Sister Clare Dunn

Areas of Achievement: 
Community Building
Social Service

Sister Clare Dunn is the only nun to ever serve in the Arizona Legislature. She gracefully coalesced politics and religion to form a truly unique soul committed to her faith, her community, and her ideals for social justice.

In 1952 she graduated from Riverside Polytechnic High School. In 1955, she joined the Congregation of Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet, a Catholic organization of nuns who 'as professionals and skilled workersÌÐhold to their original vision seeking to serve the needs of others and to witness to the great love of God.' After successfully completing a degree at St. Mary's College in 1963, she left her hometown of Riverside, California to teach at Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona. She completed a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's in 1969.

Sister Clare, a lifelong Democrat, represented midtown Tucson's District 13 in the Arizona Legislature from 1974 to 1981, advocating for low-income, unemployed, working class, newly arrived people from Mexico, undocumented people living in Arizona, and women.

"(Dunn had a) seething anger about the injustices that she saw in our society." ̱Arizona Representative Renz Jennings

Sister Clare worked tirelessly as a representative to ensure that children in Arizona's public education system had free and equal access to school supplies. Each year while in office she proposed legislation that would have the state, not families, cover text book fees. In 1975 she also proposed voting ballots be printed in easily understood language, and in 1976 that state and legislative ballots be printed in both English and Spanish.

Throughout the 1970s Sister Clare strongly supported the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States Constitution. This amendment would ensure that no American be unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of sex. On February 16, 1978, when many states had ratified the amendment, Sister Clare protested the Arizona State Legislature's preventing the ERA from ever coming to a vote:

'The House has once again taken the position that equal rights for women is not an issue, when in fact the people of our state have shown consistently that they favor the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.'

To Sister Clare's dismay, Arizona never ratified the amendment, however her hard work in the legislature paid off when, in 1981, she was appointed as the Assistant Minority Leader of the 35th Arizona State Legislature.

Sister Clare's life came to a tragic end on July 30, 1981, when she and very close companion and legislative aide, Sister Judy Lovchik, were killed in a car accident while driving north on I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, a trip the two politicians made countless times before while serving in the Arizona State Legislature. Fellow sister Katherine Hanley recalls that 'one writer had called them [Sister Clare and Sister Judy] ÌÇthe conscience of the Senate,' so strongly did they protest injustice and work to create opportunities for the poor.'

In researching her, I, like most who knew Sister Clare, was drawn to her spirit, social consciousness, and tireless efforts to better the lives of oppressed and underrepresented peoples.

Fellow political activist, Christian, and friend, Cynthia Henry, remembers Sister Clare as 'the first woman I ever heard refer to God as ÌÇshe.'' Cynthia vividly remembers Sister Clare's vivacious smile that warmed the 'lion's den' that is the Arizona State Legislature. Cynthia recalls a famous quote from Sister Clare: 'When someone asked her to comment on something the Pope had done, she said: ÌÇMy deal is with God, not the Pope.''

"She was a very special person who had opponents, but no enemies." ̱former state Sen. Alfredo Gutierrez, D-Phoenix.

'Sister Clare was a rare individual that affects your life not through control but through experience. That's what made her so distinct and powerful. People loved to be with her, they didn't feel they needed to be with her.' ̱U.S Representative Raèªl Grijalva.

--Written by Alisha Gibson