As the Maryland General Assembly prepares for its 441st session, Jennifer Kraska, the new executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, says that despite many key issues for Catholics that may arise this year, she is hopeful. 

“There is always hope, even in the arena of politics, even when it seems dire and divisive,” she said. 

Kraska joins the Maryland Catholic Conference after 12 years as executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, where she first began to use her law degree and a master's degree in Catholic Studies and learned the ropes of lobbying, she said. 

“It was a great fit,” Kraska added. “It played to my strengths and my passions.” 

Growing up in Minnesota, she received her undergraduate degree from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she also studied in Rome at the school’s Bernardi Campus. She went on to obtain her law degree and a Master of Arts in Catholic Studies from her alma mater. 

“My faith is very important to me, (that I am able) to promote the common good, use my education and my faith, made this a dream job,” she said. 

As the executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, Kraska will work with her team to continue lobbying to lawmakers on issues involving more than 1 million Catholics in the three Maryland Arch/dioceses: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.

“We are the public policy and lobbying arm of the three dioceses,” she said. “We lobby on behalf of the bishops… We make sure the Catholic voice is heard.” 

Kraska added that the fast-paced nature of the job brings a diversity of topics to the job. Some issues she expects to see during this session range from physician-assisted suicide, a Maryland state constitutional amendment to abortion, and challenges to the BOOST scholarship program, which provides scholarships to many who attend Catholic schools. Discussions and decisions on paid family leave, an attempt to legalize marijuana, and a statute of limitations window change could also come up during the session.

Since joining the Maryland Catholic Conference, Kraska said she noticed that it is a “very vibrant community.” 

“I’ve noticed the willingness on behalf of the legislators and a welcomeness that has been refreshing,” she said, adding that she has been able to personally meet with many legislators since arriving in Maryland. “It’s a good sign, …that we have the ability to meet and talk about issues and where we stand.”

Kraska reports to Archbishop William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chair of the Maryland Catholic Conference; Archbishop Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington; and Bishop W. Francis Malooly, bishop of Wilmington. 

“We are lucky to have bishops who are both involved and active,” she said.

 Catholics wishing to get involved with the work of the Maryland Catholic Conference can subscribe to notifications from the Catholic Advocacy Network, an online action network that provides email and text alerts to keep Catholics informed during the legislative session. To sign up, visit mdcatholic.org. 

“As Catholics and as citizens, it is our duty to participate in public life and make our voice heard,” Kraska said. “Catholics have the ability to impact positively… and see the changes that we want to see.”