The St. Philip Neri campus will soon welcome a new resident. For almost a decade, the old school building at 224 Woodbine Street has been inhabited by Kenwood Montessori School, but that changed this past June when the school relocated to a larger facility on Eastern Parkway, the former Our Mother of Sorrows School.
Now a new tenant, a non-profit called JustFaith Ministries, will be making the Woodbine address its new home. JustFaith, known for its dynamic small-group programs that are rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, is set to officially move in the first week of January.
We took some time to talk with JustFaith Ministries’ executive director, Jane Walsh, to learn more about our new neighbors and their national impact and hear about their eager anticipation to be moving into the neighborhood:
What is JustFaith and how did it get its start?
JustFaith is a non-profit ministry, and we create and distribute programs for small groups — inside and outside of churches —that are formed around Catholic Social teaching, particularly the preferential option for the poor and solidarity. While we serve the wider Christian community, we started in Catholic churches and were designed for Catholic parishes.
JustFaith started at the Church of the Epiphany (in Louisville) by a guy named Jack Jezreel who got his master’s at Notre Dame, and then spent six years living at a Catholic Worker House in Denver. He then became the director of religious education at the Church of the Epiphany, and what he saw was that people in the parish struggled with figuring out how to actualize those particular Catholic Social Teachings. For example, how do you live in solidarity with the poor and marginalized? He created, over a few years’ time, this process called JustFaith, which at that time was 31 weeks for 2.5 hours a week.
The process combined several elements, which we still have today: study of texts and videos that explore issues related to poverty; prayer and Scripture, everything we do is grounded in Scripture; encounter, which for us means immersion, not providing charity to the marginalized, but finding ways and avenues of being with; and then dialogue, a very structured process for people who may not agree with each other at all on issues, such as should the government use more taxes to provide for the poor? They actually have a dialogue about what the church’s teachings and Scripture have to say about these questions.
What I think is so powerful, and in fact kind of countercultural about the program, is the idea that we can sit in a room and talk about things, not because we agree, but because we’re Christians. And that’s enough for us to come together and deeply explore these issues.
For JustFaith participants who go through one of your programs, what is the hoped-for outcome?
The hoped for outcome for all of our programs and processes is what the Catholic Church would call social ministry — actually stepping into those teachings and bringing them into your life in ways large and small. Over 50,000 people across the United States have gone through one of our programs.
We have a range. To me, the powerful testimony is people talking about what happened to them [after going through the program], and what they have been doing differently as a result. There’s a woman who’s a director of Catholic Charities in Texas, who was a high-power corporate executive. She went through JustFaith and said I can’t do this [job] anymore. She quit her job, went to South America, and then went to work at Catholic Charities as director. I can personally count maybe 12 people I’ve talked to who did the same thing — who left basically very wealthy or upper middle class [lifestyles].
A lot of our demographic has been traditionally wealthy, upper middle class, mostly white, but not exclusively at all, Catholics who say [as a result of the program] “my life can change, and I can do this.”
For some people, that means “I shop differently now. I don’t buy new stuff as much.” Or “I’m really reducing my material consumption because I understand now what the relationship between that and poverty in the world is.”
Some people talk about the program as conversion. Other people talk about it as transformation. Their experiences vary from [making] different choices day to day to [making] drastically different changes — not even living in the same country anymore. We have all those stories that, for me, helps me to understand the impact of what we do.
What are some of your most popular programs?
JustFaith is our original program, and it remains the program that most people take and that most people talk about. It’s 24 weeks long — a very intense program. Between 90 and 120 groups a year take that program, and those groups are an average of 11 to 15 people, so they are very small. That is very much as the original program was.
We have a program called Engaging Spirituality that starts in and moves out. It’s really designed more for people who have been doing the work and are looking for spiritual nourishment to continue doing the work. It’s also very long — 21 weeks.
We have a program called Good News People, which is an explicitly Catholic program for Catholic parishes. It’s a 12-week program that churches tend to do around Lent or Advent, but they don’t have to. They really explore Catholic Social Teaching and the Works of Mercy and how to live those. Those are our three longer programs.
Then we have a series of shorter 8-week programs called JustMatter modules. We have one on immigration, called Crossing Borders. We have one on prison reform, called Church of the Second Chances. We have one on Christian-Muslim dialogue called the Sultan and the Saint.
Then we have a new module that comes out in January called Hunger for Change, which is about food insecurity in the United States and across the world. It’s really designed to bring faithful people into more action around addressing hunger and food insecurity.
How do people come to learn about JustFaith?
I would say eighty percent of how people find us is word of mouth. People meet others who are really engaged in something that matters to them and they say “how did you come to this work?” and they say, “I went through this program” or “There’s this group at my church called JustFaith.” There are a few churches across the country that refer to themselves as JustFaith communities because they’re so social ministry driven, and the way they renew that social ministry year after year is having JustFaith programs.
What is your role at JustFaith and who else is involved in the work?
I joined the staff three years ago, and at the time Jack was still working there as president and founder. He’s really the visionary and I am more of a practitioner. I know how to get stuff done. But a lot of the vision comes from Jack and from a very engaged national board.
There are seven of us who will be working out of that office, but what’s really important to know about us is those of us who work in the Louisville office are a tiny fraction of the real workforce. We have right now about 280 or so volunteer facilitators who are actually leading the programs all over the country. And that’s the workforce.
That’s how the work gets done. We craft the programs, write the programs, work with other collaborators to get them done, and we distribute them almost exclusively on the internet so people can use them in living rooms and in church basements where they take place.
You will be moving into this neighborhood soon. How did that come about and how do you feel about moving to the neighborhood?
We’re very excited to be moving into the school. It came about because I know [longtime Catholic Workers] Bill and Alice Walsh, who are my parents, and when the school moved out it happened to be at the same moment we [at JustFaith] were saying we need to find a new place. We have been out at Lyndon Lane for a long time, so this is a big move for us. We’ll be in a new neighborhood, and for the first time, we’ll be in a community. And I think that’s exciting for us.
One of the things we’re most excited about in this new location is we’ll be using two of the rooms as office space and we’ll have a community space where we’ll be able to host people to come in and work as we develop new small groups.
One of our staff members was part of the Vatican gathering in April on Catholic non-violence. We’ve been talking with her and Pax Christi about creating a module on Christian non-violence and exploring the just war theory. We would love to be able to gather people there in small groups to explore those issues and help us create that module.
We’re painting and getting stuff ready now. We think we’ll move in the first week of January pending any snow storms. As soon as we can figure it out, we’re going to have some kind of housewarming.
Interview conducted by Catholic Worker Stephanie Kornexl.