Women stand with Little Sisters as U.S. Supreme Court hears case

| March 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

#LetThemServe

Linda Sitko, right, of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, dyes Easter eggs at the Little Sisters of the Poor Holy Family Residence in St. Paul with resident Eleanor Matczynski, left, and Sister Amy Kaiser during a day of service March 23. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Linda Sitko, right, of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, dyes Easter eggs at the Little Sisters of the Poor Holy Family Residence in St. Paul with resident Eleanor Matczynski, left, and Sister Amy Kaiser during a day of service March 23. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

As oral arguments were finishing in the U.S. Supreme Court March 23 in the Little Sisters of the Poor religious freedom case, women from the Twin Cities gathered in front of the community’s Holy Family Residence in St. Paul to stand in solidarity with the sisters and speak about women’s issues and religious freedom.

More than 40 women — a mix of young women, including mothers with children in tow, and middle-aged women — participated locally in a national day of service for the Little Sisters of the Poor, organized by Women Speak for Themselves, a national grassroots effort to show that women in the United States value religious freedom over access to insurance-paid artificial birth control.

“We come here today to pray with and for the Little Sisters, to highlight their witness to our community, to emulate their beautiful example and to tell our neighbors and our lawmakers —judges, representatives, the president and everyone — that we stand with the Little Sisters in their struggle for religious freedom in our United Sates,” said Kristen Grant, a local representative of Women Speak for Themselves and parishioner at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. “When it comes to religious freedom, it’s a good hint that you’re on the wrong side if you stand against the Little Sisters.”

The Denver-based Little Sisters, who operate nursing homes for the elderly poor, and 36 other groups are contesting the 2011 Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The Department of Health and Human Services has offered an “accommodation,” also known as a “work-around,” that allows objecting employers to acknowledge their opposition to contraceptive coverage by notifying HHS in a letter.

A third party would then provide the coverage. The Little Sisters and other plaintiffs object to that, calling it a burden on their free exercise of religion, because they are still involved in allowing coverage they find morally objectionable.

In St. Paul, the day of service started with a time of witness and prayer outside the main entrance of the nursing home, where the 10 women who served in the morning had gathered.

After Grant’s opening statement, each woman expressed her own solidarity with the religious community.

“I don’t know one employee who is disgruntled with their health care right now,” said Bobbie Hallman, a nurse at Holy Family Residence and member of Transfiguration in Oakdale.

Jeanette Leighton, a parishioner at St. Jude of the Lake in Mahtomedi who has a law background, said she was upset about the Little Sisters’ situation with the federal government.

“This is an egregious violation of the sisters’ rights,” she said.

Many participants also said they wanted to show support for the sisters because the violation of their religious freedom affects everyone.

“If the government is willing to go after the Little Sisters of the Poor, none of us will be safe from tyranny,” said Leslie Lynn, a parishioner at St. Agnes in St. Paul.

Grant organized the volunteers, who spent the day working side-by-side with the sisters. Volunteers were divided into two shifts — adult women in the morning and families in the afternoon. The volunteers visited with residents, attended Mass, served lunch and dyed Easter eggs with residents.

Nursing student Maria Weber-Choals, who attends the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, plans to specialize in gerontology. She said restrictions on religious freedom have other implications, ones that could affect her professional work. For instance, a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide was recently introduced, but then removed, in the Minnesota Legislature.

Mother Maria Francis Pale, mother superior in St. Paul, said the sisters were overwhelmed by the show of support that came not only from the volunteers, but also from people who made donations and sent messages of prayer and support as they await a decision that could affect their future, as well as for those for whom they care.

“One of the Little Sisters said, ‘Thank you. You take a lot of the stress away from us,’” Mother Maria Francis said. She asked for prayers as the court deliberates.

Grant said that if the government isn’t willing to accommodate the sisters, it will be a loss to the country. The Little Sisters have been serving in St. Paul since 1883.

“They will find a place that wants them to serve; I hope it’s us,” she said.

— Catholic News Service contributed to this story

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