Category Archives: 50th Anniversary

Social Poet Award Winners | NETWORK Lobby Celebrates 50 years of Justice

Social Poets are Writing the Future

In Young Activists, NETWORK Sees What Pope Francis Sees

Don Clemmer
May 22, 2022
Social Poet Award Winners | NETWORK Lobby Celebrates 50 years of Justice

NETWORK’s 2022 Social Poet awardees at the 50th anniversary gala, Justice Ablaze.

On his 2015 trip to Bolivia, Pope Francis addressed social activists gathered there for the second World Meeting of Popular Movements. He told them that “popular movements play an essential role, not only by making demands and lodging protests, but even more basically by being creative. You are social poets: creators of work, builders of housing, producers of food, above all for people left behind by the world market.”

The following year, addressing these same groups gathered in Rome, he added that the popular movements “are sowers of change, promoters of a process involving millions of actions, great and small, creatively intertwined like words in a poem.” In his 2021 address to the same gathering, he began simply, “Dear social poets.”

Pope Francis’ messages to the Popular Movements have included some of the most striking rhetoric of his pontificate, decrying demagogues who exploit people’s anger and fear to demonize immigrants and other people pushed to the margins of society. In 2021, he said that protests following the murder of George Floyd most reminded him of the Good Samaritan in the world today.

NETWORK joins Pope Francis in centering the importance of young activists in the work of writing a better future for the world, one that dismantles systemic racism, roots the economy in solidarity, cultivates inclusive community, and transforms politics. So for NETWORK’s 50th anniversary, we honor four young activists as “Social Poets.” The four inaugural recipients of this award write with their lives the challenges and transformative potential that the decades ahead hold for those pursuing justice in the name of the Gospel.

Taylor McGee | Catholic Social Poet
Taylor McGee celebrates her social poets award with her mother at NETWORK's Justice Ablaze gala

Taylor celebrates her social poets award with her mother at NETWORK’s Justice Ablaze gala.

A faith-based justice-seeker studying at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Taylor McGee has a gift for convening people from different backgrounds in faith contexts and using the encounter to open up old or familiar ideas about God and the world in new ways. As a faith and culture leader for St. Edward’s campus ministry, McGee, 20, has led an Earth Day event featuring discussion of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’; a fish fry that invited local Black-owned businesses to campus and featured Black gospel music; and — her favorite — a virtual art exhibit, “Mirroring Mary,” which curated images of Mary from the various cultures represented on the St. Edward’s campus.

“I’ve been so blessed to have a great community given to me and understanding the similarities and differences within that community,” says McGee, adding, “If this is a community that I’m trying to serve, then I need to be in that community.” A Black woman and a cradle Catholic who has had to step back to see the eurocentrism of her own experience of church, she has majored in religious studies because, in part, “As a Black woman, you have to have that credibility.”

She credits Pope Francis for being explicit in his naming of problems in society, since working around problems without naming them leaves room for people to mute them. “I’m still in the South, and I know how things are,” she notes. But still she sees “Do everything in love” as what it is to be a social poet. This means “to be explicit in love and to not condemn and to not condemn people for their unlearning,” which can be challenging in activist spaces. But God invites everyone.

Ivonne Ramirez | Catholic Social Poet

Ivonne Ramirez uses educIvonne Ramirez, Catholic Social Poet Award Winner | NETWORK Lobby Celebrates 50 years of Justiceation and advocacy in her efforts to change the hearts and minds of fellow Catholics regarding the plight of DACA recipients like herself living in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “If you are a devout Catholic, you should be with us, not against us,” Ramirez, 27, says of the need for the Church to be in solidarity with immigrants, especially young people who do not have documented status in the U.S. “These are your neighbors. … We need to teach people what is DACA and what it looks like in our parish.”

Ramirez is a catechist at Our Lady of Guadalupe, a predominantly Spanish speaking low to moderate income parish in Ferguson, Missouri, and also chaperones teen events and is a frequent speaker at parish teen retreats. Her mentor and role model is Sr. Cathy Doherty, SSND. “We’re starting a movement. We’re slowing and surely starting to see,”

Ramirez says of her efforts to educate priests and other church leaders to address immigration with their communities. This includes a recent meeting of several DACA recipients with St. Louis Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski to share their stories.

