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If Nuns Ruled the World: Ten Sisters on a Mission

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Veteran reporter Jo Piazza profiles ten extraordinary nuns and the causes to which they have dedicated their lives—from an eighty-three-year-old Ironman champion to a sassy campaigner for equal wealth distribution

Meet Sister Simone Campbell, who traversed the United States challenging a Republican budget that threatened to severely undermine the well-being of poor Americans; Sister Megan Rice, who is willing to spend the rest of her life in prison if it helps eliminate nuclear weapons; and the inimitable Sister Jeannine Gramick, who is fighting for acceptance of gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church. During a time when American nuns are under attack from the very institution to which they pledge, these sisters offer inspiring, provocative counterstories that are sure to spark debate.

Overthrowing our popular perception of nuns as killjoy schoolmarms content to live in the annals of nostalgia, Piazza defines them instead as the most vigorous catalysts of change in an otherwise constricting patriarchy.

272 pages, Paperback

First published September 2, 2014

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About the author

Jo Piazza

14 books408 followers
Jo Piazza is an award-winning journalist, editor, digital content strategist and author.

Her latest book, How to be Married will be released by Penguin Random House in April 2017.

Her novel, The Knockoff, became an instant international bestseller in May 2015 and has been translated into 13 languages.

She has written and reported for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, the New York Times, New York, Glamour, CNN, Elle, Marie Claire and Slate.

Jo regularly appears as a commentator on NPR, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

Her nonfiction book about progressive American nuns, If Nuns Ruled the World, was released to critical acclaim in September of 2014. The New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote about it in the Sunday Times: “In an age of villainy, war and inequality, it makes sense that we need superheroes. And after trying Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, we may have found the best superheroes yet: Nuns.”

Jo lives in San Francisco with her giant dog and her husband.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 145 reviews
Profile Image for Robyn Ellis.
70 reviews11 followers
December 19, 2014
I was listening to a talk given by Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft, and in the questions segment a member of the audience argued that all of his talk boiled down to "love the sinner, hate the sin", which was just empty lip service. Kreeft didn't disagree, but admitted that he wasn't sure how he'd feel if someone told him that they "loved Catholics but hated Catholicism." Reading Piazza's book made me feel like I've experienced exactly that.

Piazza admits right off the bat that she isn't religious herself (she also condescendingly explains that this is because she doesn't have a "God gene"), and I will admit that I was impressed how she was willing to go out of her comfort zone. I'm glad that she was impressed by the Sisters she interviewed for this book. But that didn't change the fact that it was full of back-handed compliments and petty jabs at the Church in general. Rather than seeing the Sisters as a product of their faith (which is, I imagine, how most of them would want to be viewed), she seems to see them as a shining exception. And it's no small matter that some of Piazza's biggest stars are Sisters who are in direct opposition to Church teaching. Piazza seems to admire these women because they are Catholics who don't believe Catholic things. It's not exactly endearing to us that love our faith.

I wanted to like this book, and I was indeed inspired by most of these amazing women. Maybe if Piazza had been able to get out of her own way, actual Catholics could enjoy this book too.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
38 reviews
May 24, 2015
I am not Catholic, nor have I attend church since I was in college. But I do believe and I have faith. It hurts my heart when I hear faith and God given as a reason for hate, discrimination and violence. This book gave me hope that the power and the strength of belief and faith in God is being championed by these remarkable women. These nuns are amazing the way that they follow God to be of help and minister to those that are cast aside. They often do this with opposition from the Church they do it for. But they speak out for the broken, the lost and work to make this world we live in one that has light, equality and love for all. I am amazed by these nuns and it truly makes me want to become more active. These nuns are a shining example of what it should mean to live a life serving God. They risk everything to help everyone and I am better for reading their stories. I was moved by Sister Nora’s explanation on her decision to become a nun “All I ever wanted to do was act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God.” Really shouldn’t we all.
Profile Image for Emily.
1,695 reviews37 followers
November 2, 2014
This was an interesting collection of biographical profiles, and there was a lot to admire and aspire to here. But all the way through, it felt like there was something missing. It could just be the amount of time spent on each subject-it's a short book that covers the lives of ten different nuns, so none of them gets more than about 20 pages.
I also felt the author at times dipped into the dishy style of what she probably uses when she writes about celebrities, telling us how pretty the nuns are and about what they're wearing, etc. and it seemed a little weird in the context of the stories she was telling. Not that nuns can't be pretty or fashionable; I just don't care if they are.
Still, it was clear that the author really bonded with and respected her interview subjects, and that this book was a labor of love. It's certainly worth the time it took to read it, and for people who find themselves wanting more, some of the interview subjects have written their own books.
Profile Image for Christina.
103 reviews1 follower
August 27, 2018
First off, I had the closeted idea that nuns work in covenants and volunteer for the poor through the medium of church programs.... but apparently they don't do just that! They get math PhD's from Ivy league schools, stage protests against nuclear weapons, create innovative women's programs and go to law school to help immigrant workers settle in the US. Who knew they are more than the image society has deemed them to be as virgins for life, abstaining from the deemed sources of happiness and being locked up in a church cellar! I personally didn't know.

