Religious sister prays for President Trump on Twitter
Two years ago, Sister Susan Francois, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, had a few handsful of followers on Twitter, and no trolls.
But since national secular media publications began picking up on the story that Sister Francois, 46, has tweeted a daily prayer to Donald Trump since he became president, her social media profile has grown. She now has almost 3,000 followers on Twitter — and trolls.
“In a way, they’re just proving my point of my desire to contribute to a positive use of social media and civil discourse that’s respectful of the human person,” said Sister Francois, a technology-savvy religious who proudly announces her membership in Generation X in her Twitter bio. She is also one of a dozen religious sisters of her generation who earlier this year published a book on religious life entitled “In Our Own Words: Religious Life in a Changing World” (Liturgical Press, $29.95).
In a recent interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Sister Francois, who lives in community with other Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in New Jersey, explained how the idea came to her to tweet a daily prayer to President Trump’s official Twitter account (@POTUS) and the responses she has received.
Our Sunday Visitor: How did the idea come to you?
Sister Susan Francois: I was visiting my dad for his birthday, which is always on inauguration weekend. I was staying in a hotel and had the cable news on. I found myself getting as riled up as the people on TV were, and I was like, “Four years of this, I will have a heart attack.” I knew I needed some kind of spiritual practice. I was thinking about that on the way to the airport, and there, when I was looking up at the TV screens and seeing the tweets were becoming news, I thought, “If he’s on Twitter, I will send him my prayers for him on Twitter as well.”
OSV: How do you decide on your daily Twitter prayer?
Sister Francois: It’s a product of my own personal prayer. For the last 15 years of my spiritual life, I reflectively read the newspaper. I call it praying the news. If I stumble upon a story, I really hold them in my prayer. Now, I bring Donald Trump into that prayer space internally.
OSV: Why do you tweet at the @POTUS account and not the personal account the president more often uses?
Sister Francois: I chose to do that at the beginning because if he were not president of the United States, I probably would not have been called to this practice to pray for him. I’m praying for him in his role as president of the United States. Also it is my understanding that the official Twitter account is archived. If you tweet to it, that will be archived. I just felt that this is such an unusual moment in our history, that I really believe it’s important that we have a record of people of faith being faithful citizens and engaged during this time, so that when history looks back on it, that will be part of the fabric.
OSV: Do you follow the president on Twitter?
Sister Francois: No, I don’t. I look at it periodically, but I’ve chosen to not follow him. Sometimes there are some really uncivil nasty statements that he has publicly made to be recorded for history about other human beings, some of whom are in his own circle of friends and colleagues. Other times, there seems to be a frenetic stream of consciousness going on. I’ve always prayed for our political leaders, whether I’ve been a member of their party or not. I was raised to do that, but I think for him, his actions and the nature of them as expressed on Twitter, have led me over the two-year process to focus on praying for him — that he experiences himself as a beloved child of God, that he experiences goodness and kindness, because I wonder how much of that he has in his daily life, if that’s the way he interacts with the world.
OSV: You’ve been written up in The New York Times, NPR, the Huffington Post. Are you surprised it went viral?
Sister Francois: At one level, I’m not surprised because for the past two years, whenever I’ve mentioned to someone I know that I have this practice, it causes them to ask questions, to be mystified, to ask how I could do that. Whether they’re a person of faith or not, it generally hooks people.
I think what it is more reflective of is that people are looking for ways to make meaning out of this very unusual moment that we are in. I think people, at their core, recognize the danger of uncivil discourse, the danger of a toxic political environment, and the danger of shifting away from true policy discussions that impact actual human lives and dignity and respect into these middle school fights. Also, I think other people are just genuinely surprised that younger people still become sisters, so there is that hook, too.
OSV: You told The New York Times this was the most difficult spiritual exercise you have ever done. Why is that?
Sister Francois: This is a practice that from the beginning I felt called to make public, so that in itself was a whole different way of exposing my spirituality. I have committed to paying attention and [being] engaged to the impact of our nation’s policy decisions and political rhetoric on the poor, on the marginalized, on our earth, all the things that Catholic social teaching calls us to look for. It’s hard sometimes to hear and read the stories of pain and suffering that are being caused by your government’s actions. It’s not an easy thing to pray with everyday, but I’m committed to praying the news.
OSV: How did you come to discern a calling to religious life?
Sister Francois: I entered when I was 32. I had been away from the Church for 10 years as a young adult. When I came back, I was very involved and I had a very wise pastor, a Paulist priest, who was brave enough to have the conversation with me. He said, “You know, Susan, you seem to be really called to use your gifts for peace and justice in the Church. Maybe you want to talk to a spiritual director.” His nudge was a way for me to integrate my life of ministry with my spiritual life.
OSV: Does being a member of Generation X impact the way you approach religious life?
Sister Francois: There are not a lot of us in the Church, and there are not a lot of us in religious life. I bring all my cultural nuances. “Star Wars” is part of my worldview. I often pray with pop music. As an early adopter of technology, I think it is just part of how I naturally interact with the world and so it’s always been part of my prayer and spirituality too. For me, it’s about the process of using technology as another way for the Holy Spirit being spread and sharing it with other people in case it touches them as well.
Brian Fraga is an OSV Newsweekly contributing editor.