Iowa nuns pledge to 'mend gaps'

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PHILADELPHIA — Just when I had written off the idea of finding Iowans volunteering with one of the advocacy groups in town for the Democratic National Convention, a group of wagon-pulling nuns rolled up and offered a cup of lemonade.

Needing to meet a deadline and in a hurry, I initially refused. The nuns persisted. They were sweet and kind, so I snapped a photo to post on Twitter with my thanks. But when I tried to post it, the only group with the “Nuns on the Bus” name I found was based in Ohio.

“Is this organization out of Ohio?” I asked.

“No,” a sister replied. “Is that where you’re from?”

I explained that I was a member of the Iowa media in town for the convention. She smiled brightly. “We have two sisters with us from Iowa.”

Some days, I guess, that’s how it works. The moment you stop running around, trying desperately to make things happen, the very thing you wanted appears on a hot sidewalk pulling a wagon of cold lemonade.

Sisters Marge Clark BVM and Richelle Friedman PBVM are part of the Dubuque community, although both now work as lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

Clark lobbies on behalf of Network, which was founded by Catholic sisters in the progressive spirit of Vatican II. She also taught at Dubuque’s Clarke University from 1985 to 2003.

Friedman, a native of Farley, is director of public policy for the Coalition on Human Needs. From 1980 to 1989, however, she taught math and religion classes at Regis High School in Cedar Rapids.

The two were on the sidewalk to hand out lemonade and talk to passers-by about “mending the gaps” and “reweaving the fabric of society.” That’s a more fancy way of saying the group wants to level the economic playing field in terms of taxes, wages, housing, health care and democracy.

They offer informational brochures with an attached pledge card.

“Come January, after the election, we will take these cards to members of Congress and tell them that they were collected from their constituents,” Friedman said. “It’s powerful when we can say that this is what your people support and maybe you should support these things too.”

Although Friedman and Clark won’t be on the entire tour, the group has planned to travel across 15 states. At the DNC, and earlier this month at the Republican Convention, they offered educational sessions to delegates and others.

Many times, however, the bus stops at organized rallies.

“That has been very humbling,” Friedman said. “All these people are gathered and they just cheer when we get off the bus. I’m just an Iowa farm girl, and not used to having people applaud me.”

When that happens, Friedman says she just wants to send it right back to the crowd.

“They are out every day doing work in food pantries, housing and other social services. My hat is off to them.”

The sisters say they are grateful to everyone who is out there, doing what they can to make the world better.

Friedman said, “Each of us has a role to play, and I think all of those roles are interconnected.”

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 339-3144,

Author’s Note: This column was updated on Sunday, July 31. It originally stated that Sister Richelle Friedman taught at Regis High School from 1980 to 1981, but the dates should have been 1980 to 1989.

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