Simone Blanchard

Clown, Activist and Mother

Ethical Trade Stories: Simone B.

As I read these heartfelt letters to the Church from our leaders, I developed an even deeper admiration for and commitment to Holy Mother Church.

I’ll never forget it. Seventeen years ago I was offered a position as the Director of Social Ministry for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Shortly after I took the position, I was asked to teach 15 men studying to be Deacons about the famous encyclical Rerum Novarum written in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII. Even though I grew up in the Church and was actively practicing my faith, the closest formal social ministry training I had was “clown ministry.” You know, Clowns for Christ. I was no theologian. While I was completely unprepared for this assignment, I was in my early 20’s and not afraid of anything.

Crash Course in Catholic Social Teaching

My crash course started with figuring out what Rerum Novarum really meant (On Capital and Labor). In teaching myself, I ended up with a deep appreciation of the leadership role the Church has always played in upholding the dignity of the human person and the rights and responsibilities of workers.

In Pope Leo’s Encyclical he advocates for:

  1. Working guilds where workers could collectively organize and negotiate with employers – a.k.a. unions
  2. A formal government program to care for people who were no longer able to work – a.k.a. social security
  3. Adequate pay to meet the basic needs and education for families – a.k.a.  a living wage.

From Clown Ministry to Encyclical Eater

Rerum Novarum had me hooked. I like to say, I began eating encyclicals for breakfast. As I sipped my morning coffee I would pour over letters from Pope Paul VI, John XXIII and John Paul II. As I read these heartfelt letters to the Church from our leaders, I developed an even deeper admiration for and commitment to Holy Mother Church.

My desire to live out these teachings led me to do what some might consider a few crazy things. For instance, my husband and I decided to take our wedding pictures at MLK’s tomb. We’ve also taken a bus to North Carolina to march around the headquarters of Mount Olive Pickles, demanding better conditions for farm workers. I’ve climbed up a mountain in El Salvador specifically to meet with the coffee farmers who lived and worked there. There was also the time when my husband and I woke up at 3:30 in the morning to drive around the city and count homeless people for our annual homeless census. Crazy to some, transformative to me.

The Most Important Part of My Journey

Looking back I smile at these attempts to practice my faith in the public sphere. These days, I’m much more behind the scenes now running CRS Ethical Trade. I go to all the boring but necessary meetings and do a lot from the sidelines. Most importantly my husband and I are raising our daughter to love God and her neighbor (she knew where Butan was before she knew where Maryland is). It’s not an easy task to raise a conscientious, respectful global citizen but I know it is the most important work I will ever do.