The state’s Catholic issues lobbyist Jenny Kraska made history this year by becoming the first laywoman to take the helm of a national association that coordinates 41 members active in advocating for the concerns of the Church.
Kraska, the executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, said she was humbled and honored to be elected the president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors (NASCCD). She was elected by fellow association members July 26 during a meeting in Helena, Mont. She succeeds previous president Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.
“The NASCCD is an incredible organization filled with men and women of great character and tremendous faith. To be a Catholic conference director requires a very thick skin, a resilient spirit, a sense of humor and most importantly trust in God,” Kraska said. “The issues that face the Church and our country today are certainly, as Thomas Paine once wrote, ‘the times that try men’s souls.’ Within these trying times are also great opportunities for the Church to be a voice of hope and a voice of truth in a public square that is lacking both.”
Now in her eighth year with the state-level public policy agency, Kraska continues to represent Colorado’s three Catholic dioceses at the Capitol on issues including life, marriage, religious liberty, immigration, Catholic schools and more. She is the only full-time, faith-based advocate of issues at the Legislature.
Her work also entails alerting the Colorado community to new bills, both local and federal, that are of concern to Catholics and coordinating the distribution of voter issues guides near election time. She coordinates with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on federal issues and is a spokeswoman to the media.
Kraska hails from Prior Lake, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, and is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. She earned a double major in Catholic studies and theology and went on to earn a doctor of law degree and a master’s degree in Catholic studies.
Kraska worked as a research attorney for Thompson West Publishing before moving to Colorado and joining the Colorado Catholic Conference as associate director in 2007. The following year she was named executive director and succeeded former director Tim Dore.
One of her primary goals is to not only to make the community aware of legislative activity but get Catholics involved in the political process.
“There’s simple little things that all of us can do and should be doing to engage the public square,” Kraska said.
One is to register to vote, she said. Another is to join the conference’s legislative network that sends out actions alerts and notices about important legislative issues. Faithful may also become involved by testifying on bills or expressing to their legislator their views on a piece of legislation. The legislative network and list of legislators is available at http://www.cocatholicconference.org/
The conference also made available a new app for smartphone users that allows them to access legislative updates and resources. The app may be downloaded for free.
The NASCCD started in 1968 to facilitate information and activities between state-level conferences, which represent dioceses within a state on public policy concerns. State directors may work with governments, other church agencies, nonprofits, religious and lay people.