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Hoey retires from Catholic Conference career

Hoey retires from Catholic Conference career

July 23rd, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

Mike Hoey poses for a photo at his home in Jefferson City

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Although he had a couple of work assignments before 1979, Mike Hoey's main career began that year when he joined the Missouri Catholic Conference.

That part of his career ended June 1, when Hoey retired from the Conference and as its executive director.

"I just felt like it was time for a new vision," he said. "I think what can happen with people my age sometimes is, they just want to keep going.

"Sometimes, you need to step aside and let a younger generation take over."

Hoey lived through sixth grade in Linn, then moved to Jefferson City.

After graduating from Helias Interparish High School in 1971, he headed to Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg.

"I got my degree in education, but my real passion was history," he recalled last week.

And he started dating Mary Beth Bruemmer, a Helias classmate: " but we didn't date in high school."

They got married in 1974 during their senior year of college, then headed for Walsenburg, Colorado, after graduating in 1975. They moved to be "volunteers in a Catholic volunteer program, kind of like a Catholic Peace Corps," he explained. "It was a very poor area.

"I did parish work and (Mary Beth) did special education. We were there for three years."

Hoey admitted to being an energetic person, and said one of the things the Colorado experience taught him was that different cultures live their lives at different speeds.

And he learned, from a priest who "became sort of my spiritual mentor," to be "radically available for people."

After Colorado, the couple returned to Missouri, and Hoey taught for a year, "but decided that wasn't really what I wanted to do."

That's when he accepted the Missouri Catholic Conference job, and became a registered lobbyist in 1986.

"It allowed me to combine my passion for social justice, in particular, and addressing poverty concerns, with my faith," Hoey explained. "It was a way of bringing your faith into the public sphere and trying to work on things."

The Missouri Catholic Conference is the public policy agency for the Roman Catholic Church in Missouri, and the bishops of the state's four Catholic dioceses serve as the organization's board of directors.

"Ultimately, they make the decisions about whether we're going to get involved in an issue, or not," Hoey said.

Even with changes in individual bishops — such as the Rev. W. Shawn McKnight becoming the new Bishop of Jefferson City after Bishop John Gaydos' retirement — Hoey said the Conference of Bishops over the years has "had a common vision of upholding the sanctity and dignity of human life and of social justice."

And the Missouri bishops "stay in tune with the national picture," as set by the American Conference of Bishops.

Hoey's role as a lobbyist — and the work Tyler McClay, Hoey's successor, and others will continue — was to represent the church's views in lawmakers' public policy discussions.

Although America's history has included periods of "a lot of anti-Catholic attitude," especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Hoey said, in his work with Missouri's General Assembly, the discussion often was: "Why is any church involved in any kind of political activity?

"So, we would have to try to have a discussion about why we thought it was appropriate for the church to offer its moral voice to public policy questions."

And that's a principle that has been confusing for many people, including some Catholics, he said.

"The church has some principles of social and moral teaching that are pretty fundamental — like the sanctity and dignity of all human persons.

"But, when you get to public policy, you've got that general principle to a particular situation.

"And people can differ on what's the best policy to get to that principle."

Hoey said the Catholic Conference often works with groups that have similar views, "particularly on issues of poverty and welfare programs" — even those with other religious backgrounds.

The Conference has often worked with lawmakers from both parties.

However, Hoey acknowledged, the church's positions often put it at odds with groups that have opposite opinions — such as the long, ongoing dispute between pro-life and pro-choice groups.

"We were realistic about, sometimes you can't get everything you want in legislation," he said.

Lobbyists play an important and sometimes misunderstood role in the legislative process, he said.

"Yeah, they are representing a self-interest," Hoey explained, "but they can bring up a lot of information that legislators need to know about, in making their decisions.

"I think it's the job of the legislator to sift through what different lobbyists say, and come to a conclusion, and listen to his constituents."

Hoey said he had originally considered a career in academics or in research and writing, and has written pieces for the diocesan newspapers, including the Jefferson City-based Catholic Missourian.

"There were times when I thought, 'I'd rather not be in the fray, but off on the side, commentating on it,'" he said. "I did some of that in my writing.

"But there were limits to that, because of my advocacy position and role."

In retirement, Hoey said, "I'm thinking about doing some writing — I don't know what it's going to be, yet.

"I've got the grandkids. I've got gardening. I'll do things with the parish.

"And I'm making it up as I go along."

He said there will likely be some travel, including — he hopes — England and Scotland.

As he looks back, he said his job "was fun. We had a good time while we were doing things.

"And we made a difference."