On Monday, Nov. 18, Hartford Seminary alumnus Jim Fitzgerald gave a lunch lecture to a group of students, faculty and staff as part of the Seminary’s Vital Topics series. Mr. Fitzgerald serves as the Executive Director of Call to Action, the country’s largest progressive Catholic organization working for equality and justice in the church. He spoke on how he came to be involved in the non-profit world, and the necessary skills for working in that field.
While many Hartford Seminary graduates may go on to pursue careers in chaplaincy or religious education, Fitzgerald reminded the crowd that not everyone’s path will be straightforward. He reasoned that, as a seminary graduate, “everything that you do is ministry” and that one can serve God even as an accountant or customer service representative. “No matter how unclear the future looks, never be discouraged,” he said.
This sentiment is echoed in Fitzgerald’s own career. After receiving his Master’s in Educational Psychology, Fitzgerald originally planned a career as a Social Studies teacher before he realized that it was not what he truly wanted. He then began a journey to find his calling, guided by the mantra “be the person that God created you to be.”
A chance application led him to accept a position as a Sexuality Educator for Planned Parenthood, and he was later promoted to Vice President of Education. He also became involved in religious education at a local congregation. While he was satisfied with the direction of his career, he felt that something was still missing. Additionally, he had grown frustrated with the Catholic Church, unhappy with its stances on female ordination and the LGBT community. He knew that he wanted to work toward promoting more inclusive and just faith communities. Prompted by the referral of Professor M.T. Winter, he enrolled in Hartford Seminary’s M.A. program in Theology and Ethics, commuting 189 miles from Albany to attend.
With his seminary education and passion for church reform, Mr. Fitzgerald was well-prepared to join the non-profit Call to Action. As the organization grew from a small staff to a national non-profit with 53 chapters and thousands of members, Mr. Fitzgerald eventually rose to the position of Executive Director. Now truly happy, he attributes this success to trusting in God’s plan for him, persistence, and a bit of luck.
The second part of the lecture focused on advice for future graduates. Mr. Fitzgerald stressed the importance of building relationships and maintaining connections, recalling a few individuals who were helpful to him in his own career. On the difficulties of working in the non-profit field, Mr. Fitzgerald warned that “you never know where money is going to come from,” describing financial constraints that even larger non-profits endure. He also recommends training in business writing and communication, since his position has him writing to and speaking with hundreds of people every day.
Mr. Fitzgerald spoke candidly about the job application process in his own organization and offered some tips to get ahead. He noted that the candidates who made the biggest impression on him typically made an effort to directly call him to talk about the position. Other notable candidates came in with recommendations from within the organization or its partners. During the interview, he recommends that a candidate focus on framing how their unique experiences and skills can benefit the organization.
For more information on Call to Action, please visit http://cta-usa.org/