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Parish minister finds outlets for peace and justice commitment

Teresa McCann is persistent, patient, loyal and hopeful.

In 35 years as a parish minister—21 at St. Patrick’s in Hillyard and 14 at St. Joseph’s in Otis Orchards—Teresa McCann found an outlet for expressing Catholic social justice teachings through involvement with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS), as well as in organizing study groups, speakers and outreach for parishes.

At both parishes, her role has been religious education for children, youth, adults and parents, recruiting and training volunteers to teach Sunday school, and organizing parish ministries. 

St. Joseph’s parish has 800 households.  St. Patrick’s had 600, but dwindled and is now a mission parish of St. Thomas More. 

Teresa attended St. Charles Catholic School and Holy Names Academy.  She graduated from Gonzaga University in religious studies in 1981. That year she began at St. Patrick’s and married her artist husband, Dan.

After graduating from Holy Names in 1974, she studied a year in Ireland, did two semesters at Whitworth and was a nanny for nearly five years.

When U.S. Catholic bishops released an encyclical in the 1980s on the threat and immorality of nuclear weapons, she became involved with PJALS, which the Oregon Province Jesuits at Gonzaga University started 40 years ago as the Peace and Justice Center at Gonzaga University.

“In parishes, there has always been strong interest in pro-life studies related to pregnancy, but less in other life issues such as the death penalty, structural injustice, government policies or societal issues related to racism, militarism, immigration, poverty or the economy,” she said.

“We have had strong outreach and volunteering to serve vulnerable people, but less interest in understanding why people live in poverty,” she said.  “It’s less popular to look at roots of problems, because people have different ideas about their causes.”

Teresa saw a documentary on the horrible effects of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and  wanted to do something.

She joined Pax Christi, the international Catholic organization for peace, and began protesting “white trains” taking nuclear weapons to Trident submarines at Bangor, 20 miles north of Seattle.  Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action at Bangor challenges nuclear weapons there through civil resistance.

“We organized protests of the white trains to raise awareness of the danger and expense of nuclear weapons,” she said.

After Teresa met Rusty and Nancy Nelson, former co-directors of PJALS, PAX Christi began coordinating efforts with PJALS, and Teresa realized the place for civil disobedience.

She participated in four acts of civil disobedience (CD): two at Fairchild Air Force Base and two at the Federal Courthouse.

“We protested to draw attention to the cost of militarism taking funds from programs for poverty, health care and housing,” she said, “and to raise awareness of the horrible loss of life if nuclear weapons were used again.”

One time at Fairchild, she and Nancy leafleted cars entering the base with a message of nonviolence and challenging the extent Fairchild employment contributes to Spokane’s economy, compared to the costs of the base itself.  They handed out fliers in the entry area inside the gate. They were arrested, taken to the county jail and processed on charges of trespassing.  At the trial a few months later, the case was dismissed, because there was no clear line of trespass, but they were barred from the base for a year.  A line was later painted.

Another time, Rusty, Nancy, Teresa and seven others went to an open house on the base and knelt by a banner saying that the millions spent on a Stealth bomber could feed millions of hungry.  They were detained and driven off the base, but not arrested.

At the courthouse, she protested the first Iraq War in 1990, blocking the front doors, one time in the lobby and the second time outside. One time, she paid a $25 fine.  One protester did not pay the fine and spent time in jail.

“Civil disobedience has a place in challenging the government’s immoral activities. As a citizen, I do not want to participate in the immoral activity of producing and stockpiling nuclear weapons because of the potential death and destruction their use would bring,” she said.

“Conscience led me to put my body in the way to express my convictions,” Teresa said. 

“CD has a place in transformation for justice, along with prayer, advocacy, education and protest,” she explained.

While her Catholic upbringing led her to these beliefs, others who attended the same schools did not come to the same beliefs, she said.

In the late 1990s, Teresa also went to the School of the Americas to protest the government’s training people to join military actions that undermine the common good of their countries and lead to killing men, women and children, especially in Central America.  She joined many in lawful protest.  A smaller group did civil disobedience.

She served on the PJALS Steering Committee twice in the 1990s, and continues to support it, but is less involved.  In the early 2000s, she had less energy after having breast cancer and reconstructive surgery.

“My quality of life was affected for five years.  I did less peace and justice work, and fewer activities outside of work,” she said.

Since her father died in 2009, she has cared for her mother, who is now in assisted living.

Teresa still goes to lawful protests, holding signs opposing U.S. involvement in the Middle East, police brutality, nuclear weapons and the Iraq war, and supporting Black Lives Matter and increasing the minimum wage.

“We are called to be faithful, even if our actions may not succeed,” she said.  “We are to protect all life and work for the common good. It can be overwhelming.  I feel my voice is small in light of the big issues, but we each need to add our voices to protect life and all creation.”

Teresa said Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, “Laudato Si,” calls people to care for creation.

“I am called to follow the teachings of Jesus and the Catholic Church.  Sometimes I do not see progress,” she said.  “As a follower of Jesus, I share in the paschal mystery that despite suffering and death, there is promise of transformation.”

Teresa said she is persistent, patient, loyal and hopeful.  Part of her hope comes from seeing more young people involved with PJALS and its current emphases in organizing the community around police accountability and opposing coal and oil trains.

For eight years, she has worked with St. Joseph’s Charity and Justice Committee, which recently offered a class on “Understanding Islam” to address fear and suspicion. In both parishes, there have been forums on human rights, war, immigration, refugees, the environment, the death penalty and the economy.

“It’s important that people understand what the popes and bishops teach—to look at the concerns, pray about them and form their consciences,” she said.

Teresa sees her role in the parish as listening and helping people listen to each other, not to change their opinions, but to understand.

“It’s subtle work to help people understand what the Catholic Church teaches without forcing it,” she said.

For information, call 389-5965 or email datmcone@gmail.com.




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