This group of women across the world has a serene sense of themselves, their goals in life and the need to empower those around them. Each one of them got higher educations to then give to communities that they were called to serve. None of them was led by selfish desires to attend these institutions, instead they were immaculate representations of using your privileged resources for the good. The simplicity with which they lead their life is inspiring to any person and can teach many of us in this harried world to slow down and reassess the priorities we live out in our day to day. Their work encompasses empowering women in the political realm to listening to traumatized victims to stopping nuclear wars. I loved how the author was able to portray the power of these women and the fact that they are able to become strong not by asserting masculine traits, but by using their womanhood to raise those around them. It is exhausting to see women have to put on more masculine acts through domination and assertive tactics, in order to gain power. These nuns though use their inner strengths of listening, empathy and intellect to rise above the glass ceiling has set for them. They create programs and organizations from the scratch and I wish I could talk to them about their work that they have done! It was a breath of fresh air to read these biographies of women who are doing good work from the heart.

Cue in : Christina becomes a nun (just kidding, I already am #thankswellesley).

From some religious leader, "remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received - only what you have given."
Profile Image for Brother Sophia.
8 reviews1 follower
November 3, 2014
I knew this book was going to shake me. I often like to read stories of people working in the world to help give focus to my own living and activism. However, I was blown away by the commitment each sister is giving her all to make the world a better place. It is not all sunshine and roses for these women who like to get their hands dirty in the real world. I was particularly moved by one nun's story of her torture and what suffering she saw in the same torture pit, and how she is channeling her pain to help bring to light the stories of others who have been tortured as well to educate all who will listen. These are stories of strength, focus, healing and resolve that will help snap me awake as I reflect on them, hoping to use my skills to make the world a better place.
Profile Image for Echo.
13 reviews4 followers
August 15, 2014
I was fortunate enough to stumble across this gem and cannot recommend it enough. I would like to send a thank you to author Jo Piazza for introducing me to ten amazing and accomplished individuals who happen to be women who happen to be nuns. Fantastic!
Profile Image for Kathi.
306 reviews1 follower
October 16, 2018
The ten nuns about whom Jo Piazza writes have answered the call to be forces of good in the world. Like many religious who took their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the 1950s and 60s, most of these ten began their religious lives teaching students in Catholic schools around America. Incidentally, two were Sisters of Mercy in my home town of Erie, Pennsylvania. All tried to live their lives so that others would know God through them.

Later, each of these sisters’ lives became radically different. They were confronted by calls to respond to larger and very different societal needs. Society, of course, can be new and strange, exciting and challenging, and sometimes dark and sinister. These nuns’ stories reflect society, and also tell how the sisters also remain faithful to their God.

Piazza tells us brief biographies of each woman and her situation.

Their missions include Sister Tesa Fitzgerald’s “Hour Children,” an organization she founded for infants born to imprisoned mothers. The title “Hours” came from the very few hours that the babies spend in their mothers’ care because they are in prison. In the late 1980s, Tesa became a foster parent for eight babies, and encouraged others to also help. Growing during its forty-plus years, the organization now has an annual budget of over $4.5 million from what Sister Tesa laughingly calls a “grant stew.” The money provides not only foster parents and day care, but also fully-furnished homes for newly-released-from-prison mothers and their children as well as training, responsibilities, and jobs for over nine thousand mothers and their children. Sr. Tesa’s and their success is astonishing and uplifting.

