The General Secretariat for On-going formation in line with its mandate is showcasing significant persons and activities within the Servite family with regard to the theme (2012) on Women. (cf. CG2007, 37c).
In the mid 1970s when many sisters were moving from the traditional ministries of teaching and nursing into religious education and pastoral care, Servite Sister Sean Fox turned to law. Servite Sisters Today interviewed Sister Sean, now an attorney for over 30 years, to find out what drew her to the practice of law and how she views it as a ministry in today’s church and world.
SST: You have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education. You taught for 16 years. What led you away from education to seek a law degree?
SSF: I enjoyed teaching. The last classes I taught were comprised of predominantly African American children whose parents had taken advantage of the Johnson Poverty Program in the late 60s and early 70s to get away from Chicago’s public housing high crime areas. I began to see justice and peace pursuits in terms of legal issues. Initially, I worked with local community organizers on the south side of Chicago regarding redlining, a method by which mortgage lenders would “redline” an area and deny mortgage applications, often on the basis of race. In 1973, I was a member of Network, a Washington, DC, lobby founded by women religious to promote justice and peace. Network offered its members summer internships with members of Congress. I applied and spent the summer of 1973 as an intern for then Senator Adlai Stevenson, III, in his Chicago office. As an intern I assisted veterans in need of VA services, and also did some consumer assistance work. During that time I witnessed a steady flow of lawyers in and out of his office relating civil rights stories and legislative issues to support them. I began to be attracted to more direct involvement with legal matters promoting justice and peace.
SST: What types of law have you practiced?
SSF: I started out working for a criminal defense attorney, then a legal aid agency, and then went into a solo general practice with a focus on divorce work, thinking that by assisting clients through this raw time of their lives, equitable settlements would foster peace. Sometimes that was the case but sometimes it wasn’t. I eventually opted to focus on probate and real estate matters, and work with the elderly and parents of disabled children. The latter involves setting up special needs trusts for the disabled children so they are not disqualified from receiving public benefits. Special needs trusts protect inheritances so they can be used for the extras that public benefits do not provide.
SST: The practice of law is most often considered a secular profession, and sometimes a questionable one. How are you able to help people see it as a ministry?
SSF: Indirectly this is done by exhibiting compassion to the family when a family member dies, taking extra time to listen, guiding the elderly or seriously ill as they prepare to pass assets on to their children or other family members, and in general, clarifying and resolving legal issues which impact the personal and emotional aspects of life’s challenges.
SST: In 1980 when you started practicing law were there many other women religious in the field?
SSF: There were approximately 300 women religious throughout the United States known to be practicing law, and I’m sure the number has grown significantly. Most of those at a gathering in the early 80s in Bethesda, Md., were newly licensed within about a three-year period. It seems that the civil rights movement of the 70s motivated those who pursued a law license.
Servants of Mary
1000 College Avenue West
P.O. Box 389
Ladysmith, Wisconsin 54848-0389
Servite Sisters Today
A Newsletter for Our Families and Friends