Category Archives: Spirit Filled Network

Mary Novak Named in “2021’s Faith Leaders to Watch”

Mary Novak Named in “2021’s Faith Leaders to Watch”

Audrey Carroll
May 28, 2020

Recently, the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at Center for American Progress (CAP) released a list of “21 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2021.”

The list highlights the important work of faith leaders in leading our communities towards progressive, equitable change. NETWORK’s Mary Novak was included on CAP’s list alongside Anthea Butler (@AntheaButler), an associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies and interim chair of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Shantha Ready Alonso, a former NETWORK staff member who led Creation Justice Ministries (@CreationJustice) before becoming Director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the Department of the @Interior.

When asked how her faith inspires her, Mary told CAP:

“My grounding in the Catholic intellectual and social tradition, lived through my Ignatian spirituality, motivates my work to transform federal policies and shapes me as a restorative justice practitioner. This prophetic, living tradition compels me to act out of a faith doing justice that is inclusive, centered on race and human dignity, and trauma-informed. Catholic sisters founded NETWORK to center those who are forced to the margins by our systems and structures. For me, this praxis is an essential place of connection, solidarity, and inspiration. Society has prioritized the powerful for too long.”

We are thrilled Mary’s leadership at NETWORK and commitment to advancing the Build Anew Agenda has been recognized amongst many other instrumental faith leaders. See the full list of CAP’s “2021’s Faith Leaders to Watch” here.

Pentecost and the Call for Reparations

Pentecost and the Call for Reparations

Jarrett K. Smith, NETWORK Lobby and Minister Christian S. Watkins, National Council of Churches
May 21, 2021

As we continue commemorate Pentecost this year, we are reminded of the strange and new power that came and rested upon the Apostles and other followers of Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit was God’s way of showing and sharing His power so that the disciples could do great and extraordinary things.

We are heirs and spiritual descendants of those who were present for that event. That same power and spirit that was upon them is also upon us to do immeasurable tasks and feats as well! Today, we see the ways that systemic racism is holding back the true potential of our country and doing grave harm to our communities. In the spirit of Pentecost, we must take action to stake a moral claim against racism on our country.

Due to past and present systemic racism, Black people are pushed to the margins of our society; with lower rates of homeownership, greater difficulty securing reliable transportation, higher rates of food insecurity, and all the things that contribute to a person’s wellbeing. These conditions are manmade. Systemic racism is built into every historical and contemporary system and institution of U.S. society, placing Black people at a constant disadvantage.

The results of this widespread, systemic racism are perceived by the rest of society as normal.  Soaring rates of mass incarceration serve as a way to destroy the Black family unit. Street executions by law enforcement, painfully reminiscent of the violent slave patrols, threaten Black men and women every day. Given our country’s history (and our lack of reckoning with it), it is no wonder that those who commit these atrocities often garner no punishment.

Inspired by the feast of Pentecost and the nation-wide movement for racial justice, we call on Congress to pass H.R.40 (The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act). We need legislation to examine the impact of chattel slavery, Black Codes, convict leasing, Jim Crow, redlining, access to fair housing, education, employment opportunities, and the list goes on. H.R.40 is the first step to understanding and quantifying the continued impact the legacy of U.S. slavery has had on the Black people.

We can see the devastating effect of white supremacy on Black people throughout the United States with our own eyes. It is time for Congress to support a start to end institutional racism. Passing H.R.40 to establish this commission on reparations would be a start.  As our scriptures affirm, God hears the cry of those considered “least” in our society. Now, we ask, will Congress hear those cries as well and act?

Call Your Representative NOW: 888-422-4555
Tell them to pass a H.R.40 and establish a Reparations Commission!

Jarrett K. Smith is a Government Relations Fellow at NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and Councilmember for Ward 5 in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Minister Christian S. Watkins is the Justice Advocacy and Outreach Manager for the National Council of Churches.

