By: Julia Morris
Mary J. Novak, an associate with the Congregation of Saint Joseph, is the new Executive Director of Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Mary began her term in April 2021 and is putting her years of experience working with women religious to good use in her new role. Continuing in Networks legacy of a grounded approach to policy building, Mary aspires to “do what the women religious did in the early days and we continue to do today – ground our work in the lives of real people.”
According to Novak, successfully following the method that women religious utilize in political ministry, “begins with relationships. It’s what women religious have taught me in several ways and it is an inherent part of our charism.” Network Lobby is unique from many organizations on Capitol Hill as it is one of the few groups that has maintained its bipartisan reach through this period of intense polarization. Navigating a divisive political landscape is difficult; now coming down from dual COVID and racial justice pandemics, there is a lot of pressure to get something done – and we will have to work together to do it.
Mary brings a wide range of peacebuilding knowledge and experience to Network from her time as a restorative justice practitioner, lawyer, and chaplin. “I engage the practice of law and political ministry, from the space of trying to get out of the way while I am advocating for the position that is important for the folks that I am advocating for, and not making any of it about me, keeping the common good at the center.”
In the United States violence and political extremism is on the rise and events like the insurrection at Capitol Hill, makes imagining a peaceful path toward a common good is a difficult exercise for some. Novak, who helped practice peacebuilding circles in Kenya post their own violent reaction to election results in 2007, explained the process looks a lot like, “being willing to risk relationships with people who have done great harm to us or have very little in common with us.” Mary explained, “There is no silver bullet here, this is long-hall work, and it is work that is not reducible to a sound bite very often.”
Pulling from Pope Francis’s call for “A Better Kind of Politics” in Fratelli Tutti, Mary feels we are called to lean into talking about the insurrection in a way that is sensitive to trauma, “after the violent insurrection and as the violence wanes, we as a country are going to have to be ready for a significant trauma response, not reactively but reflectively … this is about slowing down and creating reflective space outside of crisis.”
“Coming out of the crisis of last year, and in particular January 6th, I think peacebuilding has a lot to offer us in and outside of Capitol Hill.”
You can read more about Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice here. To donate or get involved see the links below. Thanks to Mary Novak for taking the time to speak with us.
[Julia Morris is the 2020-2021 St. Joseph Worker at the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph]