Sister Sharon Park, Executive Director of the WA State Catholic Conference from 1997 - 2017

Photo: Stephen Brashear from Northwest Catholic magazine feature

Sr Sharon Park never saw herself in the public arena. A self-described introvert, she knew from a very early age that she wanted to be a Sister in the Catholic Church expecting her role would be to become a teacher.

Her mother had been one of the first lay teachers in Catholic Schools, and both her mother and father were outgoing personalities who remained strongly involved in their community.  Growing up watching parents who were engaged with the world – active participants in their church, involved in the community affairs and sports, doing debate and public speaking – instilled the importance of community leadership. They had their kids practice speaking in front of a mirror and helped foster that it was normal to enter religious life. Sr Sharon cites belonging to a family with quick humor and strong religious faith without religiosity as her greatest fortune.


Following high school, Sharon Park entered the order of the Dominican Sisters, who serve through teaching, nursing, advocacy for the poor, care of the earth, and housing ministries.  Religious life in the late 1960’s after Vatican II shifted greatly. Sister Sharon, after working as an RN in hospitals and caring for patients in their homes for over 10 years, was moved by the goal of bringing the church into the modern world. She joined a group known as the Sisters’ Council who created a committee on social justice to look at how their ministry could be more relevant to the day.  Some of them met weekly with the intention “to do something” to help change the lives of people, especially those living in poverty.  The group went to the legislature to observe, visited night court to hear first-hand experiences, and learned the ins & outs of how government works.  They studied the issues and wrote letters, so that after three years the group felt sure it was time to select two Sisters to go into a political ministry.
Sister Sharon was not initially one of the two chosen to go to Olympia, WA.  She was in her early thirties and intended to provide home nursing visits, but at the last minute she was asked to step in as a replacement representative. After being granted the support of her religious community and with a lucky offer from a couple in Olympia who provided a house the Sisters could use for free, Sr Sharon and Sr Margaret went to the Capital.  Every day they sat and observed committees, read bills, talked with legislators and lobbyists, and learned the nuances of the legislative process inside and out.


Shortly thereafter the Catholic Conference was formed, and the two sisters played an advocacy role where they would advise WSCC on all bills relating to poverty, charities and schools.  Sr Sharon met with representatives and lobbyists on both sides of the fence on a regular basis. “If you are around, you get to know people and the buzz.”  She lived in Olympia every session with the Lacey Benedictines for many years, coming home on weekends to be with her own religious community.


When asked about how new technology has affected her work and politics in general, Sr Sharon advises that it is still all about relationships and physical presence. “Technology is far less civil – there is a downside to instant responses.”  She herself preferred the time of letters when one didn’t have to worry someone expected to hear back that very day.


Sr Sharon revealed that the founding of WFIS came from a need across the state.  Schools decided to band together to gain a voice and support.  Sr Sharon and Sr Margaret sat on a host of WFIS committees and lobbied on behalf of the Washington Federation of Independent Schools when they first went to Olympia.  Education, both in the home and in a school, is the place to learn one of her simple truths “what makes a huge difference in life is common courtesy.”  Sr Sharon advocates for a balance between individual rights – the rights of the human person – and the common good.

Sr Sharon sees her strength for analysis and calm personality as the keys that helped her succeed despite being solitary by nature.  As someone who just got to know Sr Sharon during the course of our interview, I would say her clear logical mind and clever humor were ideally suited to someone reluctant about being in the public eye – and quite possibly the perfect mix which helped her stand out as so genuinely committed.  The achievements she feels most proud of during her lengthy tenure with the WSCC, are clearly the increases in funding for poverty services.

The funny thing is that Sister Sharon’s bucket list doesn’t sound much different than her last half century of dedicated work!  Speaking just a few days after her official retirement, she expressed great reluctance about being labeled as retired.  She is committed to continue with the Catholic Conferences’ PREPARES program which mentors women and families with children from prenatal through age 5 in each parish around the state.  She also revealed that she continues to use her nursing skills, and likes to garden and fix things, around her convent.  Clearly Sr Sharon has evolved to be far less of an introvert than she realizes.

Read the Northwest Catholic feature on Sr Sharon’s life work here