By MegAnne Liebsch
Even as a kid, Fr. Chris Kellerman, SJ, was what he calls a “political junkie.” At 10 years old, he was taking out 15 books at a time from the local library in Arlington, Texas. History, in particular, captured his imagination.
“It was that love of history that brought me to the idea that political conversations and elections today are making new history, hopefully making better history, a better world,” Fr. Kellerman said.
His passion for the twin strands of history and contemporary political action has informed much of his Jesuit vocation. Currently, Fr. Kellerman serves as secretary of the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology (OJE) in Washington, D.C.
“Our goal is to advance Catholic social teaching as a source of influence on legislation and policy here in the United States,” Fr. Kellerman said. “We do this through federal advocacy and government relations on behalf of the Jesuit major superiors.”
Derived primarily from Scripture and papal documents, Catholic social teaching is meant to help Catholics and all people of goodwill build a more just society informed by Gospel values. OJE advocates for policies that uphold human dignity, such as comprehensive immigration reform and a more robust social system to support children and families.
Father Kellerman believes the Church’s teachings can also help heal the fractured politics currently prevailing in the United States.
“We’ve got to get out of our silos and talk to one another,” he says. “The national conversation can get so vicious and uncharitable. But if we can reach out to one another as being fellow people made in God’s image, and if we try to exercise love for one another, then we can talk from a place of goodwill and honesty about these tough issues that confront our society.”
For Fr. Kellerman, his position at OJE is a “full-circle moment.” As a political science major at Texas Tech University, he interned for a semester at a political organization in Washington, D.C. It was during this time that Fr. Kellerman began discerning a vocation to religious life.
“And now here I am back in Washington, D.C., working in a job that involves politics – but this time as a Jesuit priest,” Fr. Kellerman laughs.
Prior to his current position, Fr. Kellerman served as visiting fellow and interim director at the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans (JSRI), where he conducted research on racial justice, environmental racism and the Catholic Church’s historical relationship with slaveholding. His research on slavery ultimately formed the basis of his 2022 book All Oppression Shall Cease: A History of Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Catholic Church.
Father Kellerman subsequently worked in the Offices of Justice and Ecology for both the USA Central and Southern and Midwest Provinces before moving to the nation’s capital to lead the Office of Justice and Ecology.
“I’m really excited to see what we can do to help build a better world,” he says.
MegAnne Liebsch is the communications manager for the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology where she develops stories and resources that promote deeper engagement with issues of social and environmental injustice.