By Barb Arland-Fye
Kent Ferris of Muscatine, a secular Franciscan with an extensive background in human services, has been named the Diocese of Davenport’s new social action director.
Ferris, 44, expects to begin his new position in mid-May, after completing projects for the Iowa Department of Human Services in Muscatine where he has been employed since 2001. He replaces John Kiley, who died of an apparent heart attack Feb. 15. The two men were acquainted through work and faith-based activities.
Ferris’ involvement in social justice on both a professional and personal level impressed Bishop Martin Amos during the interview process for the diocesan post.
“He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks it,” the bishop said. “His whole understanding of what social justice means is very, very evident. I think he will be a welcome addition to the chancery staff and the Social Action Department and the parishes of the diocese.”
In seeking the post, Ferris spoke of his faith journey allowing him to study more in depth the Catholic Church’s social action teachings. He said those teachings resonate with his experience in responding to the needs and injustices that occur, especially among people most often marginalized: those with disabilities, victims of natural disasters, children and adult victims of abuse, as well as those who have been charged with violent crimes.
Currently employed as a social worker supervisor, Ferris has conducted child abuse and dependent adult abuse assessments, served as facilitator of a batterer’s education program, provided counseling and case management to adults with developmental disabilities and worked in the housing office for Carnegie Mellon University.
Outside of work he served as a disaster outreach worker team leader in response to a 2007 tornado that affected residents of Louisa, Muscatine and Jackson counties.
A native of Blair, Neb., Ferris graduated from Coe College in Cedar Rapids with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and from Mankato State University, Mankato, Minn., with a master’s degree in counseling and student personnel.
As a college student he converted to Catholicism. He remembers being deeply moved the first time he went to Mass in 1985. After going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), he entered the Catholic Church in 1986.
Both Ferris and his wife, Lori, also a convert, became secular Franciscans in 1991 as a way to grow in their faith together. Secular Franciscans are called to tell the world about salvation by God and to help make a person’s faith, hope and love grow stronger and deeper.
Since moving to Muscatine, Ferris and his wife have become increasingly involved in their parish, Ss. Mary & Mathias. Ferris is a pastoral council representative and serves on the parish’s social action committee along with his wife. They are parents of three young children: Clare, 9; Miles, 6; and Lucille, 5.
Ferris and his wife also are students in the diocese’s Ministry Formation Program (MFP). Those classes have helped Ferris to better appreciate the two feet of social justice that the diocese’s first social action director — Msgr. Marvin Mottet — developed to link charity with advocacy efforts.
Ferris said his own work and faith experiences “have enabled me to look beyond immediate charitable needs and to think and plan for system changes consistent with Catholic Social Action teaching.”
“The diocese was fortunate to have some high quality people apply for the social action director position,” said Char Maaske, the diocese’s chief financial officer. “We are excited to have Kent continue the ministry of some excellent former directors, Msgr. Mottet, Dan Ebener and John Kiley. And Kent will have the advantage of continuing to learn from Msgr. Mottet and Dan Ebener as they both continue to be very active in social justice issues.
“Kent has a passion for working on issues of poverty, strengthening the family, nonviolence, the sanctity of life and the environment. I think Kent will find it very easy to join our team at the chancery and he will be a good fit for us.”