Boots on the Ground

Lawyer, chaplain, and former law professor Mary J. Novak ’88 is hitting the road to tackle issues of injustice as the first layperson to lead NETWORK Catholic Lobby.

Boots on the Ground
While campaigning in fall 2020, President Biden, a devout Catholic, praised the Nuns on the Bus effort after the Sisters held 63 events to reach Catholic voters in swing states. Photo courtesy NETWORK.

Boots on the Ground. In the Gospel according to Matthew, there’s a parable about Christ sorting nations. “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” Christ says. Those who serve the vulnerable will inherit the Kingdom of God. Today, such teachings reach the halls of power through lobbies such as NETWORK, which now has its first layperson at the helm.

Lawyer, chaplain, and former educator at Georgetown and Santa Clara University law schools, Mary J. Novak ’88 has taken the helm at NETWORK. Founded by Catholic Sisters in 1971 to promote justice and dignity for all of God’s creations, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice organizes for economic and social transformation.

“Our agenda is set by listening to people who are pushed to margins. It is a culture of listening and accompaniment,” Novak says. “We travel all over the country to meet with people through rallies, interviews, and Nuns on the Bus trips,” when Sisters tour the country by bus, tackling political issues such as voter rights and income inequality as they go.

Novak’s current agenda has four parts: dismantling systemic racism, cultivating inclusive community, building an economy based on solidarity, and transforming American politics. 

It’s a lot. But already there are successes: A bill to reduce disparities in prison sentencing for drug-related offenses has bipartisan support in the Senate. 

NETWORK is also championing legislation to improve access to voting and tear down barriers that exclude people of color from participating in the democratic process. “The system to dismantle systemic racism is democracy,” Novak says, “and if democracy is not working, nothing will change.”

Mjnovak
“I believe that Catholic social teaching can be a unifying and universal source of inspiration for the moral imagination we need to promote justice, healing, and the common good,” says Mary Novak, executive director of NETWORK since April 2021. Photo courtesy NETWORK.
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