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Nancy Pelosi puts her stamp on the House

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Her mother, Annunciata or Nancy, kept records of all the favors asked and granted on slips of paper to use as a contact list for others needing help. These habits were reinforced by Roman Catholic social teaching, a steady influence in Pelosi's life since childhood. Her mother wanted her to become a nun. "[T]hat was not going to happen," she wrote in her 2008 autobiography, "Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters." Pelosi typically still attends mass at least once a week and maintains strong ties with Catholic communities. She describes church teachings as central to her life and the inspiration for "our responsibility to each other," but she also sees a role for public policy to make such promises practical.

"How many times can we answer the door or the phone and send somebody here or there?" she says. "There has to be a different way. We have to have different public policy to meet the needs of people."

Pelosi came of age in a prefeminist era. Her politics did not grow out of anger or struggle but culture and conviction. As a student at Trinity College (now Trinity Washington University), she was inspired by President Kennedy's call for service. "Because we were in Washington, daughters of Catholic politicians came here in large numbers," says Pat McGuire, president of Trinity. "The Kennedy era was a time of great political fervor and change, a point not lost on students at the nation's leading Catholic college for women."

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