A Dominican Nun Keeps Peace in War Against Women

Sr. Donna Quinn is a gutsy woman. A Dominican nun, who entered the convent right out of high school and Chicago’s South Side in 1955, She has that no-BS Chicago style and early on became a feminist. Prone to demonstrate at the drop of a hat, I recently spent an evening in a DC hotel lobby bar sipping Grand Marnier with Donna and being regaled by tales of her exploits. She picketed Notre Dame when they invited Ronald Reagan to speak—but women’s rights are her particular passion.

She is a frequent target of right wing Catholic groups. This past summer, anti-abortion Catholics picketing at a Chicago reproductive health clinic figured out that one of the peacekeepers was Sister Donna and began protesting to Chicago’s Cardinal George and Quinn’s prioress in the Sinsinawa Dominicans. Things came to a head when LifeSiteNews went public with the story panicking some of the Dominican leadership which then issued what some in the community considered a premature “public statement” on the community listserv.

The order claims that Quinn’s peacekeeping activities are “in violation” of her position as a Dominican religious and that they are working with Quinn to resolve the matter. On Sunday, Nov. 1 they issued the following statement:

We as Sinsinawa Dominican women are called to proclaim the Gospel through the ministry of preaching and teaching to participate in the building of a holy and just society. As Dominican religious, we fully support the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural death. We believe that abortion is an act of violence that destroys the life of the unborn. We do not engage in activity that witnesses to support of abortion.

Yesterday Quinn responded and in typical peacekeeper fashion and with concern for the women at the clinic she suspended for a time her activity as a peacekeeper. Quinn explained:

As a Peace Keeper, my goal is to enable women to enter a reproductive health clinic in dignity and without fear of being physically assaulted. I should not become the center of attention. I am very worried that the publicity around my presence will lead to violations of every woman’s right to privacy and expose them to further violence.

In a telephone interview Sunday, Quinn explained that she had already noticed increased tension at the clinic site as anti-abortion protesters were alerted to her presence and felt it interfered with her ability to help women enter the clinic peacefully. “I never would have had to serve as a peacekeeper if these protesters, including from time to time priests, were not verbally and even physically harassing women, many of whom are going to the clinic for routine reproductive health care.” In her statement she urged “those demonstrating against women who are patients at the Hinsdale Clinic, whom I have seen emotionally as well as physically threaten women, to cease those activities. I would never have had to serve as a Peace Keeper had not they created a war against women.”

Quinn’s measured response to the community’s panic hopefully ends the matter. In 1984 Quinn was one of the signers of a New York Times ad stating that a legitimate diversity of opinion existed among Catholics on the issue of abortion. Along with 23 other women religious she endured a two-year battle with the Vatican which initially called on the nuns to retract or face dismissal from their community. Only one nun retracted, two left their orders over the matter and the rest found ways to accommodate both their consciences and the Vatican.

Quinn is one of several who have remained active on the abortion issue, especially supporting the concept of women’s moral agency as relevant to the question of abortion. There is no doubt that Quinn will find creative ways to continue to support women.