Franciscan Sister Believes Activism is Best Way to Make Change
Exhibition photo by Douglas Lloyd
Syracuse, New York, December 13, 2017 – Sister Pat Bergan believes non-violent protesting and civil disobedience are still the best ways to bring about change in the world today. She should know. She’s spent the past 30 years of her life fighting for justice for people who are poor, unwelcomed and for an environment in need of care.
“I think maybe the way our present government is going about many things has rekindled some of the activism. I do think maybe it’s a good thing, because it’s brought people together to say ‘No, this is not what America is, sending people back home and not being there for one another.’”
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She says the media’s extensive coverage of these demonstrations gets the protesters’ messages out to more people. “Protests today are very valuable because the media focuses in on them,” she says.
Sister Pat’s interest in protesting began in the 1980s when she made a Witness of Peace trip to Nicaraugua. The trip opened her eyes to the people of that part of the world and the injustices they suffered. Since that first trip to Central America, she has been back “probably four other times” to St. Andrew’s Church’s sister community in Nicaragua. Each visit has given Pat more resolve to speak up for others. She has “learned a lot from the people. They are your teachers. It’s been a good journey I have been on.”
Today, Sister Pat lives on the seventh floor of a building in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Syracuse. She serves as pastoral associate at nearby St. Lucy’s Church. “My focus now is on the poor and making sure they are well taken care of,” she says. “They are the gospel for us.”
Following the example of her congregation’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who lived with the poorest of the poor in Assisi, Italy more than eight centuries ago, Sister Pat is literally one in community with the poor. From volunteering at the parish food pantry and clothing store to visiting people who are sick and lonely, “I’m there with people who are experiencing poverty,” she says. “They are our teachers.”
Sister Pat says there are many ways people can advocate for change. “People might not realize they’re activists. Those that signed that letter for Nojaims [supermarket on the near west side that just closed] – that was an activist statement they made.”
Working for change is “taking part in what you feel called to… it’s being in tune with people, being there to support people,” she says. “Immigration is big and St. Lucy’s is studying sanctuary and what it means to be a sanctuary church,” she says.
As she looks toward the future, Sister Pat is hopeful about the role of activism. “I think maybe the way our present government is going about many things has rekindled some of the activism. I do think maybe it’s a good thing, because it’s brought people together to say NO, this is not what America is, sending people back home and not being there for one another.”
Editor’s note: In recognition of Sister Pat Bergan’s lifelong commitment to activism, the ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse, New York is featuring her in a photography exhibit entitled “Still the One.” The goal of the exhibition, which honors 27 women activists age 80 and older from central New York, is to share the wisdom of these elders and recognize those who persisted and made a difference. The exhibit runs through January 13, 2018.