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After 1,460 tweets praying for @POTUS, NJ nun isn't stopping with Biden administration

Deena Yellin
NorthJersey.com

It was the weekend of President Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017 when Sister Susan Francois responded to a new calling.  

The news was ablaze with Trump arguing over the size of inauguration crowds and White House staff caviling about "alternative facts." Francois, a nun with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in Englewood Cliffs, wondered how she would maintain serenity through what was likely to be "four years of chaos." 

She turned to her Twitter account — @susanfrancois — and tweeted out a prayer.

"Praying for you and country," she announced to Trump's official account, @POTUS. "Please release your tax returns as you pledged on campaign." 

Sister Susan Francois, with the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, tweets a prayer daily for President Trump. Shown outside the Shalom Center where she works in Englewood Cliffs on Thursday December 27, 2018.

And so began a daily ritual that Francois, 48, has continued for the past four years, or about 1,460 tweets. 

Now, Trump is heading out the door and giving up the commander in chief's Twitter handle to Joe Biden. Trump, whose personal bullhorn, @realDonaldTrump, was shut down by Twitter last week, may not have been transformed by 280 characters of daily worship. But Sister Francois says she was. 

That is evident from the tone of her tweets, which changed in the 48 months since she launched her ritual. In the beginning, her prayers were straightforward messages. After a while, they grew more personal and at times sound as tender as a benediction for a relative or friend.  

On Dec. 31, she wrote:

Peace is a recurrent theme in her prayers. She has often beseeched the 45th president to find it.

Her intention was not to taunt the Oval Office's occupant, but to offer a genuine supplication on his behalf, she said. Yet there have been moments when even a warmhearted Roman Catholic sister can grow a tad indignant.  

She fumed the day after violent protests rocked Capitol Hill: "Dear @potus, yesterday was a shameful day in U.S. history. Your words and actions have caused great harm to our democracy. I pray that those in your inner circle have the strength needed to make sure you cause no more harm before President-Elect Biden is sworn in." 

Now, on the eve of Biden's inauguration, Francois says she has no plans to halt her invocations. 

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She will keep firing off prayers to the @potus account, but, as of Wednesday, Jan. 20, a new president will be on the receiving end. 

"I believe it's part of our responsibility if we are people of faith, and also residents and citizens, to pray for our country, so I will continue to do it," she said.

Francois, who describes herself in her Twitter bio as a "Generation X Catholic Sister," predicts she won't always agree with the incoming White House resident, either, and some of her grievances may seep into her tweets.  

Yet composing a daily prayer for the 46th president will likely feel different to Francois, a registered Democrat who frequently blogs about social justice. 

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Since launching the daily rite, she's gained national headlines and her audience has surged. Many of her almost 3,700 followers have expressed gratitude for her act of inserting kindness into a toxic online world.

A follower named Grace Lawley tweeted back at Francois, "Thank you for continuing to be an example of kindness and grace. I will continue to pray for @realDonaldTrump only because of your shining example. Thank you for helping us all work on getting to Heaven."

Some Trump opponents have been critical of her tweets — "they don't understand how I can pray for him," Francois said. Others complained that her prayers weren't working. 

Such notions reflect a lack of understanding about prayer and free will, she said. "The act of praying is one of faith and hope," she explained in an interview last week.

"I do not believe that prayer is a transaction. I don't believe that because I pray for something, it will happen. I approach prayer as transformative." 

Neither Trump nor any of his family or staff have ever acknowledged her tweets, she said.

But that's not the point. 

"My praying has helped me to survive with as much integrity as I can in a time of great upheaval," Francois said.

She admits that executing the daily entreaty has been "one of the most difficult spiritual practices I've ever done."

"It's easy to pray for people you love," she said.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace have long had a tradition of praying for America's political leaders. Francois recalls that when she first joined the order, in 2006, the community recited daily prayers for President George W. Bush, and, later, for Barack Obama.   

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She tweets to the presidential account rather than Trump's personal one because the federal government archives both the president's official tweets and many messages directed at the account. Francois wants it to be a record for history that ordinary people stood up for love over hate and that "a Catholic sister tweeted a prayer at the president." Although Trump is now banned from the platform, she hopes he will somehow get word of her efforts.  

Her spiritual crusade offers an object lesson in how to treat those with whom we disagree.

"I pray very fervently and continue to resist the natural human urge to vilify or be disrespectful because we are human beings, and a part of how we got into this mess is because we are in a dehumanizing time in our culture," she said.

"He's still a human being, and every human being is worthy of respect. So even my strongest tweets are said respectfully," she explained. 

When a reporter asked how hard it is to come up with new prayers every day for Trump, Francois laughed. Hard.  

Her daily one-sided conversation brought her closer to the leader with whom she disagrees on a myriad of issues.

For months, she prayed for him to acquire humility and wisdom. "Then I found myself just praying for him, that he should understand he's a beloved person of God and that other people are, too," she said. 

"I think this has helped me in a practical way to get to the heart of what faith is all about," Francois added. "When you pray for someone, you can't hate them." 

Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: yellin@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @deenayellin