Nine other stories describe these nuns as forces for good, from the terrifying and heinous kidnapping, torture, and escape of Sister Dianna Ortiz to the joyous triathlons of the Iron Nun, 88-year-old Sister Madonna Bruner, who has become the “unofficial chaplain or the racing world.”

Reading their stories is well worth our time. They might even inspire us to respond to the call to be forces for good in the world...as nuns or not.
Profile Image for Mary D'Alto.
Author 1 book38 followers
October 28, 2020
This book is VERY well written - not in the literary prose sense, but in the "sit down and have a cup of tea and read" sort of way, which requires its own literary magic to accomplish. It takes the reader by the hand and helps them see that women who choose a different path are complex, and fearless. One would think the concept is well accepted at this juncture in Time but I think when it comes to nuns there is still the image of rolling hills and laughter, and lots of prayer, something this books helps to diminish. It is an excellent resource, as well, for any women considering the Religious life. I wonder if the author ever considers that? And the idea, at the end of the book, to assemble all the women for a meeting would make for a fantastic sequel, as would seeing what they have been up to, and how the next generation of nuns continues in their stead.
Profile Image for Nic.
268 reviews4 followers
July 13, 2015
Here, Jo Piazza presents the stories of 10 amazing, trail blazing nuns, (a chapter per nun); however, I was disappointed in the writing and felt it didn't do their work justice.

Overuse of the word eschew, which stood out, because it's a rather odd word. Maybe use it once or twice, but, I don't know, 3 or 4 times, all bunched up toward the beginning of the book was excessive. Piazza comes across as somewhat starstruck by the "badass" (another word used repetitively) nuns which interfered with their presentations.

I do wish the chapters, on each nun, could have been more in depth, I felt they barely scratched the surface of the nuns' ministries. Piazza does mention that Sister Dianna Mae Ortiz has written a memoir, The Blindfolds Eye about her horrific ordeal of kidnapping and torture in Guatemala.

Also, with the chapters being so short the nuns stories felt somewhat sensationalized. Sister Joan Dawber's chapter is the shortest and feels rather devoid of facts. The chapter opens with the sensational account of a torture scene from the movie Eden which depicts the torture of a Korean American girl sold into sex slavery. Piazza took Sister Joan Dawber to this movie. "We can leave," I whispered during a particularly disturbing scene. Sister Joan Dawber just shook her head a little. I may close my eyes if this gets to be too bad," she replied, as calm as ever. I was the one shielding my face for most of the movie. 132 I don't see how including this type of extraneous info helps describe the nuns or their missionary work. I found it distracting, especially since the chapters aren't that long.

Then, there's the descriptive fluff on each nun: Sister Nora has perfectly coiffed hair that fades from an almond color to a pale vanilla. She was dressed down that day in a blue cable-knit sweater and seemed delighted to see me, a stark contrast to her terse emails. 155 Why?!

Still, aside from the negatives I'm glad to have read this book and to have learned about each of these nuns' important work which deserves to be highlighted.

A few tidbits:

Words of wisdom from Sister Jeannine Gramic who advocates for Lesbian and gay catholics:
If we were going to fire every person whose life is not in line with the sexual ethics of the Church, we wouldn't have many people in the Catholic institution. 85
...that lesbian and gay people are so marginalized in the Church that they need an advocate. They need someone connected to the Church institution to speak on their behalf, and I felt that God was telling me, 'There is still work that you need to do here.'97

Sister Madonna Buder who began running at the age of 47 and has competed in over 366 thiathlons since. There's hope for us all!
Sister Madonna's best-ever Ironman time came at age sixty-two, when she finished in thirteen hours and sixteen minutes. 127

"When people hear about human trafficking, they think it is overseas and faraway. Really, it is very prevalent in the United states." 147 Sister Joan Dawber who helps women and children to escape from human trafficking, and provides them with shelter and a home.

"What a cruel irony that it is the tortured one and not the torturer who feels shame." 186 Sister Dianna Mae Ortiz who works to help others who have also suffered torture.

"But change will come. After all, Jesus was a feminist, and we claim to follow him."227 Sister Maureen Fiedler fighting for the equal status of women in the church.

