A History of Social Justice at Holy Trinity

When asked why do you belong to Holy Trinity Church, many parishioners, over the years, have answered: “Because of Holy Trinity’s commitment to Social Justice”!

Holy Trinity’s Social Justice activities were formerly launched, in the early 1970s when Thomas Gavigan, S.J. was pastor. The initial efforts were aimed at reaching out to those in the parish who were older and/or isolated. Six – Seven parishioners and Gavigan discussed how the parish could get more involved with the pressing concerns of the day, i.e. homelessness, aging, access to health care, spirituality, education and finances. The group’s inspiration came, in part, from The Jesuit ‘s Mission of “Service of faith of which the promotion of Justice is an absolute requirement”. In the early 80’s James English, S.J. further expanded the Social Justice efforts when he encouraged  parishioners to provide direct service to DC residents in need, learning from the experts of the day: Horace McKenna, S.J. of SOME, John Steinbruck of Luther Place, Dr. Veronica Maz of the House of Ruth, and Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap of the Spanish Catholic Center.

The 100-member Social Concerns group (elevated to a committee of the Parish Council under James Connor, S.J.) volunteered and joined the boards of soup kitchens, shelters, health clinics and numerous other organizations (including Georgetown Ministry Center). When SOME began its Provide-a-Meal Program, Holy Trinity was the first parish to sign up. During this time the parish began a Special Collection, twice a year, specifically for Social Concerns efforts and began a parish wide collection (spring & fall)  of clothing, shoes, coats, blankets, furniture and other items for distribution to those in need. The Parish also joined with St. Aloysius (our DC Jesuit Sister Parish) to create North Capitol Neighborhood Housing Development, which built or renovated (in conjunction with Hands on Housing) affordable housing for sale to lower-income families.

In 1984 the Social Justice Tithe Program was established under James Connor, S.J. –setting aside 10% of ordinary income for Social Justice efforts. In the early 1990s parishioners and James Maier, S.J. traveled to a Jesuit parish in El Salvador, Maria Madre De Los Pobres, to begin an international sister parish relationship. In the early 2000s Lawrence Madden, S.J. agreed to incorporate the building efforts at our sister parishes (St. Al’s / Holy Redeemer for affordable housing in DC and Maria Madre for a Church) by including their needs in the then Capital Campaign to renovate Holy Trinity’s Parish Center and Chapel. Showers were included as part of renovations so H.T. could house homeless persons during parts of the year.

Through the 80s, 90s and early 2000s the Social Concerns group (recently renamed the Social Justice Committee) began to refine how it made grants from proceeds of the Parish Tithe and began to learn about and become involved in advocacy, urged  on by William Byron, S.J. During much of the 1990 and early 2000s the Social Justice efforts were led by Ken Jacques (a social justice minded parishioner who led with his heart rather than his head). In 2001 the parish became a covenant church of Bread for the World (a national and international economic development entity). Parishioners began to lobby and write letters to their federal representatives demanding justice for the poor and hungry of the U.S. and the World.

Moved by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, the parish engaged in a two-year effort to assist the poor and newly homeless of Bay St. Louis, MS with food, clothing, donations, education, health care, accompaniment and hands on rebuilding efforts. During this period, parishioners repaired roofs and re-wired 45 plus homes in the Bay working side-by-side with volunteers from across the country.

Also, in the early 2000s, the parish employed its first Social Justice Minister (inspired by Mark Horak, S.J.) and launched its first “home grown” advocacy organization – Good Faith Communities Coalition, an Inter-Faith homeless advocacy effort aimed at changing how DC recognized and addressed its growing homeless populations. At the same time, Holy Trinity began participating in a rotating hypothermia shelter, housing 10 guests for 2 weeks during the Christmas season. Also, during the early 2000s, parishioners, moved by the recent tragedies in Haiti, began a third Sister Parish relationship with St. Jean Baptiste in Ansdeno, Haiti.

During our Capital Campaign of the late 2000s the parish again agreed to incorporate the needs of those in need in DC by setting aside $250k for affordable housing and outreach to homeless families and persons in recovery. In 2018, Holy Trinity awarded those funds to Housing Up to renovate 12 units, changing them from transitional housing into permanent supportive housing.

In 2012 Holy Trinity, began a Day of Service “The Power of One” where hundreds of members volunteer at one of the many social service organizations in the DC area to learn about how they operate and possibly build a longer-term relationship. This effort continues, and many parishioners have found a new place to volunteer their talents or have learned from those they help.

For example, several parishioners experience volunteering at Georgetown Ministry Center led them to begin two weekly meals (Saturday and Sunday evenings) for the homeless. They had noticed that the men and women who came to GMC had access to hot meals during the week, but not on the weekend. So they joined with 4 other parishes in Georgetown to begin a rotating, weekly Saturday supper at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. That meal then expanded into a Sunday dinner run by Holy Trinity and hosted at Georgetown Presbyterian Church.

In an effort to engage more parishioners in service and advocacy the Social Justice Committee has begun a set of lecture / action seminars called “Building Your Tool Box for Justice” wherein knowledgeable speakers provide input and attendees discuss how they can and will get involved in issues of justice facing our DC community.

This awareness raising effort led to the creation of a refugee committee in 2015 that worked with Lutheran Social Services and Jesuit Refugee Services to accompany a Syrian family for two years as they transitioned to living in DC. That group, in turn, has expanded to focus on ways to accompany asylum seekers and undocumented men and women already living in our community. Members of this group have traveled to the US/Mexico border in Nogales with the Jesuit Ministry, Kino Border Initiative, several times and assisted Sr. Norma Pimentel’s efforts in McAllen, Texas through Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley to provide hospitality to recently released detained migrants. They have also spent time on Capitol Hill advocating for more humane refugee and immigration laws.

Over the years a relatively small number of Holy Trinity parishioners, working in harmony with our parish priests, have committed themselves to seeing that justice is practiced in our city, surrounding counties and world. They have learned about, stimulated, developed and sponsored many of the programs and projects which we all consider a part of the web we call Church.

Among these are:

Outreach to elderly and poor parishioners, SOME, Georgetown Ministries, clothing, furniture and food collections, parish tithe, building, renovation and fund raising for affordable housing, Toy Sunday, Giving Tree, Good Faith Communities Coalition, a winter shelter, Power of One, monthly service opportunities, Sister Parish relationships with DC, El Salvador and Haitian communities, multiple lecture and learning sessions on housing, food justice, preserving our mother earth, racial equality, educational disparities through the Gavigan scholarship at Holy Trinity School and scholarships at the other three tuition-free Catholic middle schools in DC, refugee and asylum seeker accompaniment, advocacy around affordable housing and immigration/refugee issues, and weekly suppers for the homeless.

Given these and many other Social Justice programs and efforts over the years is there any doubt why so many parishioners feel thankful to be members of Holy Trinity Church because of its care for the other?

Contributors to this history include: John Hisle, Julie Aaron, Paul McElligott, Mary Tschudy, Jean Johnson, Bob Vollinger, Ron Castaldi, Charlotte Mahoney and Ann Friedman