What are sisters really like?

Being the national reporter for the Global Sisters Report is a new job for me after 11 years in my previous position, so a lot of people ask me how the new gig is going. “It’s great,” I tell them without hesitation, because it really is. Trust me, after covering thugs and politicians for 11 years, covering women religious is a welcome change.

But I sometimes hesitate on the inevitable follow-up question: “What’s it like?”

The reason I hesitate is because I know they’re not really asking what it’s like to cover sisters. Just like when people at Disney World ask, “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” they’re really asking something else. In Disney’s case, they’re asking where is the best place to view the parade, or how early they should be in place.

In my case, what they’re usually asking is, “What are sisters really like?”

Usually, I tell them that sisters are a lot like librarians.

And then they look confused.

But we all think we know what librarians are like, don’t we? You’re probably picturing one now as you read this: An older white woman, conservatively dressed, dedicated to a quiet life among the stacks of knowledge. They’re nice, they’re organized, they’re very good as “shush”-ing.

But that’s not who librarians really are.

No, librarians are the people who not only refused to comply with the FBI’s national security letters demanding to know what their patrons were reading, but made the FBI’s requests public, despite threats of prison time for doing so. Then, they took it a step farther and took their case to Congress, which in 2006 made special exemptions for them.

Librarians are the people who, amid the furor over pop star Madonna’s raunchy book, Sex, quietly stocked it on their shelves because they believe no one should dictate what you can or cannot read, even if it’s in bad taste.

Librarians are people like the amazing Karyn Storts-Brinks, a high school librarian in Knoxville, Tenn., who discovered that her school’s Internet filtering software would only let students go to web sites that portrayed LGBT issues in a negative light. She challenged the school district’s policy, and when that failed, she went to court, suing her own employer on behalf of her students. She won. (I should note that in addition to being awesome, Karyn is a dear friend.)

When we think of librarians, we often think of someone in the background, going about their work quietly. Which may be true, but that says nothing about the steely resolve they carry or their amazing dedication to their work and the beliefs it is based upon.

Sound familiar?

So I tell people who ask, “What’s it like?” that sisters are like librarians: The mental image we often have comes nowhere close to the powerful, amazing women I get to write about. They somehow operate with unshakeable strength and unending mercy. They are saving the world and never once seeking attention for doing so. They will not be dissuaded – by anyone – from their work, and they are relentlessly hopeful.

“I’m in awe that I get to write about people I am in awe of,” I say.

And then, when my soliloquy is done, they look even more confused.

“No,” they say, shaking their head. “I mean, what’s it like to work from home?”

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He came on board in July.] 

Check out the latest from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious 2018.