interview with Maureen Hellwig, a CWHC board member, Donna Quinn, a NCAN member and CCW's founder, said she was influenced by what was going on around her in the 1970s: "Vietnam, Vatican Two, and Civil Rights," she remembered. Quinn grew up in Chicago's Canaryville, into a religious family. Her brother later became a priest, and Quinn constantly looked to his example as she entered a religious order, often surprised by the conservatism she found.

Schlumpf and Quinn explained that the genesis for CCW was partly in lack of women's representation. At a huge religious meeting in Detroit in 1976, of 17 people going to represent Chicago Catholics, only one was a woman, Schlumpf said.

"Over 100 women would appear at our meetings," Quinn rembered about the early days of CCW. Both Schlumpf and Quinn recalled lots of protests on the steps of Holy Name Cathedral, and Quinn remembered sneaking into Catholic conferences—which didn't allow the women's group—with media passes. Male reaction, Quinn said, "just gave the group more validity."

In a separate interview with Windy City Times, Quinn recalled speaking to NCAN about LGBT rights and working with CCW to get counselors in Catholic schools an education about LGBT issues. "The counselors were happy to get anything about it. They were just looking to absorb it, hear a different message from the one that's in the books," she said.

Quinn calls herself an activist. "That means, to me, working for justice wherever it is found. I don't think we've moved much at all in the church issues," she said. "Now, in societal issues, thank god, like the issue of racism, at least it's on the books. At least we got the marriage equality, and semblances of equality out of Springfield and across the United States. But as far as the church goes, I think it should hang its head in shame, because it has not responded to the needs of the people. The cry of the poor, the most downtrodden."

Quinn criticized the current Pope while acknowledging that under his reign, the Church is less likely to go after outspoken nuns.

"Francis does not do enough enough for women," Quinn said. "Women are not allowed to vote in the church. Women should able to elect the next Pope. We should be able to be to be at synods, the Bishop's meetings. They take on appropriate issues of our day, and so they discuss it, but in the end the pope takes what they've said and makes up new pronouncements or policies. We need to have that right to set policies, to discuss them, to say how it's meaningful to us."

In both her Windy City Times interview and her chat with Hellwig, Quinn saw expanding women's role in the church as crucial to its survival. "I mean, the church is just going to die away. 39% of people do not go to church. Young people don't pay any attention to it, it's lost its meaning for them. Until they call women equally, I don't see a lot of change in that," she said.

Quinn also alluded in both interviews to the ongoing election. "I was happy in the last debate, at the end of it Hillary did say reproductive rights, but also the rights of the LGBT community, " Quinn told Windy City Times. "was thinking the issue was almost becoming invisible. Now we've got marriage equality ... ho hum, let's take a break. Well, like racism, it's on the books, but it's not in the hearts. And we see that so often in this election."

In her interview with Hellwig, Quinn expressed frustration with nuns who want to go back to more traditional ways and who don't advocate for change. "Oftentimes, I'm in tension with nuns when they don't speak up," she told Hellwig.

"I think we have to have people that speak up, and we have to have a voice without being called in for dissent," Quinn told Windy City Times. "That's what they call it in the church, dissenting from those core pronouncements made by males only."

Quinn ended both interviews by reiterating the importance of women's participation in church processes and beliefs, such as giving women the right to vote in papal elections and respecting women's reproductive autonomy.

"I mean, we have to have a core of moral values," Quinn told Windy City Times. "And they have to recognize women's moral authority on these issues. We have to preach the right message, and that right message is on the side of justice for everyone."

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