7 Catholic Sisters Who Are Ending the Death Penalty and Promoting Restorative Justice

A Celebration of Catholic Sisters Week 2023

Catholic sisters have always been treasured collaborators in CMN’s work to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice. Ever since our founding in 2009, when Sr. Helen Prejean and members of the Congregations of St. Joseph first helped set our work in motion, we have relied on sisters’ wisdom, witness, and visionary leadership.

This Catholic Sisters Week (March 8-14, 2023), we celebrate the role of Catholic sisters in CMN’s founding, as well as the thousands of sisters who are helping us transform the criminal legal system nationwide every day. 

Below is just a snapshot of the many sisters who are advancing a kind of justice that honors human dignity.

Sr. Barbara Battista with Keith Dwayne Nelson, who was executed in 2020

Sister Barbara Battista, SP

Sister Barbara is a Sister of Providence from St. Mary of the Woods in Indiana, who lives just down the road from the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute. When federal executions started up again in 2020 after a 17-year hiatus, Sister Barbara was there, ministering to those about to be executed and even accompanying some of them into the death chamber. 

Sister Barbara, we thank you for providing these brothers in Christ with a calm and prayerful presence right up to the end. 

Participants in "Journey of Hope"

Sister Ruth Cunnings, RSCJ

Sister Ruth is a Religious of the Sacred Heart living in San Diego, California, where she teaches religion and social studies at Our Lady’s School. Many years ago, when her brother Peter was violently murdered, Ruth came face to face with the brokenness of the criminal legal system. This led her to participate in Journey of Hope, a program that amplifies the voices of murder victims’ family members as they speak out against capital punishment. There she found mutual support and an opportunity to share her personal testimony. 

Sister Ruth went on to serve as a CMN fellow in 2020, where she developed educational resources on the relationship between justice, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Sister Ruth, thank you for never losing hope and for spreading that message far and wide.

Sr. Janet Fleischhacker receives award from CMN director Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy and former CMN director Karen Clifton

Sister Janet Fleischhacker, CSJ

Sister Janet is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph (CSJ) living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In the earliest days of CMN, before it was its own independent organization, Sr. Janet welcomed CMN as a sponsored ministry of the CSJs. As the founding executive director of the CSJ Mission Network, she provided key support and encouragement for the young organization. She was the visionary force behind Spirits on Fire, an integrated formation program for lay ministry leaders in the CSJ charism, from which CMN’s two executive directors deeply benefited. 

After more than a decade of service, Sr. Janet recently retired from leading the Mission Network, but her contributions to CMN continue to bear fruit. She inspired in many the CSJ charism of a love that is always active and ever-inclusive, a love that forms bridges, makes connections, and enables others. 

Sister Janet, thank you for being a trusted and wise servant leader to CMN.

Sr Misty Garriga headshot

Sister Misty Garriga, CDP

Sister Misty is a Sister of Divine Providence from San Antonio, Texas and directs the Office of Criminal Justice Ministry for the Diocese of Beaumont. In August 2022, Sister Misty accompanied her local bishop, Bishop Toups, for the baptism of a man on Texas’ death row. Kosoul Chanthakoummane had requested to receive the sacrament of baptism before his execution. With the assistance of a compassionate prison guard, they were able to obtain some water, and Bishop Toups baptized Kosoul in his prison cell. Sister Misty reflected on this experience recently, at a CMN  virtual prayer vigil. 

Sister Misty, your ministry of presence was indeed a gift to Kosoul, and so it is for many others.

Sr Mary Sean Headshot

Sister Mary Sean Hodges, OP

Sister Mary Sean is a Dominican Sister of Mission San Jose. In 2002, she founded the Partnership for Re-Entry Program (PREP), a restorative justice program providing in-prison coaching and courses in reintegration for those who were formerly incarcerated, helping them become productive members of society. 

In the past 20 years, PREP has played a role in changing thousands of lives. But Sister Mary Sean says, “the greatest value is hearing the stories of the incarcerated to know and transform our lives in God’s redeeming love.” 

Sister Mary Sean, your witness to God’s love strengthens all of us.

Sr. Janet Ryan leads a training in restorative practices

Sister Janet Ryan, OSF 

Sister Janet is a Franciscan sister from Clinton, Iowa. She currently ministers at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, a restorative justice ministry in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. At PBMR, Sister Janet leads a program to assist adults as they earn a high school diploma.

Sister Janet is also a Circle Trainer for PBMR’s Restorative Justice program. Pictured above is Sister Janet leading an icebreaker during a Circle Keeper Training hosted by CMN and PBMR. In her “spare time,” Sister Janet lobbies for criminal legal reform to ensure visits for those who are incarcerated. 

Sister Janet, we pray that you “keep on keepin’ on” in all the ways you serve.

Sr. Addie Lorraine Walker headshot

Sister Addie Lorraine Walker, SSND

Sister Addie is a School Sister of Notre Dame from San Antonio, Texas and the president of the National Black Sisters’ Conference. She is a faithful member of CMN’s Religious Engagement Advisory Committee that supports and encourages the involvement of sisters in CMN’s work to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice. 

Sister Addie’s “Prayer for God’s Justice, Mercy, and Compassion,” which she composed for one of CMN’s virtual prayer vigils, spoke to the hearts of the participants and has been used over and over again. 

Sister Addie, keep on praying and sharing your wisdom.