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.
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.