NETWORK Virginia Advocates Team Lobbies for COVID-19 Relief

NETWORK Virginia Advocates Team Lobbies for COVID-19 Relief

May 17, 2021

I am a longtime supporter of NETWORK with financial contributions, prayer support, and occasionally (pre-pandemic) attending in-person witnesses in Washington, D.C. I am also a longtime admirer of the women religious and the lay leaders at NETWORK.

For many years, I have been immersed in advocacy for justice, especially in state and local organizations in my home state of Virginia. Like so many other justice-seekers, the dawn of 2021 and the inauguration of our newly elected president brought rays of sunshine and hope that We the People were embarking on a new journey replete with reform and improvement for all, but especially for people struggling on the margins of our great country.

I was invited to join NETWORK advocates in northern Virginia to advocate for President Biden’s legislative initiatives to rescue the American people from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and to restore many of the basics of our country’s democratic systems fractured under the previous administration. NETWORK provided me with a unique opportunity to learn about proposed legislation and why it was critical to persuade Congress to pass it. As a NETWORK Advocate, I received resources that explained the problem, proposed solutions and gave me tips for how to present it to my Members of Congress. NETWORK also provided materials (“leave behinds”) to share with our legislators and their staff.

Our small group of enthusiastic advocates for justice met in advance (virtually) to discuss the legislation we planned to raise with the Senators, choose the specific issue on which each of us wanted to focus and outlined a strategy for our meet-up. We took a couple of days to study our focus-areas in the legislation and then had a final brief meeting (virtual) for a practice lobby meeting. By the time we met with our Senators’ staff, I felt like I was sufficiently knowledgeable to share my concerns for struggling people and why the proposed legislation would help solve the problems we wanted addressed.

Now, I am more attentive to what is happening on the federal stage and am looking forward to further collaboration and participation with NETWORK Advocates.

Anne Murphy
New Member of the Virginia NETWORK Advocates Team

This article was originally published in Connection. Read the full issue here.

New Workshop: Tax Justice for All

New Workshop: Tax Justice for All

Colin Longmore
May 20, 2021

Today, 719 billionaires in the United States hold four times more wealth than the 165 million people in the bottom half of our economic spectrum.* At the same time, the racial wealth gap continues expanding.** How did we get here and what does it mean for our communities? Join me for NETWORK’s newest workshop: Tax Justice for All: Unveiling the Racial Inequity of the U.S. Tax Code

This 90-minute workshop looks at the U.S. tax code and economic inequality in two parts. First, we’ll explore how the tax code currently disadvantages women and people of color together. Second, you’ll work with fellow justice-seekers to reimagine a new tax code to build a just and inclusive society.

Sign up for one of NETWORK’s upcoming virtual workshops today!

Tax Justice for All
Wednesday, May 26 from 12:00-1:30 PM Eastern: Register here
Tuesday, June 1 from 3:00-4:30 PM Eastern: Register here
Thursday, June 3 from 12:00-1:30 PM Eastern: Register here
*Please note, this is a standalone
workshop, not a series, so the same workshop will be presented each time.

Virtual Conversations Keep the NETWORK Community Connected

Virtual Conversations Keep the NETWORK Community Connected

While traveling on the virtual “Bus” last year, our biggest learnings were first, that our Spirit-filled network is hungry for community and second, that technology offers a powerful opportunity to bridge geographic divides. On Election Night 2020, as we awaited to hear results, NETWORK members and supporters gathered for a time of conversation, reflection, and prayer. As people responded with great enthusiasm, we decided to continue these virtual conversations on a monthly basis. While each monthly conversation has had a different theme (ranging from reflecting on racism in our faith communities to advocacy in a new administration), the basic premise remains the same: to bring people together for reflection, community, and conversation.

For upcoming community conversations, check out

This article was originally published in Connection. Read the full issue here.

“We Want Change and We Don’t Mean Pennies.”

“We Want Change and We Don’t Mean Pennies.”

Meg Olson
May 18, 2021

On Wednesday, May 19, McDonald’s workers in the Fight for $15 are going on strike in 15 cities across the country. Their demand? That “every worker who wears the McDonald’s uniform” makes at least $15/hr.