Profile Image for Rachel.
759 reviews
May 15, 2016
If nuns ruled the world more like if [American] nuns ruled the world. For the most part all the sisters in this book cam out of the 'progressive' hippie era. Their stories talk about them advocating for reform, women priests, loosening up on the definition of marriage, women's rights on contraceptives & abortions.
This book was recommended based on my 'to-read' shelf; when I saw it I was excited and thought it would be really good.
Firstly (this is retroactive) why couldn't she have talked about Mother Theresa? What about Mother Angelica? Nuns within their faith who did great things.
Secondly when I read the introduction the author talks about her not being Catholic, being an atheist and basically how she doesn't support the Church; this made me immediately wary. I think it is funny when people join the church and expect it to change. The Church has been the same for thousands of years. Here are some quotes that made me stop and chuckle a bit. "I say in the book, you know, in a day and age when Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, when Hilary Clinton could be a credible candidate for president of the United States, being a woman bishop doesn't look like such a big deal anymore"(page 224). Does this sister know the Church she is a part of? The Church doesn't move with the times is it a pillar in the storm. The Vatican Curia "is so male-entrenched there that the thought of having a bunch of powerful women around probably scares the living daylights out of them" (page 227). This one gave me a smile because first I am sure that is the reason women are kept out of the church hierarchy....male fear. But secondly women are involved in most levels of the church; and they can't really get away from women in many areas of the church if they wanted to.
Also the Church believes that women bring their own unique 'femininess' to the Church. There is the encyclical written by JPII about the dignity and vocation of women.
There were a couple good stories and the nuns did do some great things. The sister who had a great prison ministry for mothers coming out of prison was a great story. The sister who didn't let her kidnap, rape, and torture in Guatemala define her life then went on to help others who were recovering from torture was inspiring in her strength. The sister who helped women escape the sex slave trade was brave.
On the whole though this book was disappointing because it could have done so much more with the influence of nuns on the Church and the world. (As I said before Mother Theresa and Mother Angelica are two that just came to my thoughts right away but there are so many more). This book is not worth your time.
Profile Image for Scott.
361 reviews4 followers
August 29, 2014
Jo Piazza ("Celebrity Inc.," "Love Rehab") has written long and well about the glamorous and the wealthy (and the intersection between the two). The former gossip columnist has turned her eye on a seemingly-anti-glamorous contingent, modern-day nuns. "If Nuns Rule the World" may not be a scholastic tome or academic treatise, and it may come across as skin-deep heroine-worship, but Piazza has undeniably selected ten wonderful case studies of the benefits of a purpose-driven life.

INRtW is a light, breezy book (around 250 pages) that can be easily digested in tidy chapter-sized bites. Her introductory chapter describes the world of the modern nun - freed from the cloisters, the penguinish habits, and the stereotypical vocation of beating terrified schoolchildren with yardsticks. Today's nuns are educated and dedicated to solving the world's real problems by living among the afflicted, whatever the afflication may be. In a saying that the religious might recognize, if you're going to be a shepherd, eventually you're going to smell like sheep. These nuns believe in the crazy notion that in order to improve the lives of the downtrodden, you must live and fight side by side with them rather than living above like so many other religious figures do.

And perhaps it comes as no surprise that today's nuns aren't exactly fully endorsed by today's Catholic leadership . . . a group that, shall we say, is not exactly balanced in gender composition. Piazza finds ten nuns who have found their calling nonetheless, and Piazza tells their stories in ten brief but moving chapters.

These nuns range from the defiant - taking on global inattention to torture and sex trafficking to denying the reality of age by running Ironman Triathlons at the tender age of 83 - to the compassionate - caring for children born in prison as well as their mothers, or ministering to young women exercising their legal rights to have abortions - to the brilliant - using the church's status as a prominent investor to push corporations toward adopting more ethical business practices. These nuns may come from different starting points, but they each found the same path to the Church. And they love it, in spite of its flaws.

Piazza makes the compelling case that these ten nuns are solving problems through investing their lives in the solutions. These are not women who pay lip service to anything. If these nuns ruled the world, actions might be valued a little more highly than a PR slogan.
Profile Image for Becky.
827 reviews157 followers
December 19, 2014
Faith in humanity restored. That might be a bit much. Faith in some humans restored, desperate sadness about the world at wide still present, but hope and love and faith that there are people committed to being the change they want to see in the world, even if it means defying the patriarchal church they both love and disagree with.

