Three Catholics who serve Minnesota share how their faith guides their work for the common good

| Jessica Weinberger | October 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

All eyes may be locked on the upcoming presidential election, but closer to home, public officials continue to serve the needs of the community by promoting justice and advocating for change across the state. For many, faith serves as the lens for addressing key issues, making fair decisions and withstanding the pressures of public service.

The Catholic Spirit asked three public officials in varying roles to describe how their Catholic faith impacts their work and how they strive to advance the common good for all Minnesotans.

The responses have been edited for length.

Christopher Dietzen

dietzenChristopher Dietzen, 69, recently retired as a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court after being appointed in February 2008. He said he always felt a call to serve the Lord in both family life and the legal profession, so once his children were grown, he began to give back to the community as a judge, a role he compares to “neutral umpires in a game.” This father of four and grandfather of 10 lives with his wife in St. Paul. They are parishioners at Nativity of Mary in Bloomington.

Q. Do you consider your judicial work to be your vocation?

A. Yes. I believe that each of us has a calling and that we seek God in faith to determine how we can serve him through our occupation or profession. My calling has been to be a husband, father and grandfather, and as a lawyer, judge and justice.

Q. Describe the role of faith in your day-to-day work as a judge and justice.

A. The role of a judge or justice is to apply the rule of law in a fair and impartial manner to all persons who seek justice before the court. The decisions judges and justices make are often difficult ones, and I prayed for wisdom every day to make a fair and impartial decision in every case presented to the court.

Q. What activity as a judge or justice are you most proud of?

A. In my role as chair of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, we worked to recommend changes to drug sentencing in Minnesota that were adopted by the legislature. The changes will make treatment more available to those who are chemically dependent and desire treatment, and reduce geographic disparity in drug sentencing in the state.

Q. What is the most difficult judicial decision you had to make?

A. Last March, I announced my decision to retire effective Aug. 31, 2016. My term expired in early January 2017, and it didn’t make sense to run for re-election because I would reach the mandatory retirement age in March 2017. After a lengthy discernment process, I concluded that I should select the option that best furthers the interests of a justice, who must be non-partisan and non-political.

Q. How do you stay grounded in your faith amid the pressures of this type of work?

A. Daily prayer, reading Scripture, my men’s group, and participation in the sacramental life of my Roman Catholic faith. But the most important thing I’ve learned is that everything begins and ends with Jesus Christ.

Q. What legacy do you hope to leave for your work as a judge and justice?

A. My greatest privilege or legacy is to be a husband, father and grandfather. My second greatest privilege has been to serve as a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. It was truly an honor and privilege to serve with six exceptional, independent-thinking individuals who participate in the decision-making process on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Joyce Peppin

peppinJoyce Peppin’s interest in politics sparked as a 10-year-old watching President Ronald Reagan handle the American hostage situation in Iran in the early 1980s. Now, Peppin, 46, serves as the majority leader for the Minnesota House of Representatives. A member of the Republican party, she was first elected in 2004 and is serving her sixth term. Peppin and her husband have two daughters, and are parishioners at Mary Queen of Peace in Rogers.

Q. Do you consider your political work to be your vocation?

A. I always strive to be a servant of God. While I don’t consider political work to be my vocation, it does give me a unique platform to serve [God].

Q. Describe the role of faith in your day-to-day work as a politician. Does faith have a place in politics?

A. Absolutely. In spite of our best intentions, humans are fallible. Seeking God’s guidance gives me confidence in my decisions because I know that I’m not making them alone.

Q. What piece of legislation or other political activity are you most proud of?

A. Being elected to the position of majority leader was an incredible and humbling honor.

Q. What is the most difficult political decision you’ve had to make? How did  your faith guide you through that process?

A. This year, a veto threat from Gov. Mark Dayton forced a compromise that prevented education-based tax credits meant to open up opportunities for children of disadvantaged families to attend private schools. Although severely disappointed, I viewed the compromise as a way of following the call to be peacemakers, and I remain hopeful for future progress on the issue.

Q. How do you stay grounded in your faith amid the pressure of this type of work?

A. One of the best things about working at the Capitol is the proximity to the Cathedral of St. Paul. When things become stressful at work, attending Mass or being able to pray at the Cathedral is a way for me to filter through the pressure of the job and focus on God’s word.

Q. At the end of your political career, what legacy do you hope to leave?

A. As a mother of two daughters, I always think about the future and want to make a difference for them. I hope my legacy will be that I always tried to act with faith and be a voice on issues that are important for future generations.

Emily Johnson Piper

piperEmily Johnson Piper, 37, has worked as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services since December 2015. She comes from a long line of family members who have served in elected positions and throughout the community, including her grandmother, who was the first female president of the Minneapolis City Council. A member of the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) party, she lives in Golden Valley with her husband and four children. They are parishioners at Good Shepherd.

Q. Do you consider your political work to be your vocation?

A. I consider public service to be a vocation I intentionally committed myself to when I came to state service in 2011, and a natural extension of community work that I have been engaged in throughout my whole life.

Q. Describe the role of faith in your day-to-day work as a politician.

A. Hubert Humphrey said, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” Overseeing programs that serve over 1 million Minnesotans in need every year, I am charged with assuring that our government meets this moral test. I find comfort and support in my faith every day as I support the mission of the Department of Human Services to help people meet their basic needs, so they can live in dignity and achieve their highest potential.

Q. What piece of legislation or other political activity are you most proud of?

A. In the 2016 Minnesota legislative session, I worked to secure $28 million in funding necessary to continue operation of 120 group homes for people who live with significant disabilities and severe mental illness. The people who live in these homes are unable to be served by other providers in our state due to their complex needs, and are some of the most vulnerable people in Minnesota.

Q. What is the most difficult political decision you’ve had to make?

A. In my position, the most difficult decisions are not political; they are decisions related to the care of the 2,000 people I am public guardian to and the children in our child protection system, which I supervise. My obligation is to speak for those without a voice, including making sure their needs are met by making decisions about their support infrastructure, housing and most significant medical decisions.

Q. How do you stay grounded in your faith amid the pressures of this type of work?

A. I find strength in our Good Shepherd school community that my family and I are part of, and find comfort and support in the Gospel, particularly the Gospel of Matthew.

Q. At the end of your political career, what legacy do you hope you leave?

A. My hope when my service as commissioner comes to an end is that people who I am charged with serving are better off because of my leadership.

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