Book Review: A Nun on the Bus

A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community

Sister Simone Campbell

Harper Collins Publishers; $25.99, 224 pp.

In an early chapter of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community, Sister Simone Campbell recounts the time she flew from Baghdad to Basra. This was in 2002, before the United States invaded Iraq. She sat next to an Iraqi businessman. After a bit of small talk, their conversation turned to the impending U.S. invasion. “I just want it over,” he said to her, tears glistening in his eyes, “We are dying slowly. Let it be over soon. Invade us. Get it over with…I have a child” (58). This encounter touched Sister Simone, inspiring her to write a poem. Soon, through e-mail, Sister Simone’s poem traveled back to the United States where her friends, family and colleagues read it and shared it with others. A private plane conversation became a space to expose human suffering, giving the experience power through the simple act of sharing a perspective and making it a story.

 

There are many anecdotes like this in A Nun on the Bus, Sister Simone Campbell’s new biography, published by Harper Collins Publishers. In fact, the whole book could be called an act of sharing. Sister Simone, a member of the Sisters of Social Service, invites the reader into both her spiritual life and her advocacy work, first as a family lawyer at the Law Center for Families in Oakland, California, and then as the Executive Director of NETWORK, the non-profit Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C. She shares her reflections on NETWORK’s involvement in the defeat of the 2012 Republican budget (also known as the Ryan budget), the Vatican investigation of Women Religious in the United States, and the highly successful Nuns on the Bus campaign. She also shares a theology of the Holy Spirit, original poetry, and NETWORK’s current platforms: living wages for America’s poor and middle class, affordable health care for all U.S. citizens and better immigration policies for the stranger. Sister Simone shares all of this freely, with energy and joy, hoping that the reader too, will be touched by her human experience and the struggles of those she serves. And in being touched, they will pass on these stories and work to make America a more just place to live for all.

 

The book is a lively historical document and a vigorous spiritual gift. It gives the reader a first-hand perspective of how 21st-Century American Catholics, especially women connected with religious communities, are seeking to use their faith and its strong emphasis on social justice to change U.S. social policies. And, through Sister Simone’s witness of words, A Nun on the Bus challenges the reader to consider how the Gospel’s message of human dignity and service to others informs her life, preparing her to always be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, nudging her to reach out and to do the work of God.

 

Editor’s Note: Sister Simone Campbell is currently working on a documentary called Nuns on the Bus—The Movie! Get more information about it here.