These are badass women who could each have had a whole biography written about them. Much like the author I have little faith in religious institutions, I believe in God, but I don't believe in buildings trying to contain God. That said, I full-heartedly want to echo the author "I may not believe in God, but I do believe in nuns." The author is not a religious person, and you do not need to be to be astonished and in love with what these amazing women are doing (and perhaps that's the most perfect thing).

These women have been tortured in third world countries, they have been imprisoned in the United States (once for breaking into a top secret nuclear facility at the ripe age of 80+), and they have been threatened with excommunication, but they believe that "it is a blessing to be exactly where you are" and fear not even the Pope (who they pray for every day any ways) because they don't see the "institutional Church as the real Church."

These are women that invest their earnings to become Shareholders so they confront CEO's about corrupt business practices, they are nuns that run a secretly located safe house to break women out of the sex trafficking rings they are forced into in New York, they are women that help felons raise their children and get a job after being in jail and by doing so have brought recidivism in their area down to 3% from 29%! These women are feminists to the extreme- campaigning for civil, gay, and women's rights around the world, at home, and in their own backyards.

People, they are doing what we should ALL be doing, regardless of faith- because this is what people she do for one another.

Read the book. Be inspired. Consider giving to any of their charities. They are making a difference that is so desperately needed now.

The progressive Loretto Community of Nuns

Through Sister Tesa's Lens- a great article on the work Hour Children does
Profile Image for Kate.
128 reviews1 follower
March 14, 2017
I love women religious - & so I was very interested in this book. I am glad I read it, but so many times I was frustrated by Jo Piazza, & then increasingly with some of the Sisters she profiled. Poverty, chastity, & obedience are the vows religious brothers & sisters take, yet some of these sisters (not all!) have forgotten their vow of obedience.

There is a lot to be learned about humility & obedience by reading the stories of those who struggle with both, and to have them paralleled with stories of sisters who are in obedience to Church teaching was interesting.

If you're new to Catholicism & want to learn about the faith, this book is no help. If you are a faithful Catholic who isn't easily offended, this book is interesting. If you could give a hoot about the Church but are interested in nuns in general, take this book with a grain (a cup?) of salt.
680 reviews5 followers
April 30, 2022
I read this on my Kindle (which I bought for our trip last summer and which I still find less satisfying that a book with paper pages) and, in the flurry or reading I have been doing for 2 books clubs, the Kindle was set aside). I finally gave myself permission to finish the book. I was moved by the stories of the nuns and their courage in the work they do. One was sent to Guatemala and was caught up in the civil war, was kidnapped, and was brutally tortured. She had to muster her courage to speak out against torture of any kind. Other nuns are working with kids in difficult crime-ridden neighborhoods. and are advocating for social justice. All these women represented something radically different from the stern nuns I had in Catholic elementary school (many of whom I came to care about very much and rank among the best teachers I ever had) .
Profile Image for JHM.
568 reviews51 followers
April 20, 2015
I enjoyed 'meeting' the ten nuns profiled in this book. They are passionate, faithful, determined, often funny women who are making a significant impact on the world because of their faith -- a faith they very often describe in terms of having compassion and justice as cornerstones.

What struck me most was the way that being part of the institution of holy orders both supported and challenged them. Most of them have acted with the financial and social support of their Orders, which has helped to leverage the impact of their passion and convictions. Others have been obstructed by the hierarchy.

This book would be a perfect entry on a "Women Who Dare" "Women Making a Difference" "Women of Faith" and/or "Might Girls" book list.
1,074 reviews12 followers
December 17, 2014
Ten inspiring essays by a self professed agnostic author about Catholic nuns who have dedicated their lives to various causes including human trafficking, women's rights and environmentalism. Whether or not you agree with their politics on some of these causes the thing you can't deny is their hard work and passion many times risking their lives to achieve a more humane world. Each vignette develops the biography, successes and failures of these ten remarkable women. We should all be so passionate in the way we live.
Profile Image for Cindie.
419 reviews26 followers
January 24, 2015
this book was such a gem -- each story was so inspiring, not just the cause each woman espoused, but her indefatigable march toward alleviating the suffering caused by torture, formerly incarcerated mothers, gender inequality in the church, LGTB community in church and society, early AIDS and HIV patient rights, and the injustice to poor and working poor families caused by legislation and proposed legislation in the 2012 Presidential campaign. (The opening story about the alliterative" Nuns On the Bus.")

