Sister Margaret Traxler once carried a banner into the Vatican to protest the church's stand on abortion, which she called "out of touch."
Traxler, a longtime nun and civil rights advocate who encouraged activism among gay Roman Catholics, died Tuesday of complications from a stroke at the Notre Dame Provincial House in Mankato, Minn. She was 77.
"She was a do-er and a woman who when she saw an injustice was compelled to speak out," said Judy Evans, communications director at Notre Dame. "Her concern was for those in need, especially women and children."
The daughter of a doctor and nurse from Henderson, Minn., Traxler learned early how to care for others, Evans said.
"She saw countless times how they didn't care about being paid for their work," Evans said. "She saw that they only wanted to help people."
Traxler's older sister, Jeanne Smith of St. Paul, said Traxler thought justice and religion go hand-in-hand.
After teaching in Minnesota and North Dakota, Traxler began working for the National Coalition for Interracial Justice in the 1960s, during the the Civil Rights Movement. She marched with protesters in Alabama and Mississippi.
She later moved to Chicago, then in 1969 co-founded the National Coalition of American Nuns. She visited women in prison, arranged their access to lawyers and counselors, helped with family visits and provided sewing machines and carpentry apprenticeships.
Smith said Traxler risked excommunication in the mid-1980s by signing a New York Times ad stating that abortion could sometimes be "a moral choice."
"I don't think church leaders are living on the same planet. They are unrealistic and out of touch with the people," Traxler said then.
"She loved empowering people, especially women," Smith said. "She wanted them to reach higher goals, to help them with their self-esteem and confidence. She was a tireless worker."
Traxler also helped build three shelters in Chicago: one for women just out of prison, another for homeless women and children and a third for older homeless women.
She suffered a stroke in 2000 and moved back to Mankato.
Besides Smith, survivors include sisters Kitty Traxler of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mary Randall of Owatonna, Minn.
Services were held Monday.
-- Terry Collins is at firstname.lastname@example.org .