If that seems shocking or radical, consider this: last year, McDonald’s earned nearly $5 billion in profits, and paid shareholders nearly $4 billion in dividends. Meanwhile, thousands of their workers—essential workers—received an average of $10/hour, just over $20,000 a year for a full-time employee, without health or dental benefits or access to paid sick leave.

McDonald’s worker and Fight for $15 Organizer Ieshia Townsend said, “Some workers ask me why I do what I do and I tell them, ‘The reason I do what I do is so I can make a better life for my kids and your children, and our next generation. You should be able to go on family vacations and spend time with our kids if they get sick. We should not have to keep living in poverty.”

Fast food workers, who have been essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, are struggling to survive. Every day, these workers are forced to make decisions between basic needs such as food, medicine, and transportation. Many of them work two and even three jobs and are still unable to make ends meet, especially when it comes to housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2020 Out of Reach Report, finds that in Illinois, where the minimum wage is $10/hour, one would have to work 72 hours a week to be able to rent a 1-bedroom apartment at fair market rent without spending more than 30% of income on housing. In Mississippi, where the minimum wage is the federal rate of $7.25/hour, a worker would have to work 68 hours a week.

The good news is that the Fight for $15 is working! Since Fight for $15 started in November 2012, workers in the fast food industry and other minimum-wage jobs have led the movement for the passage of $15 minimum wage laws in states such as California, New York, and Massachusetts, as well as the District of Columbia, and cities as diverse as Flagstaff, Arizona, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Seattle, Washington. In 2018, the National Employment Law Project reported that “22 million workers [had] won $68 billion in raises” thanks to the movement. Unfortunately, legislatures in states such as Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky fought back against the workers’ efforts and passed preemption laws that kept cities from raising their wages. This is why Fight for $15 is now focusing its efforts on McDonald’s.

I first got involved with the Fight for $15 in 2013, when I was the diocesan director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in St. Louis and a member of Missouri Jobs with Justice Faith and Labor Coalition. While it was thrilling to strike and shut down a McDonald’s or Wendy’s at 5:00AM, my participation in the movement was also a steep lesson in the principle of Subsidiarity. Catholic Social Tradition teaches us that Subsidiarity means that the people who are most injured by the injustice should have the dominant voice in creating a solution. Fight for $15 is a worker-led movement that truly embodies Subsidiarity. The workers are, to quote Pope Francis, “social poets” and “protagonists of their own destiny.” We faith leaders, an interfaith coalition of clergy, vowed religious, and laypeople, learned to listen, step back, and support the workers. This meant driving around the city the day before the strike delivering notices to surly store managers, letting them know that their employees had the legal right to strike. It meant babysitting children and serving snacks and cold water on hot days. It also meant accompanying workers when they returned to their first shift after the strike.

Faith leaders also had the responsibility of holding the fast food restaurants accountable if they retaliated against the workers. Once, one of SEIU’s lawyers called and told me that an Arby’s near my workplace was threatening to fire one of the workers, a young woman and mother of two. “Would you be willing to make a bunch of noise with other people of faith tomorrow? Are you willing to be arrested?” I told him yes. When we arrived at the Arby’s the next day, we were greeted by an H.R. Director from corporate headquarters who assured us that the managers now understood the labor laws.

Every time we gathered on a strike day, the workers asked to pray. Workers I talked to explained how working multiple jobs and second and third shifts made it nearly impossible to go to church. “So this is our church!” This was my ultimate lesson: for people of faith, the call to be in solidarity with workers means not just avoiding certain stores or companies, or hitting the streets, but also figuring out how to make Church fully inclusive to the low-wage workers, even if that means holding a service at 2:00 AM. Until then, “this is our church.”

To participate in a Fight for $15 day of action in your city, please visit

Email your Members of Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act

Join a NETWORK Advocates Team in Your State

Join a NETWORK Advocates Team in Your State

May 13, 2021

NETWORK has or is building Advocates Teams in 12 states. Teams gather monthly to build community, dream together, and do the work of advocacy, including preparing for lobby visits, writing letters to the editor, planning public events, and more. If you want to learn more about a NETWORK Advocates Team and you live in…

  • Ohio
  • Michigan
  • Virginia
  • California
  • New York
  • Texas

Contact Catherine Gillette.

