“Mountain Sisters” visit WFU, share how they fight social injustice

"Mountain Sisters" coverSix original members of the Federation of Communities in Service (FOCIS), including Helen Lewis and Monica Appleby, co-authors of “Mountain Sisters: From Convent to Community in Appalachia” will visit Wake Forest University’s Divinity School Nov. 25 to help promote community development and social ministry.

At 9 a.m., Lewis and Appleby, along with Catherine Rumschlag, Kathy Hutson, Linda Mashburn and Maureen Linneman, will speak to a Divinity School ministry class. At 11 a.m., the women will lead a non-traditional worship service at Wait Chapel, and Lewis will give the sermon.

The College Book Store will hold a book signing at 1:30 p.m., and the women will participate in an afternoon reception and panel discussion at 3 p.m. in Wingate Hall’s lower auditorium.

All of the events, except the class lecture, are free and open to the public.

FOCIS is a secular, nonprofit organization that has provided community service for Appalachian families in rural Appalachian and urban centers with Appalachian migrants for 25 years. Rather than hand out funds, FOCIS teaches skills for people to create their own community projects. Some of the group’s work includes help clinics, arts projects, community-based factories, homeless shelters and cottage-industry development.

FOCIS was established by a group of Glenmary Sisters whose order began work in Appalachia in 1941. Amid the changes related to the second Vatican Council, many of the women became frustrated with certain restrictions placed upon them by church leaders. They came to believe that these requirements regarding belief and practice inhibited their ministry with the people of Appalachia.

In 1967, when an effort was made to move them from the Appalachian region, nearly 70 sisters left the convent life. Some 40 of those sisters moved to form the FOCIS community.

In their book, Lewis and Appleby reveal the largely untold story of these women who challenged church authority and remained with the mountain people in their struggle for social justice.

Today, FOCIS is an ecumenical community comprised of 60 men, women and children. Members live throughout the region and work in many different community and social services.

Lewis, who received an honorary doctorate from Wake Forest in 2000, was a Glenmary Sister and founder of FOCIS. She is a noted Appalachian scholar, teacher, author and activist whose work in Appalachian studies and community development is widely known. Her life-long activism includes struggles for social justice, opposition to strip mining and support for civil rights, particularly in the Appalachian region.

The event is sponsored by the Wake Forest Divinity School. For more information, call 336-758-3957.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Community, Speakers