As DACA recipients can’t vote, she especially wants to communicate to people that they have power to help their neighbors and that who they elect matters. Ramirez also says the popular term for DACA recipients – “Dreamers” – is a misnomer. “We’re not dreaming. We’re actually working for something,” she says.

Marie Kenyon, director of peace and justice for the archdiocese, agrees: “Ivonne is a breath of hope to Hispanic youth in the parish, especially those without permanent legal status. Over the years she has found her voice in expressing and witnessing immigration issues to the church and the region. Her energy, creativity and ways of expressing her faith are just what is needed in our church today. … She is a true servant leader!”

Christian Soenen | Catholic Social Poet

Christian Soenen, Catholic Social Poet Award Winner | NETWORK Lobby Celebrates 50 years of JusticeChristian Soenen has learned the weight of what it means to accompany people on their immigration journey, most recently as an education and advocacy intern at the Kino Border Institute in Nogales, Arizona. “You think that you understand the kinds of things that people are going through,” says Soenen, 23. “I thought I knew what was going on, and then I got to the border. I personally felt very disarmed. … You get very invested in the present, in the people who are suffering presently.”

A graduate of University of Texas at Austin who has engaged in immigration advocacy since high school, Soenen’s experiences at the border confronted him with the crushing impact of a broken system. During his time at Kino, Sr. Tracey Horan, SP, served as a collaborator and guide. “He demonstrates a sincere humility in his awareness both of what he has to offer the movement toward dignified migration and that his efforts are part of something bigger that is beyond him. I have been particularly impressed by his growth in identifying and empowering migrant leadership,” Horan says of Soenen.

“The moment you step away [from the border] it is so easy to forget the weight of that,” Soenen says of the end of his time with Kino. “I don’t think we can allow ourselves to forget.” The border experience has shown him how many dehumanizing structures people acquiesce to on a daily basis, and he adds, “I don’t know how you break out that.”

Despite the hopelessness of the circumstances, Soenen does see the Gospel alive in the struggles of migrant people and those who serve them. “Liberation is the fundamental focus of everything that is prophetic and Gospel,” he says. And the life and death of Jesus shows where God identifies: “We have had the ultimate symbolic example, and we’re still waiting for the world to realize what that means.”

Jennifer Koo | Catholic Social Poet

Jennifer Poo, Catholic Social Poet | NETWORK Lobby Celebrates 50 years of JusticeJennifer Koo first learned about Jesus when she was 17, in a high school history class. Now the only Christian in her multi-faith family of Southeast Asian immigrants, Koo, 24, says her newfound faith “offered me some hope and comfort in trying to grapple with all the inequity and brokenness that I was seeing all around me.”

Koo grapples with human brokenness all the time through her work for RESULTS, an anti-poverty advocacy organization, which she serves from Connecticut. As Koo discovered grassroots advocacy as a young adult, she also discovered a vocabulary to describe the oppression she’d experienced growing up, which “reminded me that I’m not alone in this journey towards justice.”

But while she’s not alone, she recognizes that the journey is different for people of color, people with disabilities, and others. “The stakes of the work that we are involved in, it’s not the same for everyone,” she notes. “This work can be incredibly exhausting and painful and tiring, and it can be very exhausting to feel as though you are being tokenized in a movement.”

One of Koo’s numerous endeavors has been to create self-care resources for activists. “I take this approach of seeing the people inside the advocate. We are not advocacy tools. We are people with our own lives,” she says. Upon learning that she is one of four Social Poets honored by NETWORK, Koo’s first response was to learn about the organization, which led her to being “overjoyed to see that this kind of space exists.”

This includes NETWORK’s commitment to growing as a multicultural, anti-racist organization that prioritizes looking at the person within the advocate. She also appreciates NETWORK giving her “help to contribute in making waves in this movement.” Each Social Poet is receiving $500 and will participate in the Advocates Training as part of NETWORK’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Don Clemmons is NETWORK’s content and editorial manager. This article originally appeared in Connection, NETWORK’s quarterly magazine (Second Quarter 2022 – “Celebrating Sister-Spirit: Our 50-Year Justice Journey”  *Special 50th Anniversary Edition*).