  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Illinois
  • Missouri

Contact Emily TeKolste.

This article was originally published in Connection. Read the full issue here.

Sister Anita Baird Shares History of Black Sisters in the United States

Sister Anita Baird Shares History of Black Sisters in the United States

Honoring the Legacy of Black Sisters during Catholic Sisters Week
May 12, 2021

“In this moment of dual life-threatening epidemics: COVID-19 and racism, the voice of the Church in America is eerily silent when it comes to the racial unrest in this country.”
– Sister Anita Baird, DHM


In honor of this year’s Catholic Sisters Week, Sister Anita Baird, DHM spoke to the NETWORK community about the history of Black sisters in the United States and their work today. Sister Anita, a recognized religious leader, community leader, and racial justice activist in Chicago, presented, “This Is Our Story…This Is Our Song: Black Catholic Women Religious Standing in the Breach.” While the hour-long talk was only enough time to brush the surface of the rich and complex legacy and the often painful history of Black women religious, Sister Anita told the stories of several sisters and the 53-year history of the National Black Sisters’ Conference, as well as her personal journey of becoming Catholic and a member of the Religious Congregation of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary.

As Sister Anita remarked, “Over 500 years of Black Catholic faith and presence in what is now the United States… is a history that was not just erased, but rather, it was often never documented or recognized by the larger Church, even to this day.” Sister Anita went on to share a wealth of insights into both this history and the Church today. While Black Catholics are sometimes seen as “recent newcomers” to the faith, that is an inaccurate and uninformed assumption.

Sister Anita explained that Black Catholics had an active presence in the United States and in the U.S. Catholic Church for more than two centuries before Declaration of Independence was even written. This began in 1526, when the first enslaved African peoples (who were themselves Spanish-speaking Catholics) were brought by force to what is now the U.S. by Spanish colonists, all with the blessing of the Catholic Church.

As Sister Anita’s description of the history of early U.S. Black Catholics continued, including instances where religious conversion was held as a price for freedom from enslavement, I was reminded of Cardinal Gregory’s February 2021 reflection on Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. He named the often-unspoken truth that many Black Catholics’ ancestors did not come to their faithfulness by choice, but by cruelty. Sister Anita and Cardinal Gregory’s truth telling led me to reflect on how often white people are encouraged to not name racism in our history or the current reality of race in the Catholic Church and in the U.S.

Sister Anita named the three Black Catholic Women included in the group of six Black American Catholic candidates for sainthood, including Mother Mary Lange, O.S.P. She noted that in 1829 when Mother Lange founded the first African-American religious congregation, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, in Baltimore, Maryland, it was still legal to enslave people in parts of the United States and named some of the challenges and tragedies the Oblates faced. White religious orders in the U.S. did not accept African-American women until the 1940s, and Sister Anita told how Eliza Healy (sister of the first African-American bishop, Bishop James Augustine Healy) joined the Congregation of Notre Dame in Canada and served as a superior and Mother Superior decades before then. Even Sister Antona Ebo’s story, shared by Sister Anita, illustrated the racism present in the Church for Sister Antona and the two other Black sisters who joined the Sisters of Mary in 1946. When Sister Antona Ebo marched alongside Congressman John Lewis in Selma following “Bloody Sunday” and spoke out for racial justice in the years following the Civil Rights movement, she was bearing witness to racism that infected even her religious life.

For herself, Sister Anita knew she wanted to be sister since she was young, but as a Black woman was discouraged from considering religious life. Sister Anita spoke about the day when she saw two Black nuns at a department store and followed them around, in awe. After that, Sister Anita says, “I knew I could be a Black woman religious. I had seen them with my own eyes.”

