BY ISN STAFF | April 14, 2021
Mary J. Novak has been named the next executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Novak’s tenure began April 1, 2021, and she succeeds Sister Simone Campbell, S.S.S., the founder of Nuns on the Bus and NETWORK’s leader for the past 16 years.
“The board is proud to announce our unanimous choice of Mary Novak as the new executive director of NETWORK,” said the chairs of NETWORK’s Boards of Directors Sister Mary Beth Hamm, S.S.J., and Rachelle Reyes Wenger. “Mary’s experience as a lawyer, educator, chaplain and spiritual director, restorative justice practitioner, and activist make her uniquely positioned to build on the historic work of Sister Simone and all of NETWORK’s Sisters and advocates as we grow in this new era.”
Having worked among Catholic Sisters and Jesuits for decades, Novak comes to NETWORK after serving Georgetown University Law Center as associate director of mission integration and adjunct professor of law. She was also the founding board chair of Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), which is part of the Congregation of St. Joseph Mission Network. Novak’s leadership helped grow CMN into a thriving force to end the use of the death penalty and promote restorative justice. Novak has practiced and taught law in a myriad of areas, including advocating for men on California’s death row, and she has served pastorally in hospitals and universities. Novak is well versed in the dynamics of U.S. women religious, having served the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and having made her lifetime commitment as an associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph.
“Over these past 50 years, and most recently with Sr. Simone at the helm, NETWORK has been able to bring people together around a shared vision for the common good. As the next leader of this phenomenal organization, it is an honor to be called to build on that rock solid legacy,” said Mary J. Novak. “I am excited to join the extensive NETWORK community and work day-to-day with staff members who hold an immense wealth of knowledge and practice.”
Novak shared her vision for NETWORK’s future: “For two decades I have been grounded in a Jesuit ethos, animated by Ignatian spirituality and steeped in the Catholic intellectual and social tradition, which also takes shape for me in restorative justice practices. I step into this work acutely aware of the intense polarization plaguing our society, our culture, and our politics, and following a very painful year of collective trauma we are only just beginning to name. I believe the Catholic Social Teaching that undergirds all of NETWORK’s engagement can be a unifying and universal source of inspiration for the moral imagination we need to promote justice, healing, and the common good.”
Sister Simone will work closely with Novak during the transition. “Mary is the perfect choice to lead NETWORK in the next step to ensure the well-being of those most marginalized people among us. This is the mandate as we build this nation anew,” she said. “I could not be more proud of what NETWORK has accomplished, and I am excited to join the entire NETWORK membership in the work ahead.”
Founded in December 1971, NETWORK was formed when a group of Catholic Sisters felt the need to collaborate and engage in political activism around social justice on the federal level. NETWORK now includes tens of thousands of individuals from all walks of life united in answering the call for justice.
NETWORK’s mission arises out of this long tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, working to create a society that promotes justice and the dignity of all persons in the sacredness of God’s abundant creation. NETWORK is a Catholic leader in the global movement for justice and peace advocating on federal policy that relates to health care, immigration, racial justice, economic justice, and more.
“The Ignatian Solidarity Network has been privileged, for many years, to have worked closely with Sr. Simone Campbell and the staff at NETWORK in promotion of our shared vision and commitment to Catholic social teaching,” said Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. “As Mary Novak begins her tenure, we look forward to further collaboration, particularly given Mary’s long history of engagement with the Jesuit mission.”
Sister Simone was honored by ISN in 2020 with the Robert M. Holstein Faith Doing Justice Award for her significant commitment to leadership for social justice grounded in the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). She has spoken many times at the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, including as a keynote speaker in 2012, and was a 2020 guest at ISN’s virtual Solidarity on Tap.