Catherine Pinkerton’s Sister-Spirt Legacy

Action of the Spirit

Julia Morris
May 15, 2022

Sisters Answered the Call of the Times in Founding NETWORK

Sister Catherine Pinkerton close upOne way to evaluate efforts in social justice is to look at the number of people impacted or helped. For Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, CSJ, this number is upwards of 13.6 million, or the growing number of people signed up for healthcare exchanges through the Affordable Care Act, a number that has reached record highs this year.

Wide-reaching, sweeping reform rarely happens without committed advocates. Guided by her faith and her congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Pinkerton diligently served at NETWORK as a lobbyist for 24 years, pushing for legislation that promoted the common good. Her legacy leaves a colossal imprint not only on NETWORK, but on Capitol Hill and federal policies that touch the lives of millions of people.

Radical Ministry

An early advocate for national comprehensive healthcare reform, Sr. Catherine Pinkerton lobbied the Clinton administration a decade before Barack Obama was even in the Senate. As the leader of her congregation, she had sought that every sick and elderly sister be cared for.

Her longtime friend Sr. Sallie Latkovich, CSJ recalls that Catherine’s early support of comprehensive healthcare legislation came from that experience, noting that Pinkerton would often warn her congregation that “healthcare programs would not always be available; that’s what jumpstarted her work to make them stronger.”

Sister Catherine Pinkerton at the ComputerIn 1984, Pinkerton joined NETWORK’s staff. She would say she saw Christ in the Gospels as a justice-seeker working against systems of inequality. In her ministry, she then turned to NETWORK aiming to model herself after Christ’s justice-seeking action by advocating and developing policies around the common good, especially working to ensure that all people living in the U.S. had access to healthcare and housing.

When efforts to craft comprehensive healthcare legislation faltered in the 1990s, Pinkerton became a passionate advocate for the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health coverage for children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance. Her perseverance and lobbying for comprehensive healthcare reform paved the way for the Affordable Care Act.

Her work was and is cutting edge. In many of the news articles written about her, Pinkerton is regarded as “radical.” In the 1999 book on Pinkerton, “The Genesis and Gestation of a Justice Journey,” author Jacqueline Magness asked her how she might feel about this word.

Pinkerton “smiled and exclaimed, ‘Radical …yes … back to the root. I like it!’” Noted for her ability to analyze a policy issues with speed and precision, Sr. Ann Curtis, RSM described Pinkerton as a “woman of vision … led by a vision of what God desires of us —justice, truth, and a dignified life.”

Pinkerton herself attributed this ability to the process that her community calls “conversion”: “You see it is a three-part process: (a) intellectual contemplation ‘fed with new insights and ideas and challenges’; (b) reflective conversion, ‘the process of making the truth one’s own and changing attitudes and behavior to accord with new insights’; and (c) the conversion of action, ‘the going forth to create with others the structures, processes, and systems that are authentic for what is life-giving.’”

Sister-Spirit Personified

Grounded in the spiritual legacy of Sisters like Catherine Pinkerton, NETWORK pursues Gospel justice with joy, persistence, and a feisty spirit. Former NETWORK Director Sr. Kathy Thornton, RSM, described Pinkerton as someone who won the respect and friendship of the political powers of her time:

“[She has] the ably tease Bill Clinton, confer with Hillary Clinton, and chide Ted Kennedy, who,Pinkerton Lobbying with Sen. BernieSanders when he does not see Catherine for a while, admits to missing her.” Pinkerton’s longtime friend, Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur, who entered Congress the year before Pinkerton joined NETWORK, remembers her “infectious giggle and great sense of humor. She walked thousands of miles through the winding corridors of Congress, back and forth from House to Senate, a highly respected, indeed revered, lobbyist.”

“Even when she felt strongly about an issue, she always treated the other with respect,” notes Latkovich. “She treated them as a person first, not as their opinion.”

In 2008, Pinkerton delivered the benediction at the Democratic National Convention. In 2012, she left Washington and returned home to her community in Cleveland. Never one to be complacent, she stayed active and engaged with her many friends and anyone who might come to her for her guidance. Kaptur recalls, “She listened intently to the nightly news, laughed a lot, never missing a beat even when in her 90s. She remained a trusted counselor and beloved friend throughout her life.