Today, Sister Anita and the sisters and associates who comprise the National Black Sisters Conference continue to grapple with what it means to be Black Catholics, and continue to take their place at the table. Faithful and prophetic, they expose the racism of the Catholic Church and hold the hope that it can change.

Watch Sister Anita Baird’s talk:

Learn about the National Black Sisters’ Conference:

This article was originally published in Connection. Read the full issue here.

Locating the COVID-19 Vaccine in Your Community

Locating the COVID-19 Vaccine in Your Community

Caraline Feairheller
May 7, 2021

Nearly 200 million people in the United States have at least one vaccine shot in and that number is growing daily. Vaccinations are one of the best tools to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent future severe outbreaks. As of April 19 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine is available to all persons 16 and older in the United States. The vaccine is free regardless of access to medical insurance and regardless of immigration status.

Access to the vaccine should be not a barrier to care, which is why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created the Vaccine Finder Tool. helps you find locations that carry COVID-19 vaccines and their contact information. By entering your zip code into the finder, the website connects you with a number of nearby appoints. Most providers require and appointment and the Vaccine Finder links you directly to the page to sign up.

Vaccines.govCurrently, there are three available vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. All three have undergone the FDA’s rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness. Each works by training the immune system to recognize the virus and trains the cells to hold the virus off. As a result, many people experience side effects like soreness of the arm injected, fever, or headache – all of which will go away in a few days. The vaccines have been shown to be highly effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19 that lead to hospitalization and help to reduce the likelihood of its spread.

Following the appointment, you get the vaccine, you should still wear a mask and maintain social distancing. At the vaccine appointment you will receive a vaccination card that tells you what COVID-19 vaccine you received and the date you received it as well as a paper or electronic fact that that tells you more about the specific vaccine you are receiving. The COVID-19 vaccine is critical for the safety and health of our communities. As Pope Francis said, “I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine. It is the moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others.”

For more information:

Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19.

What to Expect After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine.

After You’re Fully Vaccinated.

NETWORK’s Blog on Talking with Friends and Family About the Vaccine.

Talking with Your Community About the Vaccine

Talking with Your Community About the Vaccine

Caraline Feairheller
May 7, 2021

The COVID-19 vaccines are the safest way to build protection and minimize the severe effects of COVID-19 for you and your community. As the COVID-19 vaccines are new, it is normal for people to have questions. The sheer volume of information, and misinformation, on the vaccines can be overwhelming. According to experts, the best approach to vaccine hesitancy is having trust figures, like family members and peers, address the root cause of the hesitancy. When community members are able to see others in their circle embracing the vaccine and all its benefits, they are more likely to be willing to get the vaccine themselves. It is important we each do our part to limit misinformation by listening to our communities concerns without judgement. As Pope Francis says, “Whenever people listen to one another humbly and openly, their shared values and aspirations become all the more apparent. Diversity is no longer seen as a threat, but as a source of enrichment.”

When talking with friends and families about the COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends five key steps:

Listen to their questions with empathy

By listening without judgement, you can identify the root of their concerns. It is important to listen fully and attentively, without interrupting. You can read more on strategies for active listening through the article “Effective Communication: Barrier and Strategies” by the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo.

Ask open-ended questions to explore their concerns

By asking open-ended questions, you can help to understand what your community is worried about and what sources they are getting their information from. It is important to respectfully ask questions and avoid dismissive language like “That’s a silly concern” or “Why would you be worried about that?”

Ask permission to share information

Once you understand your community’s questions and concerns, ask if you can share information from trusted sources. It is important to not push information on them too quickly and when you do not know the answer consider offering to help look for the information.

Help find their own reason to get vaccinated

Everyone who chooses to get vaccinated does it for a different reason – to protect their community, to visit their family, to return to school. The reasons that someone chooses to get vaccinated will always be those that are most compelling to them personally. It is important to not only focus the conversation on the “why not” of the vaccine but to steer it towards the “why” of the vaccine.

Help make their vaccination happen

Offering to help a community member make a vaccine appointment can help make the path to vaccination easier and less stressful.