By Jerry Duggan
Mary Baudouin’s faith life and career are inseparable and that is exactly the way she wants it. As provincial assistant for social ministries for the USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province, Baudouin’s job – and life passion – is speaking up for marginalized members of society. She works with groups, ministries and organizations across the nation to work toward eradicating poverty and bringing about a more just world.
Baudouin’s passion for helping the less fortunate was ingrained at an early age. Her blue-collar upbringing taught her to appreciate what she had. She realized she had more than so many.
“My dad, who was a railroad machinist, always had an innate sense of what was fair and just,” she said. “He instilled that in us and was always on the side of those who had the most to lose.”
Raised Catholic in the heavily Catholic city of New Orleans, Baudouin has been part of the Church her whole life. She attended a Catholic grade school and then St. Mary’s Dominican High School, where she got involved in service work.
Baudouin volunteered to tutor young people in what was then one of New Orleans’ poorest neighborhoods. Coming from a middle-class suburb, Baudouin was heartbroken at what she saw.
“The stark inequality left a radical impression on me,” she said. “It seemed so unjust that I had so much privilege growing up, and these little children had so few of the things that I took for granted – a roof over my head, food to eat, and much more.”
An exemplary student, Baudouin earned a scholarship to Loyola University New Orleans and was the first in her immediate family to attend college. During her time on campus, her passion for helping others intensified. She, along with a group of friends, founded a campus organization called the Loyola University Community Action Program (LUCAP). To this day, LUCAP provides students with opportunities to participate in community service and advocacy projects for justice.
Baudouin remained active in the faith and studied social work in the classroom. She had not yet realized the extent to which the two could be connected.
Three influential Jesuits at Loyola introduced her to a concept: “the faith that does justice.” It was then that Baudouin realized she could utilize her passion for social justice in her career.
“The Jesuits really put it all together for me,” she said. “They showed me that faith is more than our personal belief, but also something that calls us to be people who act for justice and care for the poor.”
After graduating from Loyola, Baudouin headed to St. Louis for a master’s degree in social work at Washington University, specializing in community development.
For the bulk of the last four decades, Baudouin has lived in her native New Orleans with her husband, Tom Fitzgerald, and three adult children. Over the years, she has established herself as a leader in the fight for Catholic social justice.
She spent seven years as administrator of parish outreach programs for Catholic Charities of New Orleans, Inc., then moved to Washington, D.C. for two years as director of the Office of Implementation for the Pastoral Letter on the Economy for the United States Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops before returning to her hometown.
After seven more years at Catholic Charities and work as a freelance/contract-based consultant and trainer, she joined the former New Orleans Province as provincial assistant for social ministries.
Her time with the Jesuits began under unusual circumstances.
At the time of her hiring in 2003, Fr. Fred Kammer, SJ, was provincial. Baudouin and Fr. Kammer knew each other from Catholic Charities, but up until that point, the provincial assistant for social ministries had always been a Jesuit. Father Kammer could not identify a Jesuit as qualified as Baudouin to fill the role, so he tapped the shoulder of a familiar colleague.
“I knew Fred, and he knew this was a dream job for me,” she said. “Since he couldn’t find any Jesuits for the role, he gave me an opportunity, and I’ve been loving it ever since.”
Over the last 17 years, Baudouin has been able to achieve true intersection of her personal passion and career. Her work entails everything from advocacy for legislation to corporate responsibility work to initiatives to better the environment. While her efforts are painstaking, even the slightest bit of progress makes it worth it.
“There’s a lot of faith you need to have to do this work, because it’s often difficult to make progress,” she said. “Still, that makes it all the more rewarding when you do break through.”
Ultimately, Baudouin considers herself fortunate to do this kind of work for a living.
“Lots of people are involved in service work, but have to do it in their spare time,” she explained. “How lucky am I that I get to do it full-time, and intersect my faith and career in such a way?”