Kathleen L. Sullivan is a communications professional from Boston who has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. She is a graduate of Boston College.

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New dimensions of Joan Chittister's life feature in biography, author says

Preview: "Who writes a biography about a nun? Can you think of anything duller?" asked Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, at an event marking the publication of her new biography.

Book Review

The 'vanguard' keeps vigil in Boston

Author seeks snapshot of modern Catholics in parishioners’ resistance to closings

By John C. Seitz
Published by Harvard University Press, $39.95

In 2004, two years after Boston archdiocese Catholics were rocked by the clerical sexual abuse revelation and the hierarchy’s cover-up, they were told more than 80 parishes would need to merge or close. The reasons included changing demographics, financially unstable parishes, and some churches in disrepair. Though the majority of the 28,000 affected Catholics quietly moved to their assigned “receiving” parishes or found other spiritual homes, some chose not to obey the archdiocese’s closure decrees. Resisters in nine parishes took physical custody of their beloved churches and began an occupation that would continue, in some cases, until today.

Cultivating unity

It was during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which witnessed the murders of an estimated 800,000, that the Benebikira Sisters, at great risk to themselves, sheltered hundreds of orphans and others who sought refuge in their convents.

At the Benebikira motherhouse in the village of Save, the militia stormed the convent and demanded that the sisters, members of an order native to Rwanda, separate themselves by ethnic groups. The sisters refused -- essentially signing their death warrants. The militia then looted all their food, cut the water lines, and told the sisters they would return to kill them.

At other convents, 20 sisters were killed when they stood up to militia. At their convent in Butare, the sisters hid 22 children and teens whose parents had been slaughtered by the Hutus, but soldiers found the children and carted them off to a certain death.

Benebikira Sr. M. Juvenal Mukamurama, who would later serve as mother general of the order from 1996 to 2008, was at the convent in Butare in 1994. In a recent interview she recalled the horrific day that the soldiers came.