Meet the nun who calls herself “the hostess of the protest”

While Chicago contends with anti-NATO protests, one person at the forefront of the activity is a woman with a lot of experience at this sort of thing.

She happens to be a Catholic nun.  Details:

If you watched Sister Kathleen Desautels on Sunday morning near downtown’s Petrillo Music Shell, you could tell she’s been here before. And not here in terms of the place. Buthere in terms of the moment — the time leading up to a big protest march.

At 74, the 5-foot-2 Catholic nun is a powerhouse. She served as one of the peace guides during the big anti-NATO rally and march from downtown to Cermak Road andMichigan Avenue. Her job was to help keep protesters calm and the procession moving.

Having been involved in hundreds of demonstrations in places as varied as Chicago, Decatur, Ill., Washington, San Francisco, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Haiti, she knows the terrain and the routine: You keep your cellphone on vibrate next to your chest so you can feel it — since you won’t be able to hear it ring — in case of an emergency.

You wear smart shoes and have the telephone numbers of the medics and the lawyers’ guild handy. And you know your rights.

“If a police officer comes up to you and says, ‘What are you doing here?’ you can say, ‘I’m going to remain silent,’” Sister Kathleen said, as she donned one of the fluorescent orange vests the peace guides were wearing.

“Or if an officer wants to pat you down, you can say, ‘I do not consent to a search, and I want to see a lawyer.’ They may continue to do it. But if it goes to court, you can say they didn’t have probable cause.”

Before the anti-NATO march began, Sister Kathleen reminded members of Iraq Veterans Against the War that because they were leading the procession, they needed to walk slowly to keep a pace that would prevent gaps.

“We don’t want provocateurs jumping into the gaps and causing trouble,” she explained to me, adding that nonviolent protests are the most effective.

“I like to think I’m the hostess of the protest. Some people want to cause trouble or get arrested, and you can’t stop them. But others are just solid gold people who are working to change things. Sometimes they’re anxious, and one of the jobs of a peace guide is to give them information to help them feel comfortable.”

Sister Kathleen represents her religious congregation, Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, on the staff at the Chicago-based 8th Day Center for Justice, a Catholic peace and justice organization whose mission is to shake things up.

“We’re not a social services agency, and we don’t do charity work,” she said. “But we’re called to be an alternative, critical voice.

“The disparity between the rich and poor, we’ve been working on that forever, along with issues surrounding immigration, labor rights, the environment, the prison system, police brutality, women and children, wars around the world. We at 8th Day believe they’re all interconnected.”

Read more.


  1. Call me a bigot but I prefer traditional nuns who do charity works or meditation.

  2. The poor you have with you always. Somebody said that once.

  3. I wonder how often she protests at Abortion clinics or if she has ever participated in the DC March for Life. And people wonder why the LCWR is being investigated.

  4. Barbara P says:

    Pope Paul VI said “if you want peace work for justice”. If more of us had protested before the Iraq War perhaps we could have saved thousands of innocent lives.

  5. Thomas R says:

    I’m not usually that sympathetic to nuns like this, but I like that she’s apparently about keeping it non-violent and not being about “causing trouble.” There are various issues you can support within the umbrella of being a nun and if this is as an example of sensible Left-wing protesting that’s good. I may not agree with her, but there are areas where it’s useful to hear what the other side says. And there are issues about poverty and war which should be of concern to Christians.

  6. I agree, Barbara. I cynically wonder, though, what good it would have done. Even with twice as much active protest, that administration seemed to have made up its mind, regardless of the wishes of the world, or its own fellow citizens. This current administration doesn’t seem that much better.


  7. Hi RomCath,
    Certainly, one can give good arguments for why protesting abortion clinics is needed work. I’m not sure, however, that one must choose between protesting a war-mongering organization or an abortion clinic, even if one ranks abortion as the greater evil. One could do both, or one could assume a ‘division of labor’ of a sort.

    Moreover, the LCWR is being investigated for heresy. Certainly, protesting at a NATO conference is not heretical.

    For my money, I wish this good nun was wearing traditional get-up. I think that would send a much more powerful message to her fellow NATO-protesting folks, and to those they are protesting.

