Another way to Occupy Wall Street: meet the Sisters of St. Francis

They’re finally getting their due, in the pages of the New York Times:

Not long ago, an unusual visitor arrived at the sleek headquarters of Goldman Sachs in Lower Manhattan.

It wasn’t some C.E.O., or a pol from Athens or Washington, or even a sign-waving occupier from Zuccotti Park.

It was Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. And the slight, soft-spoken nun had a few not-so-humble suggestions for the world’s most powerful investment bank.

Way up on the 41st floor, in a conference room overlooking the World Trade Center site, Sister Nora and her team from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility laid out their advice for three Goldman executives. The Wall Street bank, they said, should protect consumers, rein in executive pay, increase its transparency and remember the poor.

In short, Goldman should do God’s work— something that its chairman and chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, once remarked that he did. (The joke bombed.)

Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.

The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.

”We want social returns, as well as financial ones,” Sister Nora said, strolling through the garden behind Our Lady of Angels, the convent here where she has worked for more than half a century. She paused in front of a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. “When you look at the major financial institutions, you have to realize there is greed involved.”

The Sisters of St. Francis are an unusual example of the shareholder activism that has ripped through corporate America since the 1980s. Public pension funds led the way, flexing their financial muscles on issues from investment returns to workplace violence. Then, mutual fund managers charged in, followed by rabble-rousing hedge fund managers who tried to shame companies into replacing their C.E.O.’s, shaking up their boards — anything to bolster the value of their investments.

The nuns have something else in mind: using the investments in their retirement fund to become Wall Street’s moral minority.

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19 responses to “Another way to Occupy Wall Street: meet the Sisters of St. Francis”

  1. There was a time several centuries ago when nuns were not allowed out of their convents. Then, new orders were formed and, as a result, nuns were involved in schools, colleges, hospitals, and all kinds of social ministries. This involvement by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia is just one further step in the evolution of women in religious life and their committed to ministry. I am proud to have taught with such women and to have an aunt and sister among them.

  2. I just finished reading this story on the Times website and came right here to see if Deacon Greg had picked it up yet!! I am proud of these women and all the people who support them – I too would like to chip in! God Bless your work Sisters.

  3. I would be interested to see how they resolve the dispute over building a pipeline for oil from Canada. Virtually all those groups and organizations concerned about unemployment and creating jobs for the poor as well as being competitive in the world market (both unions and business interests) are strongly for the pipeline. But virtually all the environmental groups are vehemently against the pipeline.
    The only trouble with orders of religious getting involved in business politics is that many in the public will automatically equate their choice to support must be the “good guys” and those on the other side of the question the “bad guys.”

  4. It is good that the sisters are doing what they do. Unfortunately, their success will be meager as long as fund managers are more interested in seeing the value of their shares increase than anything else; and it is almost impossible for them to want anything else, since that is what investors want — making it the measure of their success. If individual investors made up the majority of the shareholders, it would be possible to appeal successfully to them on issues such as executive compensation.

    Like Deacon John Bresnahan, I’m not sure that every “pro-environment” position is truly wise, given all the factors involved: some “environmentalists” seem to be automatic opponents of any proposal that would generate more energy. But some concerns are valid. On balance, I’m glad the sisters are doing this.

  5. What a nice thing the sisters are doing, even though they’re pro-choice, I like them.

    [Where does it say that they’re “pro-choice”? Dcn. G.]

  6. There’s something about this story that just doesn’t sit well with me. While over all I believe the nuns are (or at least think), they are working for the greater good, I’m not convineced that they actually understand business enough to make what may be unreasonable demands, especially the “why” of what may seem to many to be an “excessive CEO salary.”

    At worst, it comes off to me like a mix of “left wing Catholicism” with misunderstood social justice, much like the nun who “earned her pen” at the Obamacare signing; for sure “way too political” for Catholicism.

    Even more so, I”m not convinced this is the role of a nun, perhaps more like a wanna be bishop.

    All said, most reasonable people are against greed and for workers’ rights, but something about this approach just doesn’t sit pass the smell test, at least IMO.

  7. “All said, most reasonable people are against greed and for workers’ rights, but something about this approach just doesn’t sit pass the smell test, at least IMO.”

    Are you open to the possibility that it might be you, not the sisters, who need their “smelling sense” adjusted?

  8. I think there is something to be said for religious sisters, especially those who work directly with at-risk populations (poor, sick, etc.), witnessing Christian values in the halls of power. I would argue that this is a far more effective witness than well-heeled bishops writing documents that won’t get read by those who can really make a difference.

    And I agree it would be even more striking if Sr. Nora was in a habit.

  9. If you look at their website, not a word about the most pressing human rights issue of our time -abortion, over 3000 babies murdered per day.

    Thankfully, these left wing nun groups are dying off and the more faithful ones seem to be thriving.


  10. “Thankfully, these left wing nun groups are dying off… .”
    What a nice way to put it! (Spoiler Alert: That was sarcasm on my part.)

  11. “Thankfully, these left wing nun groups are dying off and the more faithful ones seem to be thriving.”

    More faithful to what, David? The Faith, or your interpretation thereof?

  12. Frankly, I do not have an issue with nuns or other religious groups these nuns are affiliated with trying to get corporations to think of things other than the bottom line. They certainly spend most of their day focused on the bottom line. I find it interesting that some of the group in the investment arm are much more enviornmental in their goal while others are pushing soical issues which at times compete. I have also used some of the groups associated for investments very slectively because some of them are clearly more interested in liberal politics than others. I have done nicely with my investments with these groups so someone in the group is certainly focusing on the bottom line since their retirement funds are invested. Wonder who meets with them when their profits are up to their own retirement funds to talk about redistribution of this wealth? This is far from a Catholic group as it is pretty diversified. Also, there was a very large donation component to the Democratic Party and obama from these groups.

  13. Klare
    To be honest I tend to think a nun probably understands Catholic Social Teaching better than you or I. The suggestion that it comes off as “left wind Catholicism” is at best humorous. Much of the social teaching of the Church is relatively left of center. I find your characterization of this nun as a wanna be bishop to both degrade nuns and bishops. Each has a role to play in the church and I trust them to do it – even when I don’t agree. THe smell test that I think fails is your post when you accuse people of actions and beliefs and then offer no proof. This is the kind of behavior that makes it difficult for many non-Catholics to see the beauty of the Catholic Church and ALL of its teachings not just those you agree with.

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