Sister Bea Leising on Social Justice
A fellow member of the congregation’s Peace and Social Justice Committee said of Sister Bea Leising, “If there’s a book about social justice, Sister Bea has read it.” For Sister Bea, a resident of St. Mary of the Angels region house in Williamsville, New York, social justice as she defines it halways been a part of her life. Here she talks about what it means to her and how she practices it in her life.
What does social justice mean to you?
“For me, social justice is a respect, a reverence for all of creation. That means the environment, all created elements, everything. How we live in harmony with everything, with all people. And when it comes to people, I feel they have rights that need to be recognized. They should be able to live a quality life, with access to health care, to education, to a decent place to live, to dignified work, to respect. I’m not just talking about the economically poor, either. It’s anyone who might be on the fringes of society — someone who is disabled or sick, perhaps someone who is addicted or someone marginalized because of their religious background, their ethnic background or their sexuality. Social justice is a respect and reverence for all.”
How did you become interested in social justice?
“My parents were people of peace and gentleness. We lived on a farm, so respect for all of creation, living in harmony, not wasting anything were important to us. And then, mom and dad would reach out to people, perhaps in our family or in our neighborhood that might be in need or on the fringes and help them, in quiet ways. I attended a Catholic grade school and they had a set of books that were on the lives of the saints and I believe I read every single book. What that did was stretch my horizon on social justice.”
How have you incorporated social justice in your life?
“For years we’ve had a peace and social justice committee at the region house and I was a member of it and later I chaired it. That committee does much, not just with legislation, but also to educate our sisters and people in the area, at neighboring parishes. We have had prayer services or educational things with social justice activities involved, like writing letters. The community has always encouraged this activity, this growing in knowledge, and membership in (justice-oriented) organizations. I’ve always been a reader so all of that developed my social justice reality.
It has reached into my ministries. For many years, the congregation allowed me to do volunteer work with an organization that worked with homeless adults. I was also on a board with an organization for refugees. I’ve given talks on living simply, on the environment, on peace, on refugees and homelessness and I’ve written articles to help educate and bring others to understanding.
Most recently, I was granted a life-long wish to live and work in our mission in Kenya, where I worked among the poor – children in our school and families who would come in need of food. And I grew in a better understanding of the faith and culture of the Islamic people.”
Do you have hope for a more just world when you look at what’s happening today?
“Our world is messed up. There’s so much in crisis, the number of wars that just keep going on and on, the racism, the widening gap between those who have and have not, the power plays of people in authority. All of this I find discouraging at times and I wonder ‘where is all this going? But when you really look carefully, there is good going on in the world. It just doesn’t get covered much in media. I’ve long been inspired by the Grameen Bank in India and the FONKOZE program in Haiti, both of them working in microfinance with poor women. Both of them educating, helping the women deal with money and budgeting and helping them to develop small programs that support their families and help them rise above severe poverty. This is amazing.
“Think of the times in the New Testament where we say ‘Thy kingdom come.’ It doesn’t say the kingdom’s here, it says it’s at hand. And St. Paul writes that all creation is groaning in labor pains. Creation is not finished. There is a continuing evolution. Through the Spirit God has empowered us to be co-creators in the on-going process. So, yes, I have hope in the coming of God’s Kingdom.”