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Social Justice Ministry serves in multiple ways

From top left to right: Francy Pavlas Bose, (Mary Stamp),Tim Paulitz, Bill Engels, Bonita Lawhead and Kat Harris

At Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Pullman, parishioners are committed to serve people through social justice action—housing, hunger and environmental projects, and advocacy.

Five members of the parish's Social Justice Ministry—Bill Engels, Kat Harris, Francy Pavlas Bose, Tim Paulitz and Bonita Lawhead—recently told of their motivations and described some of the projects.

"We use 'ministry' not 'committee' because a ministry is about doing God's justice work," Francy clarified. "A ministry serves others," Kat said.

The Social Justice Ministry began a year after Francy came to Pullman in 1993. In 1994, she attended the Catholic Conference in Spokane where she learned about the "Moving Faith into Action" program. In Pullman, she invited 12 members of Sacred Heart to participate in a six-week program to move faith into action.

"I was Catholic all my life but had not learned about the social justice teachings," she said.

Tim and Bill were inspired to do peace and justice work by the 36-week Just Faith Program, Tim in 2001 after moving to Pullman in 2000, and Bill at St. Joseph's in Seattle.

Transformative experiences abroad were another common factor for them.

Born in Seattle, Bill lived in Europe and around the U.S. when his father was in the Army. He studied English literature at the University of Arkansas and did graduate studies at St. Louis University.

After earning his doctorate in 1998, Bill taught mostly in Asia: four years in Mongolia, three in South Korea and six at a Maryknoll mission school in Bangladesh. He also served as principal of an elementary school he helped start in Bangladesh. In 2014, he came to teach at Washington State University (WSU). His wife, who is from Mongolia, is now a U.S. citizen.

Kat, who experienced little diversity growing up in Wyoming, did not have an interest in social justice until moving in 2016 from Nebraska to Pullman. After graduating in accounting in 2007 from the University of Wyoming, she went from being a CPA to teaching accounting.

Catholic all her life, she encountered other perspectives because her husband is Jamaican and the grandson of a Baptist deacon. Her interest in social justice grew as she began to see the world through another lens after visiting his family. "As a minority for two weeks, I gained a new perspective," Kat said.

Her husband grew up in a farm village, where people had little or no interaction with white people. His family hand-washed their clothes. They had running water, while few others did.

"Seeing people live in survival mode, I am no longer quick to judge.  We need grace to see others where they are. Life is complex," Kat said. "Social justice is walking the talk of faith.

The pandemic led me to look for the good," she said. "Now we are discussing racial justice. Racism is an issue. We need to talk about it and act."

Tim also has international ties. He came to Pullman as a wheat disease researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, after teaching 10 years at McGill University in Quebec.

For him, social justice is intertwined with his faith and keeps him involved in the church. He appreciates that Sacred Heart's pastor, Fr. Steve Dublinski, encourages parishioners to talk about issues and then act.

"The social justice aspect of Jesus' message ties to what we do every day," he said. "My social justice work makes my faith concrete rather than cerebral."

His research led him to sabbaticals in Switzerland and Australia, and to teaching in Morocco and Turkey. As an adjunct professor at the Department of Plant Pathology at WSU, he works with international graduate students.

Bonita, who grew up in South Dakota, moved to Vancouver and then to Tekoa, north of Pullman, where she lived 40 years. She worked with The Standard-Register weekly newspaper and became editor. For five years, she worked with The Inland Catholic Register, interviewing priests, visiting parishes and writing on the many ways people brings Jesus' love into the world.

Bonita studied to be a substance abuse counselor and began working in 2005 with a counseling agency in Pullman, 13 years before moving there in 2018.

"Jesus calls us to the Gospel of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Social justice is seeing children fed and having shoes, and there being equal opportunity for people of all skin colors and dispositions," Bonita said.

For Bill, Social Justice Ministry is a way to put his faith into action in a group context. Knowing he is accountable to a group means he has deadlines and the support of a group with similar goals.

Through the ministry, Francy, Tim and Bill seek to bring Pope Francis' encyclical, "Laudato si: Caring for Our Common Home" to the parish. Through Zoom meetings, participants learn about and commit to addressing climate change and creation care as individuals and as a parish.

"Move Out, Pitch In" is a spring project, coordinated by the university with many churches and community groups.

When students leave campus, they throw away what they can't take, so churches and a thrift shop set up bins in residence halls and put up signs, "Don't throw things away.  Put them in the bin in the lobby." Students put in food, clothing, dishes, bedding, toasters, microwaves, other appliances and storage bins.

Groups of 15 to 20 Sacred Heart volunteers in teams of two or three go to the halls twice a day to load items into cars and pickup trucks. They take items to Sacred Heart's basement to sort to distribute to individuals in need through agencies in Pullman, Moscow and Spokane. Several other churches and groups do that in other residence halls.

"It saves 50,000 pounds from the landfill," Francy said.

Another ecology project is collecting clear plastic bags for Trex, a recycling company that makes railings and decking. Sacred Heart members bring bags to the church, which takes the bags to Safeway in Pullman.

If they recycle 500 pounds in six months, Trex gives them a bench. The church has four benches and will donate future benches to care facilities. 

Francy urges other churches to join them, "because it's better to recycle plastic than have it end up in the ocean."

When Pullman Disposal Service stopped accepting glass a few years ago, the Social Justice Ministry began collecting glass at the church and taking it to Whitman County Transfer, which grinds it for road construction.

Tim described the housing programs. Sacred Heart has been active for seven years in Family Promise of the Palouse, an outreach of the Parish Council with homeless families. In Pullman and Moscow, 13 core churches rotated housing families in their facilities four times a year and 13 support churches provided meals in pre-COVID times. Now homeless families stay in hotels while Family Promise helps people find jobs, put their lives together and find housing.

The Social Justice Ministry connects with the Community Action Center (CAC), which offers emergency and low-income housing, giving bus tickets to Spokane shelters. Sojourners Alliance in Moscow has an emergency shelter. Habitat of the Palouse builds one house a year.

For hunger, there are two food banks—one at the CAC and one at Pullman Child Welfare. St. James Episcopal, Community Congregational United Church of Christ and the campus have set up and stock little food pantries. Sacred Heart's Parish Council is considering having one.

Kat's outreach includes organizing people to send cards to isolated residents in care facilities.

Last fall, Bonita was in a group praying for civility. It did a service with music and scripture on Jesus' call to love God and love neighbors, bringing awareness that "we are all one and need to be civil to those who are different."

About 12 parishioners attended the 2021 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference in January on Zoom, learning about issues before the state legislature. Bill and Francy coordinate an action alert network for peace and justice advocacy at Sacred Heart.

They email or text parishioners about actions on the death penalty, environment and other issues.


For information, call 332-5114 or email
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2021