News: Listening, understanding & responding to marginalized groups

February 18, 2021

Mark Schmidt

Given the rising tension surrounding issues of racial justice and inequality, the Diocese of Des Moines felt compelled to better listen, understand and respond to those marginalized groups.

As a result, Mark Schmidt was hired on a contract basis in his role as coordinator of racial justice programming. His work began Jan. 13 and will conclude by June 25.

“Mark brings his perspective as social worker and theologian to bear upon our often-tense social situation and the circumstances of our Diocese,” said Bishop William Joensen. “He has been a respected member of the Iowa Catholic Conference who now is a faithful member of our Diocese. He brings a prophetic voice and a critical perspective to bear upon our community and local church.”    Schmidt’s duties include developing and executing a plan to address issues of racial justice. This effort will be conducted through the Lent and Easter seasons of 2021.

The scope of the project includes planning, implementing, and coordinating a diocesan wide effort to raise awareness related to issues of racial justice, and identify and promote concrete actions that parishes and parishioners can take to address racial justice.

“One of the things that I am dedicated to doing is making sure that in my work I center the voices of historically marginalized groups: Black, Indigenous, Latino, Pacific Islander and Asians,” Schmidt said. “Too often their voices are either not listened to or there isn’t an avenue that seems open for people most directly harmed by prejudice to be able to speak for themselves.”

Schmidt will also work with Catholic Charities to discuss and discern an overall social justice imperative and work with identified stakeholders.             

He will collaborate with diocesan department directors, Catholic Charities leadership and parishes. Part of his work includes articulating and sharing a broad vision of Catholic Social Teaching and applying those teachings to the issue of racial justice.

“Mark provides a unique perspective on racial justice,” said Dr. Barbara Decker, executive director of Catholic Charities. “His background in social work with studies in Church, liturgy and Black Catholic history will foster a meaningful review, as well as, provide varied resources on this important need.”

Catholic Charities looks forward to working with Schmidt to further assess and advance social justice initiatives in support of the Catholic Social Teachings, Decker added.

“I am thankful to Barbara Decker, head of Catholic Charities of our Des Moines Diocese, for her commitment and collaboration in bringing Mark onboard,” Bishop Joensen added. “I expect that he will call us all to greater self-reflection, conversation and solidarity as we respect the dignity of all persons regardless of race or nationality.”

Adam Storey, vice-chancellor, agrees.  

“Mark Schmidt’s work will be a great blessing for our Diocese, as he’ll help us do what Jesus did, drawing close to the marginalized and listening to voices we don’t always hear,” said Storey. “Mark is passionate about following the Gospel wherever it leads, and I am excited about the ways his work will enrich our Diocese.”

Schmidt’s prior work included serving as director of Respect Life and Social Justice for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, as well as parish ministry as a pastoral associate.