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Nun Who Embraced Cause of Soviet Jews Dies at 76

Sister Ann Gillen, a nun who brought the plight of Jews trapped in the then- Soviet Union to the attention of the Christian world and made their cause her own, died Saturday at the age of 76. The cause of death was cancer.

Sister Ann embraced the cause of Soviet Jewry at the age of 54, making it her second career and her “real ministry,” according to Rabbi A. James Rudin, who eulogized her at her funeral Mass, which was held Monday night in Philadelphia.

From 1972 until 1987 Sister Ann worked as the executive director of the National Interreligious Task Force for Soviet Jewry, roaming the halls of the United Nations, the White House, the State Department, the U.S. Congress and the Vatican to gain support for the trapped Jews.

She made many trips to the former Soviet Union, where she visited refuseniks in their homes, and many times was arrested and searched. She traveled to human rights conferences around the world and repeatedly picketed Soviet embassies in Washington and other capitals.

“She brought the Christian community into what appeared to be solely a Jewish struggle,” recalled Rudin.

“She also brought a deep spiritual commitment to the cause of Soviet Jewry. For her it was not just a political or immigration issue, but a religious issue. She gave it a spiritual dimension,” said the rabbi.

Each time she talked with a friend or an adversary, Sister Ann would conclude the conversation with the biblical words, “Let my people go,” Rudin said.

Sister Ann, who was part of the order of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, was buried wearing two necklaces: a cross and a Star of David.

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