Sister Angela Fitzpatrick to celebrate being a founding member of NETWORK

In the winter of 1971, Ursuline Sister Angela Fitzpatrick left for a trip to Washington, D.C., which convinced her to be socially active for the rest of her life.

She was an Ursuline Sister of Paola, Kan., for barely six years at the time, serving as a pastoral associate at Holy Trinity Parish in Kansas City, Mo. Sister Helen Marie Neal, a member of her community’s peace and justice committee, asked Sister Angela to join her for this meeting of women religious who wanted to create a group to engage in political activism for social justice.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Sister Angela said. “I got permission from the pastor to go. He even gave us some gas money.”

The two met with other women religious and listened to different speakers. One of them was Sen. Ted Kennedy. Another was Monsignor Geno Baroni, who earlier that year had founded the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs.

“He said, ‘I think you women can handle this on your own,’” Sister Angela said. Among the inspiring people she met was Marjorie Tuite, who “really fired us up” as she promoted peace and justice.

After a few days, all the Sisters present debated what to call this new group, Sister Angela said.

“We settled on The Network.”

In April 1972, The Network – now called NETWORK – opened its doors in Washington. It’s first newsletter outlined its early lobbying priorities – international poverty, congressional reform, minimum wage, child care, consumer protection, the environment, farmworker rights, health care, opposition to the Vietnam War, prison reform, tax fairness, welfare reform, and women’s rights, according to its website.

Today, NETWORK is probably best known for its support of “Nuns on the Bus,” a group of women religious traveling the country to draw awareness to justice issues.

This April 21-23, the organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a Justice Ablaze Gala and Advocates Training in Washington. And one of the people who will be there is Sister Angela, one of its founders.

“Today, I am aware that much needs to be done to improve the lives of everybody,” she said. NETWORK is paying for her trip to attend, and her housemate, Sister Michele Morek, is attending as well. Sister Michele was a member of “Nuns on the Bus” in 2018.

The NETWORK Advocates Training seeks to “equip justice-seekers from across the country with the tools and skills to educate, organize and lobby for economic, racial and social justice,” according to its news release.

These are skills Sister Angela has used for many years, as both an Ursuline of Paola and since the merger of 2008, as an Ursuline of Mount Saint Joseph. She continues to serve as a caregiver in metropolitan Kansas City, and keeps abreast of the issues affecting her community.

“I became more conscious about politics. I was more aware of how to work with politics for the common good,” Sister Angela said.

During her first parish ministry, she wrote a grant funded by the county that established Dial-A-Ride, door-to-door transportation for the elderly, and became its first director.

“I worked with the city council in Kansas City, Mo., and helped get our representative elected,” Sister Angela said. “When we started Dial-A-Ride, he was helpful in getting it funded.”

When she worked as a pastoral associate at St. Columba Parish in Conception Junction, Mo. (1979-85), she worked with the local representative to get a septic tank installed for the area.

“We had a committee that tested the water and found bacteria in it,” Sister Angela said. “The mayor there still credits me for doing that, even though I was just a member of the committee. Your presence sometimes means a lot.”

Sister Angela was the NETWORK contact for her Sisters in Paola, but in the days before computers and with the Sisters spread out on missions, sharing information was more difficult, she said.

Now in her 56th year as an Ursuline, Sister Angela’s zeal for social justice hasn’t waned. In 2021, she testified to help pass an ordinance to make Roeland Park, Kan., a safe and welcoming community.

“It prevents the police from stopping a Hispanic or Black person simply due to their race,” she said. She testified in favor of a similar bill in Wyandotte County which passed, but it’s now being challenged by a politician.

“I often go to rallies to prevent war, or for peace in Ukraine,” she said. In January 2021, she participated in a Kansas City rally opposing nuclear weapons, organized by PeaceWorksKC, of which Sister Angela is a member

Sister Angela said she joined the protest “for the good of our Mother Earth and her people.”