St. Thomas More Society honors former Catholic Charities CEO
By Mary Powers
The St. Thomas More Society gathered at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in North Beach for its annual Red Mass on Oct. 20, celebrated by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, and also honored the 2022 St. Thomas More award recipient, Jilma Meneses, Secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services for the State of Washington.
Held at the opening of each court year, the Red Mass seeks blessing, guidance, and inspiration for judges, attorneys, law school professors, law students, government officials, and others involved in the legal and justice systems, and for all who seek justice.
In his homily, Father Roger Gustafson, the St. Thomas More Society’s chaplain, encouraged those present in their work within the legal system, bringing the light of hope and justice to those who need it most.
“Those who follow Christ are called to go where no one else wants to go,” Father Gustafson said, “As people of faith, we are to run into the darkness of this world to seek out those overcome by the darkness, to go where no one else is willing to go.”
The St. Thomas More awardee has answered this call from Christ. Jilma Meneses has lived a life of service from assisting with missions in Latin America, to helping young women and children in orphanages and schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most recently, Meneses led Catholic Charities of San Francisco as its CEO and now serves as the Secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services for the State of Washington.
In his introduction of Meneses at the dinner reception following Mass, Phil Kearney, Catholic Charities and St. Thomas More Board Member, highlighted her work in Africa and spoke of her leadership in San Francisco, describing her daily journey on the 38 main bus through the Tenderloin to stay connected to the people she was serving and her regular visits to the many sites owned and operated by Catholic Charities. “She’d work 14 hour days, which usually ended in one of Catholic Charities 30 programs, said Kearney, “Places like the Peter Claver Center on Golden Gate Avenue, which houses HIV positive San Franciscans…Although she would never admit it, she truly is a first among equals.”
In her remarks to the St. Thomas More Society, Meneses spoke of the interwoven nature of faith and service. “What is service: the action of helping others,” said Meneses, “cleaning the wounds of a lost or wounded soul, or wiping the tears of a mother who lost her baby, or helping to feed the elderly who cannot feed themselves, or maybe helping a family with rental assistance so they won’t be homeless.”
Continuing on, Meneses defined Justice as, “amplifying the voices that are often muted. Providing oxygen for those who are prevented from breathing, or holding others accountable when they have brutally harmed intentionally.” Putting the two together, Meneses argued, is jurisprudence, what those in the legal profession are called to do, “The Catholic faith teaches us to view service and justice through faith.”