  8. ron chandonia says:

    The good it would have done is this: it would have witnessed to the wider society that Catholic Christians do not just go along to get along, no matter where the train happens to be heading.

  9. ron chandonia says:

    The point of that passage is that followers of Christ always and in every age have the opportunity to serve Jesus in the person of the “least of these.” See Matthew 25.

  10. Good point!

  11. Tom McGuine says:

    As a retired police officer for 21 years and now a deacon for 20, sister’s comments on issues dealing with police officers when stopped at a protest demonstration will cause more harm than good. Does she not realize her suggestions to police when question only add to “probable cause?” By responding to the officers questions honestly, does she and her demonstrators not realize that by responding to the officers questions they could be on their way in short order. It would be better for sister to teach cooperation with authority rather than teach people how to give smart answers to police officers who represent the welfare of the people they serve.
    Veteran of the Watts Riots!

  12. lethargic says:

    “we don’t do charity work”

    Uh huh.

  13. I think that sums up one of the many reasons why many orders are failing. I believe that they have lost their way, such as the nun who acted as a Planned Parenthood escort and those whom support Melinda Gates.

  14. IntoTheWest says:

    I agree, Nate. I applaud her efforts and her role as a peace-keeper (especially since there have been some very tense moments, to say the least, during these protests), but I think she would be even more effective in her role if she was wearing a habit. Of course, one could make the argument that street clothes are more practical in these situations, especially if she is going to be patted down and/or arrested. But still, the habit tends to soothe in itself, IMO. Keeps both the protesters and the cops in line. I doubt a riot officer is going to beat a habited nun with his billy stick.

  15. MarieLouise says:

    Protest does not actually accomplish anything, since those in power do not listen. The only thing we can do to change foreign policy is vote for someone else.

  16. NATO has kept peace in Europe for decades. During the previous decades prior to NATO, we had two WW’s. They were formed to keep peace and to say they are war mongering is ignorant. What is a joke is the UN which has done nothing but give aid and comfort to the worst players on the planet. Peace comes through strength in the face of tyrants.

    I don’t remember hearing Christ protest Rome’s military power. He was not of this world and his kingdom is not of this world. It seems to me that priests and nuns who have a strong focus on helping us to find our way to heaven are much better connected to Christ than those who seem to think they are here to bring social justice to this world. A strong part of the Catholic faith tradition is just war which brings justice to those who have been deprived of it by the godless tyrants in our past. Thus the war in Iraq to remove a tyrant was worthwhile. One might argue the method or if we conducted the war to end not only the tyrants rule, but the false religion of radical islamists who have brought the world so much harm since it because part of the Islamic teaching. We refused to leave the Nazi people or beliefs in power or those of Japan military complex in place. I think Islamic radical teaching should have been eliminated from any country we were forced to go into to protect our people from harm. We are leaving it not only in place, but in stronger position and that is our failure. There is no place for Sharia law in our world any more than there is for radical Nazi teaching.

  17. irishsmile says:

    I checked out the LCWR website and was very disappointed. The primary thrust of their activity looks like ecology and foreign affairs. I saw nothing that stood-out as pro-life; more like political pro-socialism. I too remeber the wonderful sisters who taught my generation and I miss them.

  18. Midwestlady says:

    Right, out guiding neo-hippies and malcontents to their protests.

  19. Midwestlady says:

    And the invasion of Libya. Maybe you’ll get a chance yet, if we attack Iran.

  20. Midwestlady says:


  21. Without NATO, Europe would have become a Soviet Satellite, and since the USSR needed to expand in order to keep its economy from collapsing, it would have eventually have attempted to conquer North America. Since it didn’t conquer Europe, and instead collapsed under its own inertia, she’s forced to take the soft road to communism: pacifism and anti-capitalism.

    On the other hand, successive Popes called NATO forces, who were present in papal audiences, peace makers with a high mission – a mission that, thank God, not Sr. Cathy, they succeeded in.

  22. Um … not true! Not in the least. There is a long history of successful protests … the abolition movement, the the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, the pro-life movement, etc…, etc… . Those in power most certainly do listen. What history books have you been reading to conclude that “protest does not actually accomplish anything”?

Leave a Comment