NETWORK Lobby, the social justice advocacy group founded by US religious sisters and based in Washington, DC, has named its first-ever Deputy Executive Director and Chief Equity Officer, Joan F. Neal.

“I look forward to further developing NETWORK’s unique strategy of effecting change by applying Gospel values and the framework of Catholic Social Tradition to federal policies and practices,” said Neal in a press release issued July 7th.

The news came just months after the organization announced the hiring of its new Executive Director Mary Novak. She succeeded the firebrand nun-activist Sr Simone Campbell, SSS, who led the organization from 2004 until March of this year.

“Joan brings a wealth of experience developing organizational strategy, a powerful commitment to racial justice, and her own deep wisdom to this new role at NETWORK,” Novak said of Neal.

“I am thrilled to have her on our leadership team as NETWORK enters its next chapter.”

Neal had previously been a consultant for the group on issues of racial justice, and also a Government Relations Fellow—wherein she advocated for criminal justice reform.

Additionally, she has written regularly for the NETWORK blog since early 2015.

Her resume includes a post at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pennsylvania, where she served as Vice President of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness and as Chief Planning Officer. Prior to her time there, she was Executive Vice President of Catholic Relief Services, where she founded the organization’s US Operations division.

Her roots, however, are in Chicago, where she was a bank executive and received an MA in Pastoral Studies from the Catholic Theological Union. (She remains a life trustee at CTU.) She currently serves on the board of the Sister Thea Bowman Foundation, a Black-led scholarship organization also based in the Windy City.

In Fall 2020, during the campaign of now-President Joe Biden, Neal signed on as one of 36 co-chairs of the “Catholics for Biden” initiative—alongside Dr. Anthea Butler and Donna Brazile—helping to cement the election of the nation’s second Catholic president.

Notably, Neal’s work with Catholic sisters extends beyond her time collaborating with NETWORK, as she is presently an associate member of the National Black Sisters Conference.

“My commitment to working for racial, economic, and social justice is rooted in my Catholic faith and my identity as a Black Catholic woman in the U.S.” Neal said.

“I honor the commitment and persistence of Black Catholics who call on our nation and our Church to live up to their stated values.”


Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).


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