Influencing Our Culture: Dr. Mary Rice Hasson

Dr. Mary Rice Hasson, Kate O’Beirne Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, shares her background growing up and how her early formation in the Catholic Faith influences her today as she strives to influence public policy positively in favor of the family and faith.

Mother Assumpta Long: 

We are tremendously privileged to have Dr. Mary Hasson with us. I honestly looked at your portfolio and have no clue where to begin. You have so many accomplishments, but I think your greatest accomplishments would be your family of origin and also your own beautiful family of seven children. Some of us know your father. I wasn’t privileged to know your mother, but I did know your father. Could you tell us a little bit about him and how he influenced you and your siblings? 

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Dr. Hasson:

They were both wonderful parents. My dad had a vision of family life and our formation. From when we were little, he started out by teaching us to read. He and my mom too would be teaching us catechism. He would be teaching us history and engaging us in conversations about Church teachings. His vision for us was that we grow up not just to be practicing Catholics, but to be well-formed and that we would be in the fray out there trying to share the truth and to bring others to God. Mom was a tremendous partner with him in that she was formidable in her own right. She had a knack of drawing out of people their personal stories and finding ways to hear what their sorrow or difficulty was and to point them in the right direction. She had a gift for that. 

Mother Assumpta Long:

They must be rejoicing in Heaven right now because I’m amazed it all the accomplishments you children have made, and what is so exciting to me is you do it as this wonderful Catholic witness. What about your own family or children? You have seven. 

Dr. Hasson: 

I met my husband, Kevin Hasson, at Notre Dame law school. We were both students there. Even from that time he had a strong faith, but he also had a strong interest in religious liberty. After we got married and moved to Washington, he practiced for a little and then he started the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Around our dinner table raising our kids, it was in many respects similar to what I grew up with in that we were talking about issues of faith and the culture and the Church and the need to not just live it but to bring it to others. I have seven kids. There’s five boys and two girls. Our youngest just graduated from high school. I was privileged to be at home with them for many years. 

Mother Assumpta Long:

How did you balance all that you are doing and raising seven children?

Dr. Hasson: 

My mom was a good witness there, and my dad because he was proud of my mom being a mom and yet she was smart. She went to law school herself. I knew from the time I got married, and even before then, that I wanted to be a mom. God gifted us with children, so I wanted to be present. I wanted to raise our kids and because of my legal background, I stopped practicing law after a few years, but I was able to write, and so I did a lot of writing and work for the Church while I was home with the kids, but I had control over it. I didn’t have to work over Christmas or their vacations and things like that. It was built into us that whatever you’re doing, whether at home or wherever, you’re going to do something to serve the kingdom. 

Mother Assumpta Long:

I found it interesting where you said you met your husband in law school. Did your parents meet in Notre Dame? 

Dr. Hasson:

They were at Boston College. They met there in law school. My mom didn’t finish. My dad always used to joke that he saved her from the rest of it. 

Mother Assumpta Long:

You did some work with the UN. What was that? 

Dr. Hasson:

I did a couple of things. Although I started out in law, I didn’t practice. I kept my license, but I ended up writing and doing a lot of work for the Church and took some theology courses and started working for the diocese on marriage prep and things like that, but then my husband got Parkinson’s disease when he was 41. It was 1962, so we knew that it would be in our future that I would be going back to work full time to support the family. In thinking about that, I looked at going back to active law practice, but by then I had built up a lot of expertise on the Church’s moral teachings and the culture and had written a lot about those things, so I went to a think tank, which is where I am at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. 

Mother Assumpta Long:

What do you do there? 

Dr. Hasson:

I’m the Kate O’Beirn Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center which is a unique think tank in that it has Jewish scholars, Christian scholars, and Catholic scholars. Together, we try to bring Judeo-Christian values to bear on public policy, but I work mostly on Catholic things both inside for the Church and trying to bring a Catholic perspective out into public policy debates or expertise in some way. I was fortunate to be asked by the representative to the UN, Archbishop Alyssa and his staff, to speak during the UN Commission on the status of women. For the past three years, I have been part of events that they’ve done and spoken on things from women and work to education for women and girls and then most recently on gender ideology. That’s been a tremendous opportunity to bring forward Catholic thinking, not necessarily labeled as Catholic, to try to reach a broader international audience.

Mother Assumpta Long: 

That is an issue now and will certainly be an issue of the future. Since we’re in education, do you have any wisdom as to what we can do to stem the tide?

