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Rebuilding Iraq

With quiet aplomb, nun aids antiwar protesters

By Lori Rotenberk, Globe Correspondent, 3/29/2003

    Rebuilding Iraq


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CHICAGO - Some of the marchers caught a quick glimpse of her on their way out of the police station. Others only heard about her generosity and hoped to say thank you. No one, though, seemed to know her name.

So a message was circulated seeking information on ''the gray-haired woman'' who bailed antiwar protesters out of a police lockup near downtown Chicago a week ago Friday. ''I'd really like to know who she is,'' said Jeremy Bishop, a 25-year-old college student who was a beneficiary of her kindness.

Sister Patricia Crowley -- "Patsy" to her friends -- came forward reluctantly. "I'm talking about this only with the hope that it will inspire others to do the same," she said in an interview. When pressed, Sister Crowley said she had paid the $100 bail of at least 10 protesters.

Tall, with a short crop of silver hair, the 63-year-old Benedictine nun, who long ago shed her nun's habit, said she drove to the police station that night out of a lifetime of family-inspired activism. "I posted the bail, but it was my 89-year-old mother's idea," Sister Crowley explained.

Protests, politics, peace, and bail have been a part of the Crowley lifestyle as long as she can remember. Her late father, Patrick Crowley, was a powerful Chicago lawyer and an advocate for the poor.

"I can recall when he campaigned for McCarthy in '72, and students had been arrested," Sister Crowley said, referring to the White House bid of Eugene McCarthy, a liberal Democrat. "He had a meeting with his friends, and all of them put money into a paper bag. My dad went to the station and dumped the contents out on the sergeant's desk and told him to let them go. When I think about it, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Her mother, Patty Crowley, is a founder of Deborah's Place, a homeless shelter for women that now has three locations and is overseen by her daughter. "My parents always marched for peace," Sister Crowley recalled. "They marched in New York, in Washington, and in Chicago. As a family we protested the Vietnam War."

A former teacher at St. Scholastica Academy, an all-girls high school in Chicago, Sr. Crowley is currently working on a plan with Mayor Richard M. Daley to end homelessness in Chicago within 10 years.

A week ago Thursday, she and other nuns from her order joined the 10,000 war protesters who marched from Federal Plaza in the city. A meeting prevented her from finishing the route down Lake Shore Drive, where traffic was shut down for more than two hours.

"It was quite the march," she recalled. "We walked next to a woman singing folk songs on one side and alongside students with a bullhorn on the other side yelling words I've not heard in years. I kept wondering if I should cover my ears."

At the same time, Patty Crowley had been watching the march from her home in a downtown high rise. When she saw the stream of Chicago police officers and their vans, the elder Crowley phoned her daughter with specific instructions in the event of arrests.

"Age prevents her from being out with the marchers and doing this herself," Sister Crowley said. "I can hear it in her voice how much she wishes she could still participate. So this is how she contributes. I have her bank card, we talk about an amount to withdraw, and I post bails until the money runs out."

Finding Sister Crowley is not simple. She does her work swiftly enough that not even police can recall seeing her at the station. A few members of the area's peace groups did know her name.

"When we heard about `this older woman' during a morning meeting, the only person who would fit that description was Sister Patricia," said John Bartlett, a member of the national antiwar organization, Iraqi Peace Pledge. "She's a wonderful person who works quietly and often independently behind the scenes."

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