Sr. Catherine was a trailblazer for faith-filled people, and surely women, for generations to come.” Pinkerton died in 2015, yet the impact of her work continues to grow touching lives across the country. A wellknown prayer ends with the line: “We are prophets of a future not our own.” Sr. Catherine Pinkerton truly lived this prayer

Julia Morris is a NETWORK Policy Communications Associate. This article originally appeared in Connection, NETWORK’s quarterly magazine (Second Quarter 2022 – “Celebrating Sister-Spirit: Our 50-Year Justice Journey”  *Special 50th Anniversary Edition*).

The Weight of Something Precious

The Weight of Something Precious

In NETWORK, Catholics Sisters Have Built a True Legacy

We seldom end up where we expect in life. We think we have a clear vision of where we’re going, but the Spirit blows where it will, and our God is one of surprises. As I transition into the role of NETWORK’s first Chief of Staff, this rings true for my journey — from a social worker, to an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, teacher, and school administrator. And now here I am, unexpectedly receiving a legacy shaped and handed down by the women religious who have come before me. As a Catholic Sister, I approach this moment with a deep awareness of its gravity.

You know something is well constructed and even valuable when it’s heavy. And that is definitely the case with NETWORK. In Catholic spaces, we throw around a word like tradition, forgetting that it has real weight. Fifty years ago, 47 women religious came together to discern, pray, and ultimately build on a vision for a better church and world by founding NETWORK. Emboldened by the spirit of their visionary founders and foundresses, these women heeded the call of the Second Vatican Council to breathe new life into their community charisms.

These dynamic and visionary women were grounded in a common call – to dismantle systems of racism, oppression, and inequality. This call was rooted in first-hand encounter and accompaniment of men, women and children who were suffering extreme poverty with limited access to healthcare and housing. I imagine the passion and resolve of these women came from their hearts being broken open by the suffering of those they loved and served. You might say these women had hearts ablaze for what they knew was possible — a way forward for the common good.

NETWORK has been blessed with an incredible legacy of women religious leaders who read the signs of the times and responded accordingly — Carol Coston, Maureen Kelleher, Nancy Sylvester, Catherine Pinkerton, Kathy Thornton, Simone Campbell — each sister receiving the torch from the sister and staff who served before her. I believe these women were called to serve for a particular moment in history and were blessed with the “grace of the office.”

But even these Sisters didn’t end up exactly where they expected. On issues including equal rights for women, universal health care, voting rights, and essential reforms of our immigration and criminal legal systems, the better future envisioned by NETWORK remains just that. This too is the weight of tradition, that we faithfully and persistently do our part, in cooperation with the Spirit, but also leave much for those who will follow us.

There is no question that the ministry of educating, organizing and advocating can be daunting at times. However, when a network comes together to support each other and the work; good things happen. I believe every generation is called to embrace and claim their moment in history. I too have had my heart broken open by the people I have encountered in my ministry. It has transformed me within, and as a woman religious, I know that interior transformation must precede work for social and economic transformation.

I am proud to take my place among the holy men and women who make the work possible, who keep alive NETWORK’s hope and vision for a more just and inclusive society. Thank you for your faithfulness to NETWORK these past 50 years. I look forward to serving with each of you as we carry the mission long into the future.

Erin Zubal, OSU, is an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland and NETWORK’s first Chief of Staff. She previously participated in NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus” campaigns and served as Chair of the NETWORK Advocates Board. This article originally appeared in Connection, NETWORK’s quarterly magazine (Second Quarter 2022 – “Celebrating Sister-Spirit: Our 50-Year Justice Journey”  *Special 50th Anniversary Edition*).

Action of the Spirit

Action of the Spirit

Sr. Mara Rutten, RSM
May 2, 2022

Sisters Answered the Call of the Times in Founding NETWORK

When journalist Ruth Dean of the Washington Star News visited the offices of NETWORK in 1974, she was surprised to find the staff of Catholic Sisters —“not in uniform” — busy planning their third legislative seminar focusing on taxes, criminal justice, and campaign reform. After two years, the sisters’ engagement in “political ministry” was still newsworthy.

