Here at A Nun’s Life Ministry, we’re often asked about what the vow of poverty is and how it is lived both personally and as a congregation. While a significant aspect of the vow is that we hold all things in common and don’t personally own anything, there are other dimensions too. The recent news story about nuns challenging Goldman Sachs over pay, for example, highlights in bold relief the justice nature of the vow of poverty.

According to The Guardian, four orders of Catholic sisters, investors in Goldman Sachs, have requested a review of the bank’s remuneration policies. The orders are the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia (who also recently questioned McDonald’s about its responsibility for child nutrition), and the Benedictine Sisters of Mount Angel.

As shareholders, the nuns requested a report that would include:

“1. An evaluation of whether our senior executive compensation packages (including, but not limited to, options, benefits, perks, loans and retirement agreements) are ‘excessive’ and should be modified.

2. An exploration of how sizeable layoffs and the level of pay of our lowest paid workers impact senior executive pay.

3. An analysis of the way in which fluctuations in revenues impact: a) the company’s compensation pool; b) the compensation of the company’s top 25 senior executives; and c) the company’s shareholders.”

So what does this all have to do with vowing lifelong poverty in a religious community? In this case, the vow of poverty compels us to call into call into question — responsibly, as the sisters have done — business practices that are unjust. We, like others who choose to live the Gospel, are committed to the just distribution of goods, to caring for those who are economically disadvantaged, and to changing structures that perpetuate the disparity of rich v. poor. (This of course takes us into yet another dimension of the vow of poverty and that is living simply and care of God’s earth … but that’s for another blog post).

I am encouraged and challenged by the sisters for taking a stand and calling the company to accountability — not with unkindness or rashness — but with a genuine sense of care and respect both for the company and for those who work for the company. This civil discourse is notable, especially when various reporters sensationalize the story by using uncivil language such as “a pack of angry nuns” … trash-talking indeed. The sisters call us to expand how we understand stewardship to not just how we handle our own shekels but how we as a human community care for one another.

What are your thoughts on this story? What questions and thoughts does it raise in you?