by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Do nuns ever really retire?
Not really, admits Sister Barbara McCracken, OSB.
“We don’t really use that word in our community,” she said. “It’s work and pray, and we all do some kind of work.”
Each Benedictine Sister at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison has a task — even if it’s keeping the salt and pepper shakers filled on the refectory tables, or passing out clean laundry.
“Most of us do several little things,” she said.
Sister Barbara does her share of basic upkeep chores for the community, but she keeps plenty busy with things relating to her passion for peace and social justice.
She works in the community’s business office to manage the community’s assets according to socially responsible investing, as well as demanding corporate justice by working with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.
Sister Barbara ministers to female inmates in the Atchison County Jail and is the director of the local chapter of Benedictines for Peace.
“I’ve been involved in peace and justice work since I’ve been in the Kansas City area, since I moved to Kansas City, Kansas, in 1970,” said Sister Barbara.
In recognition of what she has done, and continues to do, Sister Barbara was given the Charles E. Bebb Peace Merit Award by PeaceWorks of Kansas City.
The award was given to Sister Barbara during the organization’s annual meeting on March 5.
“The Bebb Award is the highest award that PeaceWorks gives,” said Jane Stoever, a former PeaceWorks board member and longtime friend of Sister Barbara.
“It’s fitting that Sister Barbara has received it because her life has been one of peace work,” continued Stoever. “The 10 years she was at Shalom Catholic Worker House, she saw her efforts there to help the homeless as a peace mission, as was her work to draw the connection between the worship of military might by our government and cutbacks on resources to meet people’s needs.
“Her care for each individual is inspiring!”
When she first arrived in the Greater Kansas City area in 1970, Sister Barbara taught a human relations (anti-racism) class and sociology courses at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas.
She became a teacher in another sense in her involvement with the Shalom Catholic Worker House.
“I taught nonviolence, and the U.S. bishops’ peace and economic justice pastoral letters,” she said. “I taught those in a lot of parishes in the archdiocese.”
During that time, she was active in multiple nonviolence movements and was a PeaceWorks board member.
“I taught the peace and economics justice pastoral letters [to Catholics] at Fort Leavenworth,” said Sister Barbara.
She was also involved in a number of rallies and protests.
“I just helped out with a whole lot of different projects,” she said. “When they were going to start the registration for the draft again after the Vietnam War, we leafleted post offices in Kansas City, Kansas.”
For some time, Sister Barbara published a newsletter, The Olive Branch, aimed at assisting teachers teach their students about peace and nonviolence.
And she was the consultant for peace and justice for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas from 1990 to 2003. During that time, she also wrote a peace and justice column for The Leaven.
She left her work with the peace and justice office to become the assistant director of Keeler Women’s Center in Kansas City, Kansas, in 2004. She later became associate director and worked there until she moved back to the motherhouse in Atchison in 2014.
Where, to paraphrase Jonas Salk, the reward for all of her good work for peace and justice causes has turned out to be — yes, more work to do.
Sister Barbara said she was both humbled and honored to receive the award.