Profile Image for Judy.
175 reviews3 followers
October 13, 2014
Come meet 10 of the most courageous, energetic and inspirational women alive today. These women are relentless in fighting for justice, equality, mercy, compassion etc... Each one of them has made such an incredible contribution to humanity. I bow in total awe. The Vatican has tried to silence them, threaten and intimidate them but just like the energizer bunny, they stay on mission. Loved every one if these amazing women. Yes, I can only imagine a world run by the likes of these.
Profile Image for Grace.
207 reviews1 follower
November 9, 2014
So many inspiring stories of Sisters helping others - providing safe houses for trafficked women, providing homes and jobs for formerly-incarcerated women, confronting corporate greed, and so much more. I couldn't put this book down. There is a big tradition, especially amongst the Women Religious in the Catholic church, of social justice and peace activism. I have some new charities I'll be giving money to this Christmas.
Profile Image for Claire.
780 reviews92 followers
January 4, 2015
Sweet and inspiring collection: ten short portraits of badass feminist nuns. I have been sold on the awesomeness of nuns since reading my beloved Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence. This one felt more like dishy (tho obvs admiring) magazine articles, but it was certainly effective at communicating its argument that nuns are amazing women doing incredible work in the world. I am completely convinced.
Profile Image for Jo Ann.
256 reviews6 followers
March 10, 2017
I thought this would be a fun and playful book. Instead it was like the author picked outlier nuns (did they even follow their order?) to prove nuns are activists. It felt bitter and the author often talked about having a lack of the "God gene" which is why studying nuns didn't influence her spirituality. I abandoned it.
Profile Image for Pamela.
169 reviews
August 27, 2017
I really enjoyed reading the profiles of these 10 Sisters. I have zero experience with nuns so it was eye-opening to learn these inspirational real-life stories. If nuns ruled the world, I truly believe it would be a better place. I believe in nuns.
Profile Image for Angi.
165 reviews
April 8, 2015
These sisters are fierce, brilliant, and courageous. Growing up with an aunt who was a Nun in a family full of strong, Catholic women, I loved reading the stories of how these women of the church are standing for political justice, gender equality, progress, and CHANGE.
Profile Image for Julia.
950 reviews28 followers
June 18, 2015
A series of short profiles of nuns who don't fit the traditional picture. Most of the women profiled in this book work for social justice in various ways. The exception was one who competes in marathons, triathlons, and Ironman competitions.
Profile Image for Jo Ann Curry.
41 reviews9 followers
February 22, 2016
Loved the story of these nuns in saving lives and the struggles they had to go through. Each had a
difference story and the fact that they are true stories that still go on everyday in our world.
Profile Image for Cara Meredith.
993 reviews22 followers
August 17, 2018
Fascinating read and even more fascinating because it comes from a non-Christian perspective. To the nuns!
Profile Image for James Hutton.
Author 1 book
May 9, 2019
In her book, If Nuns Ruled the World: Ten Sisters on a Mission, Jo Piazza profiles ten nuns and the causes to which they have dedicated their lives. Her primary goal is to show how badass nuns are, and spends about twenty pages on each woman’s story to do so. In a sense, she succeeds. Some of the women are indeed very impressive. Sister Joan Dawber rescues victims of human trafficking and sex slaves. Sister Dianna Mae Ortiz works with those who survive torture. Both of these women do incredible work and serve others with compassion and care. Some of the others do good as well, but these two stood out the most. In each of the ten chapters, Ms. Piazza shares how these women chose to be a nun, what they do to help others, and the challenges they face.

It is obvious that Jo has a lot of respect and admiration for these women, and she works hard to convince the reader that he or she should do the same. Unfortunately, it is also clear that the author has a bias and agenda. In the summary for the book Jo Piazza defines these sisters “...as the most vigorous catalysts of change in an otherwise constricting patriarchy.” The biggest problem she has with this patriarchy is that women cannot be priests. On the second page of the introduction it reads, “The new pope was hailed as a progressive icon, and yet on the subject of women in the Church, he remained loyal to a long-held and antiquated stance: women cannot become priests” (pg. 6). This issue is discussed throughout the book. Ms. Piazza repeatedly quotes various men and women who want to change the Catholic Church so that this practice comes to an end.

