Dear @POTUS: The Nun Who Tweets a Daily Prayer to President Trump

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When she was a high school student in Maryland, Sister Susan Francois got her first job at Kmart. She then requested shifts on Saturdays and Sundays to avoid church. Born and raised Catholic, she was already experiencing doubts about the role of women in the church and in the institution itself. She spent most of the 1990s as an “ex-Catholic,” she said, living in Portland, Ore., where she went to college and worked as a city elections official.

As the millennium approached, however, Sister Susan, now 46, became interested in her Catholic roots again. “I was in this high-powered career, but where I found all my joy in life was through my volunteer work,” she said. She began to see a connection between what was rapidly becoming her social mission and Catholicism.

So she started to fill her weekends with church again.

In 2005, Sister Susan got in even deeper: She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace religious order on the West Coast. It was around this time, she said, that she noticed other nuns praying to President George W. Bush and then, President Barack Obama. In 2017, two years after she had relocated to the St. Joseph headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Sister Susan decided to take her own presidential praying practice to the next level: Twitter.

This is an edited and condensed version of a recent conversation with her.

Q. How did you come to tweet prayers to the president?

A. I was sitting in the Chicago O’Hare Airport, waiting for my flight back to Newark. It was a few days after Trump’s inauguration, and on the TVs in the background were arguments about “alternative facts.” I thought, “I am going to go crazy if I don’t come up with some calming spiritual practice that keeps me engaged but does not add to the negativity.” When I sent the first tweet, it was purely for myself. I didn’t expect it to make a big splash. But that fact that it was public and that I committed to it every day means I have to do it, even if I don’t want to. It’s been the hardest spiritual practice I’ve ever committed to.

What is your process for coming up with the tweets?

I pray with the sisters, and then I pray with the news. I pray with the stories that are there, and that has been the foundation of my morning prayer for 15 years.

I usually just sit for a little while and see what comes. If there is a particular thing happening, then I will take that to prayer until I can get that to a whole statement that is not toxic, because that is what I am trying to do: Come from a place of integrity while remaining engaged.

Why do you tweet at his official account, rather than @realDonaldTrump?

My understanding is that @POTUS is archived, and from my academic research on resistance as a response to injustice, it is important for consistency and for history to know that ordinary people didn’t look away. I wanted it to be a record of history that a Catholic sister wanted to tweet a nonviolent prayer at the president. In looking back at some tweets, I realize that on Feb. 20 of this year, I switched my format and started my tweets with “Dear @Potus.” Before that, I would just launch into the tweet. When you pray for someone every day for more than a year, you start to build some sort of a relationship, even if one-sided.

You call yourself a Gen X nun on your Twitter bio. What’s the significance of that?

As someone who entered her religious life in her 30s, I bring the cultural nuances and references and approach to life that Gen Xers have. I am actually part of a group called Giving Voice, and we are Gen Xers or millennials, and we live religious life a little different. We had lives and careers before this.

What’s your living situation like? Do you have a daily ritual?

I live with two sisters in a rental house near the St. Michael’s Villa, which had a fire two years ago, so our main building is under construction. We’re hoping to move back by the end of February. We start each day sitting together in silent prayer, which sets the tone for the rest of the day. I serve on the Congregation Leadership Team, working on relationships with sponsored ministries in New Jersey: a hospital, two nursing homes, a school for the blind and an inner-city ministry with women and children. I am also the congregation treasurer. You don’t think of the sisters as a corporation, but they are, so the business side of it has to take place, too.

What do you do for fun?

I do sometimes cross the bridge and come into the city. I just came in last weekend to meet a sister-friend who is about my age and is celebrating 15 years as a sister — it’s called a jubilee. In about a week, I am going to spend time with a group of sister-friends my age from other congregations, and we’re going to hang out at a vacation house, play cards and watch movies — do things normal people do.

What is one thing you’d like to share with the rest of us about the lives of nuns these days?

To know that we exist, and we always will in some shape or form as long as people are committed to making the good stuff of the Gospel in the world come true. We are normal people who have this special dedication to prayer and to helping people. And it’s a good life.

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