Dr. Hasson: 

I think Catholic education is more critical than ever because we used to have a Christian culture, so even with families that were struggling, the culture would pull you along in the right direction, but what families face now is like a culture like a riptide pulling our kids in the wrong direction. The school is critically important to help parents shape their children in not just the Catholic faith, but even reasoning and the ability to value see truth and all that entails. I see Catholic Education as one of the most important things in the Church right now, and it’s sad to see that the numbers have shrunk in terms of families who have their kids in Catholic school. I’ll share a statistic that ought to shake parents up a little bit. CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate does a lot of research. They did a study comparing Millennials and their practice of the faith depending on whether they went to public schools or Catholic schools. Looking at Millennials who went all the way through public schools, by the time they are adults, only 5% of them are going to weekly Mass. I wonder how many parents think about that. “If I send my child all the way through public school, the odds are not good that they’re going to hold onto their faith because the cultural onslaught is so strong.” With Catholic schools, the numbers are better. It’s not ideal, but it’s close to 40% of kids who go all the way through Catholic schools who will continue to practice their faith by attending Mass every week. You can see right there the difference that a Catholic school makes. I think what you and your sisters do in education is not just the witness but getting to know the families and being able to have those conversations to help arm them.

Mother Assumpta Long: 

All we want to do is aid the parents because parents are the primary educators of their children. Does it have anything to do with the Internet or social media? What confuses me today is people don’t think. What happens to the brain that there’s no logical conclusion of their thought process? what’s happening? Even some people that you would put your faith in, you think how did you get here? 

Dr. Hasson:

There are two things going on. First, the current culture of technology and social media is not conducive to deep thinking. Even the articles are shorter because we don’t have the attention span. Everything is so fast-moving. Kids click through one website after another, so we’re conditioning ourselves not to think and dwell and reflect but to keep moving to grasp little tidbits. That has exacerbated something that went on before from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, where we saw the idea of moral relativism taking hold and people have lost the idea that there is a truth. 

Mother Assumpta Long:

If you lose that, where do you go? Where do you find it?

Dr. Hasson

You’re not going to bump into it accidentally on the internet or a social media conversation. These two things together have created a real problem. 

Mother Assumpta Long:

There’s a breakdown of the family life. My own family and yours were raised in an environment where the Catholic Church and the teachings of the truth of our faith gave you a strength that you knew what you were doing. I’ve been several places that have a conference where they bless the chapel of the business school. I see you, and I think you have so many opportunities to go and speak. How do you keep up with all this? What do you find that most people are eager to hear?

Dr. Hasson:

I hear about two things. One, the transgender is very much in front of people. It used to be when I give talks about that a year or two ago, someone would come up afterwards and say, “A friend of a friend is having trouble with her daughter or son.” Now, every time I give a talk, someone is coming up and saying, “It’s my son or daughter.” This problem has become personal for us, so I do a lot of speaking about that to try to help schools train their teachers, to speak to priests and dioceses and parents, and help people see the beauty of Catholic anthropology of the vision of the person. The other question I get is from parents who are more in my generation and for many of them, their kids have fallen away from the faith, and they’re looking at their grandkids and saying, “What can I do?” I think there’s a power in grandparents. If your own kids have fallen away or taken a meandering path, hopefully God will bring them back. You have a relationship with your grandkids that I think is a powerful opportunity to not just be a witness of the faith but to engage them because sometimes there’s more openness. 

Mother Assumpta Long:

It’s interesting you say that because we’ve talked about how the influence of grandparents on the grandchildren is beautiful. We always must remember that God’s in charge, and He loves us more than we love ourselves. I think, “Oh my goodness, is everybody going crazy,” yet I know that we have wonderful people like you going around consistently teaching the truth. Since we’re in education, we’ve got hit too. Like you said, your father made sure that you were well- formed, and that’s what we want to do with our sisters. They must be well-formed in the faith. We can’t presume when they enter the community that they have been that formed in the faith.

Dr. Hasson:

That is an important insight because I think in the past you could presume a certain level of formation or even familiarity with not just the Church and the Church’s teachings, but deeper things, and that’s gone. You can’t presume. You have to start with the basics and yet challenge people for more that God is infinite.

Mother Assumpta Long: 

We always have to teach the truth with love, as difficult as that is sometimes to have an understanding and love for things that you think are crazy. Hopefully our sisters will do this. We have so many requests to go all over. It’s a wonderful time to be a Dominican to teach and preach the truth. I forgot to ask you before, but could you tell us anything about Kate O’Beirn? 

Dr. Hasson:

Kate O’Beirn passed away a couple of years ago. She was an outstanding Catholic woman and a writer. She had a lot of influence on policy and was very engaged in good things in the political world. She was an editor at National Review, but when she retired, you saw another aspect of her flourish, which was there all along. She was instrumental in the conversions of many significant people in Washington, and then after she retired from her active work with National Review, she spent a lot of time trying to form the Next Generation, to mentor young people and bring them to Rome, to introduce them to the Church with a bigger vision. She was a tremendous Catholic but very grounded in recognizing the challenges in front of us and realizing that we need to confront them strategically with a smile. She always had something funny to say. 

Mother Assumpta Long:

We cannot thank you enough for what you’re doing for our culture, for the Catholics, and people that are hungry and suffering. There is so much suffering, like parents that come to you because maybe their own children are ones that they know [need help.] How can we bring them healing? People like you are going to do that. I want to thank you for coming out and sharing your expertise with us. God bless you. We want to send you out all over the world to preach the truth.


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