It had been less than It had been less than 10 years since American sisters had,in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for renewal, shed their distinctive dress and entered into new ministries. This brought them into close contact with the social sins of racism, sexism, and indifference, and showed them the need for systemic change.

The founding of NETWORK sought to address these systemic injustices directly in a political ministry of lobbying at the federal level. Its spark stemmed directly from the movements flowing through the church in the council’s wake, and the sisters who participated in the founding still recall the power of that moment.

Hearing the call
Action of the Spirit Trinity Washington University, the site of the December 1971 meeting, when NETWORK was founded, and many Legislative Seminars in subsequent years.

Trinity Washington University, the site of the December 1971 meeting, when NETWORK was founded, and many Legislative Seminars in subsequent years.

When Pope Paul VI issued “A Call to Action” and the Synod of Bishops released “Justice in the World” in 1971, stating that “politics are a demanding manner … of living the Christian commitment to the service of others,” and that “action on behalf of justice” was “a constituitive dimension of preaching the Gospel,” the sisters heard it as their own call to action.

Activist Sr. Marjorie Tuite, OP, who trained organizers at the National Urban Training Center in Chicago, seized the moment. Tuite, who believed that there was “no way to do political work unless you are networked to others doing the same,” raised the possibility of organizing women religious at a Catholic Committee on Urban Ministry (CCUM) meeting in October of that year.

She discussed the issue with Sr. Mary Reilly, RSM, Sr. Claire Dugan, SSJ, and Msgr. Geno Baroni. Baroni, who served in the U.S. Catholic Conference’s urban task force, had tried to organize a lobby of priests but had gotten nowhere. They decided to sponsor a three-day workshop at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. on the subject that December.

Sr. Carol Coston, OP, First Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby Endowment Fund Celebrates 50 years of Justice

Sr. Carol Coston, OP

The invitation went out to known activist sisters, but news of the meeting spread, and most of the attendees found their way through word of mouth. Sr. Carol Coston, OP, who would go on to be NETWORK’s first director, did not receive an invitation but tagged along from Florida with Sr. Kathy Gannon, OP.

Student Sr. Elizabeth Morancy, RSM, went because she was told that “you’d like this meeting. They’re going to talk about ‘Call to Action’.”

Sr. Teresina Grasso, SP, and Sr. Peggy Neal lucked into invitations when Tuite stopped by each of their ministries. “She cast a wide net, and I got caught in the net,” Neal remembered. “So I put out the word that I had a car and a few others joined me,” though “no one with good sense leaves Kansas in a car in December.”

Sr. Cartona Phelan, the provincial of the Clinton Franciscans, gave Sr. Marilyn Huegerich permission because she thought it would be a good idea for the young sister to see
Washington, then decided to join her, making her one of four provincials attending the meeting. “Everyone thought she brought me along,” Huegerich recounted. “But she came with me!”

Eventually 47 sisters from 21 states arrived at Trinity.Among them were social workers, teachers, students, congregational leaders, and advocates for civil rights, women’s rights, and anti-poverty programs. For some of the younger sisters, it was their first exposure to the work.

Sr. Angela Fitzpatrick, OSU, was “in awe. I was only 25 years old and not too involved yet, but I was aware that these women were very serious about what they were about.” Huegerich concurred. “I was so impressed with the women, how competent and diverse their experiences. My eyes were opened, being from Iowa.”

Getting organized

The organizers wasted no time. Neal remembered her worldview shifting as she listened to Baroni’s emotional opening speech about the need to affect change through political involvement.“He put the human element in what I heard on the news…I got a kick in the seat,” recalled Grasso. She remembers them discussing “how many lobbied for their own issues, like big business, and there was no voice for the poor, or justice issues
in general, or working people whose voices went unheard.”

Tuite urged them on, declaring that it was “time for sisters to move from service to change…out of the convents and into the streets and the halls of Congress!”

To be effective, however, the sisters needed to know about more than just the issues; they needed to understand how to do political work. On Saturday, they went to Capitol Hill to learn about the legislative process with Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s staff, then about the “Black agenda” for the 1970s with James Gibson of the Potomac Institute.