It seems like the author desires the above so much, and admires the nuns to such a high degree, that she cannot see her own bias. The statements made by the nuns, their use of Scripture, and the positions they hold are essentially never challenged by the author. As was mentioned earlier, Ms. Piazza makes sure to present the liberal positions held by practically everyone in the book. The only times that alternative perspectives are provided are when shallow lip service is given, or when people who disagree with the nuns need to be made to look like jerks. On a related note, Jo likes to make jabs at the Catholic Church. She, and many others, do so repeatedly. Even though I am not a Roman Catholic, by the end of the book I found it rather irritating.

Beyond all this, the saddest thing is that the nuns use Scripture and related ideas so poorly. When they do so, it is almost always focused on physical things. Salvation in Jesus Christ is almost never mentioned, nor is His divinity. To make matters worse, the author’s bias, and her lack of understanding of Scripture, help support misuse of the Bible. One of the first indications of this is in the chapter related to the Nuns on the Bus. In it, Sister Simone Campbell describes how “...the Holy Spirit began to make some mischief with them” (pg. 63). This isn’t the only time this idea is shared. Near the end of the chapter it reads, “But in 2013, the Holy Spirit continued to make mischief with the nuns…” (pg. 72). The New Testament says much about the Holy Spirit, but He is never described as making mischief. To associate Him with that is ridiculous.

Such statements could potentially be overlooked if they were isolated cases, but they are not. In the book’s third chapter we learn of Sister Jeannine Gramick. She despised the idea that the Church would exclude anyone for something so inconsequential as homosexuality (pg. 78). 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 teach us to exclude people who claim to be Christians, and yet commit various sins. A couple of pages later Ms. Gramick uses Galatians 3:28 and the relationship between David and Jonathan to illustrate God’s inclusiveness (pgs. 81-82). To the author’s credit, she does say that Jeannine doesn’t necessarily view the friendship or love between David and Jonathan as being physical. Even so, neither text helps her argument. The book’s silence on the multiple of passages in both the Old and New Testaments that condemn homosexuality further demonstrate the faulty nature of the chapter’s arguments.

Although other chapters don’t feature such bad twisting of Scripture, many still contain absurd statements similar to the Nuns on the Bus section. One features Sister Madonna who runs marathons and triathlons, writes haikus, and meditates. One time she was having a particularly difficult time training for a race, and cried out to God saying, “I just can’t do it.” She then heard a small inner voice respond. He talked about stepping out in faith, and how He did not know “...how many people down through the ages would respond to my supreme act of love by laying down my life for them” (pg. 116). Apparently Jesus’ act of sacrificial love can be spoken of in the same breath as training for a physical race. In another situation a sister makes a decision based on daring her Bible to fall open to any passage (pg. 173). While I am glad that Sister Dianna Mae Ortiz now does good work, going to a random passage to make a decision is superstitious. It is not biblical, just like many other things said in this book.

When it comes down to it, that is the main reason I cannot recommend this work and reject many of its arguments. Yes, Jo Piazza tries hard to make these nuns look badass and give us reasons to admire them. Unfortunately, their poor understanding of Scripture is also on display throughout. The same can be said for the author’s bias. Thankfully, some of the good deeds of the nuns can still be appreciated, and that is a main reason I give the book two stars.
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438 reviews1 follower
March 29, 2018
I loved reading this book, and I am going to quote piece that I enjoyed the most:
"At age eighty-two, Sister Madonna Buder was the oldest athlete, male or female, to ever successfully complete an Ironman triathlon." What a fascinating person! Oh, how I envy her!

Quite contrary to the assumption one would make on the basis of title, the women describe in this book break out of Catholic Church beliefs and dogmas. What makes me so uneasy, is that although I disagree with their ideas, from the point of view of logic, some of them are right. This book really makes one think and revise traditionally accepted, patriarchal church system.

I am wholeheartedly in support of helping imprisoned mothers with upbringing their children, and post-sentence rehabilitation. As a pacifist, I am against torture and nuclear weapons, but I haven't done much about changing the world. Those sisters are source of inspiration for the rest of us, although they are not always acting within expected limits.

The book is definitely worth reading. The style is swift and approach very warm. It is a good family read, but controversial, might be interesting start for family discussion.
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