From National Post, Nun Will Try to Make `Small Differences' Local Head of Order Elected President of Leadership Conference

Article excerpt

Sister Andree Fries stood at the blackboard and taught seventh-graders in the 1960s. This fall her "classroom" includes the White House, the United Nations and, yes, even the Vatican.

She's talking about combating racism, preserving the earth and granting rights to women and children.

Policy makers aren't a captive audience like school kids, but they listen to her because the Chesterfield nun has the mandate of 88,000 Roman Catholic American nuns. She is the new president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Three weeks ago, Fries, 53, became what might be called Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of 965 superiors general of communities, who, in turn, each lead scores of mothers superior.

Following them in the ranks are women university presidents, teachers, hospital administrators, nurses, doctors, lawyers, social workers, parish administrators and scores of untitled American Mother Teresas serving the poor. The group shares leadership experiences and new ideas, and it uses the might of its numbers to press for social justice.

"This is the equivalent job for sisters that Archbishop (John L.) May had for diocesan priests when he was head of the Bishops Conference," Fries said in an interview this week in the family room of her two-story Chesterfield convent.

Fries is in her second term as superior general of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O'Fallon, Mo., the third-largest group among the 3,400 Catholic religious women in the area. She will continue to live in Chesterfield while running the national conference but will be plugged into the organization's Silver Spring, Md., headquarters through her computer service and fax machine.

"I'm a real techie," she said. When she communicates on the Information Superhighway, she's Andree.

By E-mail she is pushing for the United States to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which seeks education, health care and nutrition for children.

"I don't understand why the U.S. is such a laggard on this issue," she said. The U.S. stands with Saudi Arabia, Singapore and many countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Twenty-four more countries must ratify to pass the measure.

Women religious at the national meeting in Chicago last month told Fries to find out why. Backed by nine staff members at the conference's Silver Spring headquarters, she will push Congress and the White House to act. …


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