That afternoon, a number of speakers went deeper into how to affect change in the federal government. All of this was very inspiring to the newly-initiated; Neal remembered the only woman who came to speak, Anona Teska, of the League of Women Voters, in particular.

“I wanted to join!” she said. “And I did!”

By Sunday morning, the sisters were enthusiastic about the idea of political ministry but had trouble coming to a consensus.Then Sr. Audrey Miller, CDP, made a suggestion which not only impacted the direction of the meeting, but of the organization that would be born of it. For two days, she had been sensitizing the other sisters to the fact that the conference facilitators, as well as most of the speakers, were men.

“I wonder what others feel, talking about organizing women religious,” she said, “when the only leadership thus far has come from white males.”

Jerry Ernst, who worked with Baroni and had been facilitating, handed her the chalk. “Come on up and take over,” he said.

Becoming a force

Immediately, the tone of the meeting changed, and a mood of confidence emerged. “Her intervention became a galvanizing event and helped us find our collective voice,” Coston later wrote. “Once the women took over the meeting, we said, what is it that we really want to do? It seemed clear to me that a consensus was building that we should go ahead and take the step toward a national network.”

Coston offered a motion to “form a political action network of information and communication.” The motion passed.

Miller then appointed a steering committee to meet in January to set up a network, establish contacts with existing organizations, explore possibilities of types of political action, plan a weekend and summer workshop to involve other sisters in political activity, and, in order to accomplish any of those things, identify and screen people for permanent staff.

Answering the call, taking the lead and relying on action of the spirit, NETWORK Foundresses (left to right) Liz Morancy, Sr. Carol Coston, OP, and Sr. Mary Hayes, SSNDdeN founded NETWORK

NETWORK Foundresses (left to right) Liz Morancy, Sr. Carol Coston, OP, and Sr. Mary Hayes, SSNDdeN gathered at “Spark of the Spirit,” December 2021.

“As I recall,” Coston later wrote, “the main criterion for serving on the committee, besides interest, was having the finances to get back to Washington.” Finances were no small concern for a group who held a vow of poverty in common. Phelan, who had “tagged along” with Huegerich, suggested they take up a collection, which yielded $147. Each sister then pledged to raise $50 for the cause, and were creative about it: Upon their return home, Mercy Sisters Liz Morancy and Mary Reilly worked at a local department store for the rest of the Christmas season to raise their share.

They had answered the call to action. These women who, less than a decade earlier, wore habits and ministered in congregational or diocesan ministries had come together and formed the nation’s first Catholic social justice lobby. In the years to come, the sisters of NETWORK and the clergy, brothers, and lay men and women who would join their ranks as members, interns, associates, and staff would continue to take “action on behalf of justice” by educating, organizing, and lobbying.

Sr. Angela Fitzpatrick, reflecting back on the last 50 years, gave voice to the spirit of that 1971 meeting and the work still being done today. “If we really became united,” she said, “we could be a dangerous force. We could really affect change, and change the world.”

Mara D. Rutten PhD is a candidate with the Sisters of Mercy and NETWORK’s historian. This article originally appeared in Connection, NETWORK’s quarterly magazine (Second Quarter 2022 – “Celebrating Sister-Spirit: Our 50-Year Justice Journey”  *Special 50th Anniversary Edition*).

NETWORK Lobby Advocates Training Resources – April 2022

Resources for Your Advocacy

Please use these resources from NETWORK’s 50th Anniversary Advocates Training to help in your Catholic Social Justice journey. The Grassroots Mobilization is also available to help. Contact us if you have any questions.

2022 Advocates Handbook

Your guide to effective social justice organizing and advocacy.

Plenary Session Videos

Joan Neal, Deputy Dir.; Mary Novak, Executive Dir., Gov’t Relations Team, Meg Olson

Racial Justice Plenary

Luke Frederick, Georgetown University & Kara Gotsch, The Sentencing Project

Policy Briefing: Sentencing Reform Legislation

Minister Christian Watkins and Meg Olson

Group Trainings & Breakout Workshops


Reflecting on out time together

Erin’s Good-bye Video

A video of the time we spent together