April 23, 2021

Catherine Ferguson, SNJM speaking at the NETWORK leadership blessing ceremony.

Over the past decade or so, Catholic Sisters have become more visible in the U. S. political arena under the leadership of NETWORK and Sister Simone Campbell. When Sister Simone announced plans last year to retire from her position as executive director, a search committee led by Holy Names Sister Catherine Ferguson stepped up to identify who should lead NETWORK into its next stage.

The search ultimately led to Mary J. Novak becoming the organization’s new executive director this month. Sister Catherine, who has served on NETWORK’s board since 2018, says the process provided a good opportunity to articulate and affirm the values that mobilize members.

Sister Catherine says the search committee recognized the likelihood that a lay person would end up succeeding Sister Simone simply because there are fewer Catholic Sisters now. The committee’s primary focus was therefore on NETWORK’s core leadership needs – strategic vision, commitment to Catholic Social Justice teachings with a desire to work for an anti-racist system, a personal passion for mission and connections with politically influential people in Washington, D.C.

In addition to strong relationships built during many years of working among Catholic Sisters and Jesuits, Novak has been deeply involved in restorative justice. She was the founding Board Chair of Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), and helped it become an influential advocate for ending the death penalty and promoting restorative justice. An attorney who has worked on behalf of men on California’s death row, she also has served the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and has made a lifetime commitment as an Associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

There were certainly moments of wondering during the months of evaluating candidates, Sister Catherine said. “You have to ask, can we ever find someone who can possibly carry on? I think we’ve done a good job. Mary has great Catholic knowledge and commitment, and she’s very collaborative with staff so she can build on their strengths.” Another member of the NETWORK board wrote a prayer to use in the process, which includes this line: “We are seekers, searchers, dreamers and hopers. We are discerning together Your paths and the ways You are calling us to co-create and re-create your gap-mending vision of wholeness. We grow from the foundation laid by previous leaders of NETWORK, women who blazed new trails and took us to new heights.”

One way people can join in the work of growing that foundation is to join NETWORK and encourage friends and neighbors to do the same, Sister Catherine said. She also invites all to participate in upcoming NETWORK webinars to prepare for a kick-off rally and Virtual Lobby Day scheduled for May 11-12. Click here to learn more about how to prepare and participate.