SEATTLE – The state’s bishops have appointed Mario Villanueva as executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference. Villanueva will lead advocacy efforts and represent the bishops of the Archdiocese of Seattle, the Diocese of Spokane and the Diocese of Yakima on public policy matters.
“We are so pleased to welcome Mario to this important role,” said Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle. “His knowledge and expertise will help us continue to advocate for the common good and bring important issues to the forefront on behalf of the 1.3 million Catholics in Washington state.”
Villanueva brings a wealth of relevant experience to his new position and “his roots in the Yakima Valley give him a unique perspective and ability to inject our Catholic faith into major public policy conversations,” said Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima.
“I’m eager to get started,” Villanueva said of his new position. “I want to build an empowered network of people who are living their faith and demonstrating what it means to be Catholic today.”
In a Q-and-A with NORTHWEST CATHOLIC, Villanueva shared his background, vision for his new role and what having a job connected to his faith means to him:
Q.: You spent time working as the Founding Director of Catholic Charities Housing Services in Central Washington and as the state director of USDA Rural development. Tell us about those experiences. How do they relate to this new role?
A.: I believe both positions are pretty relevant in helping me take on the role of executive director for WSCC. For the Charities job, I worked closely with the bishop of Yakima in a faith-based context with a direct focus on the Church’s social teaching and the preferential option for the poor. Each day it was a joy to see how we could combine our technical expertise with our faith to make good things happen throughout the diocese — and we did that by God’s grace. As part of all of this, I engaged in advocacy efforts to influence state and federal policy related to housing and social services.
With the federal government, I carried out my statewide community and economic development duties on behalf of the Obama Administration and the Secretary of Agriculture. This included a special emphasis on working with tribes. My everyday duties included understanding and implementing public policy and initiatives such as promoting green technologies, renewable energy, local food, care for the environment and various financing concepts. I engaged with a wide range of local, tribal, federal and state partners and stakeholders to deploy our mission.
Much of this work is relevant to my new role as executive director for the WSCC.
Q.: What attracted you to this role?
A.: Primarily, it was the prospect of working for the bishops and our church. To promote our church teachings and to do this in the public square at a policy and legislative level really appealed to me.
Q.: How will you work with the bishops?
A.: I am still learning this. Since Archbishop Etienne is new as well, we’ll truly have a learning relationship in our respective roles. Along with the WSCC team, I will work closely with all the bishops, and I already know several board members, which is helpful.
I believe WSCC’s role is to:
1) catch and understand issues, legislation and important policy
2) analyze those for relevancy to Catholic justice and life teaching
3) bring these to the attention of Washington’s bishops for discussion and position taking and provide them advice
4) work with the bishops to create a proactive agenda on policy and legislative issues
5) carry out the will of the bishops in matters of policy, legislation and programs, in whatever form they deem is needed in the public square.
Q.: What is your vision for your role and for WSCC overall?
A.: I would like to build on the great work of my predecessors, Joe Sprague and Dominican Sister Sharon Park. I’d like to increase the impact that the WSCC can have in our state to support the position of our bishops on public policy in the public square and to be a viable and helpful resource to the Catholic faithful in our state, helping make their voices heard on issues of import to our communities, state and world. The WSCC team is excellent and I want to support this group to empower them to be their best.
Q.: Tell us about your faith and what it means to have a job that that promotes Catholic teaching?
A.: My faith is the basis for my sense of what my purpose in life is — to serve God. My wife Jane and I share that sense fully. Having a job that promotes Catholic teaching just gives me a sense that I am doing God’s will. I am fully blessed and could not ask for a better job.
Q.: Anything else you’d like to add?
A.: I am very grateful to my wife and family for fully supporting me— they are truly excited to see me engage in this new and exciting position. I am also most grateful to Archbishop Etienne and Bishops Eusebio Elizondo and Daniel Mueggenborg of the Archdiocese of Seattle; Bishop Thomas Daly of the Diocese of Spokane; and Bishop Joseph Tyson of the Diocese of Yakima for the opportunity to serve them and the people of God in this way.
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