Kathleen Kanet, RSHM and Virginia Dorgan, RSHM, founders of Network for Peace through Dialogue, are nuns who have taken on the challenge of confronting injustice and violence in the world. This month they celebrate their Jubilee anniversary, the 50th year since they took their vows as Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.
Both Kathleen and Jinny, as they are known to all who work with them, began their spiritual journeys in the way that was still traditional in 1960 when they entered as novices. Nuns at that time lived according to a strict monastic discipline. Semi-cloistered and dressed in religious habits, they ate their meals in silence and could not visit their family homes even for funerals. As Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, their usual work was to teach school children or young women.
However, the year Kathleen and Jinny made their first vows, 1962, was also the year Pope John XXIII convened Vatican II, an event that radically changed the way the Catholic Church viewed itself in the modern world. In time, it also changed the way many religious women viewed themselves and their mission.
The statement drawn up by the 1971 World Conference of Bishops calling for Catholics to “act on behalf of justice and to participate in the transformation of the world” had a major impact on Kathleen. She was inspired by it to co-found The Intercommunity Center for Justice and Peace, a coalition made up of representatives of several religious congregations. Focusing on peace education, along with five religious sisters, she presented workshops in over 50 dioceses in the U.S. She also co-authored LEAVEN, a peace and justice study process for adults.
In 1985, she expanded her outlook globally, collaborating with colleagues in Germany and the Philippines to bring grass roots people together across cultural and racial boundaries. She believes the whole world is in the midst of transformative change and wants to support a movement that assures all people of their right to a dignified life.
As time has gone on, her understanding of importance of listening and not judging others became more and more central, eventually leading to her to join with Jinny in the formation of the Network for Peace through Dialogue. Dialogue is an essential component in the transformation of the world, she believes.
Jinny studied mathematics as an undergraduate, and after a period teaching in parochial and high schools, she worked for eight years teaching in NYC correctional institutions, including Rikers’ Island. Besides working in the prisons, she was involved for 20 years in a soup kitchen that fed people once a week out of a church basement. Believing the soup kitchen should welcome the people who were “in the line” to eat and wished to participate in the preparation and serving of the food, she got to know well several of the served who became colleagues, partners and friends. These relationships contributed to her understanding of the struggles of poor and marginal people.
During a sabbatical, Jinny pursued a master’s degree in urban policy at the New School. These studies led her to think about the necessity for structural change in institutions. She also became acquainted with the thinking of Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educator who developed a process of education that empowered learners in impoverished communities and helped them become aware of their inherent human rights. After she got her degree, she went to work for Educators for Social Responsibility, an organization that taught children “creative conflict resolution” and introduced them to the idea of universal human rights.
Putting all these experiences together and understanding the importance of both structural change and connecting people in a caring community led her to join, with Kathleen, in forming the Center of International Learning, a program that evolved into the present Network for Peace through Dialogue. Though she has come to realize that the world is not about to be “fixed” any time soon, she believes that “you have to play in the right ballpark.” What Kathleen and Jinny have together created in the Network is a fine ballpark which is populated with lots of interesting people determined to do what they can to make the world a more just and peaceful place.
So we celebrate with Kathleen and Jinny 50 years of spiritual adventure and activism and thank them for all they have done and made.