Liz McCloskey has a lifelong interest in the interplay of faith and politics.
As a college student during the heyday of the Moral Majority movement, she studied religion and history at the College of William and Mary and was inspired by the role of religion in the abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement. One class in particular caught her imagination: Biography as History, in which she spent the entire semester researching one person—nineteenth century Quaker minister Lucretia Mott—and the role her faith had on her leadership in both the anti-slavery and women’s movements. Liz’s interest in Lucretia Mott’s life was enhanced by the fact that her papers were archived at Haverford College, where her boyfriend Peter Leibold (now her husband of thirty years!) was a student.
Biography as history, and particularly biography as religious history, has defined her approach in various spheres. A master’s thesis at Yale Divinity School focused on religion and gender as it played out in the lives of women she came to know at a battered women’s shelter and a rape crisis center where she worked. A doctoral dissertation at The Catholic University of America took the form of a spiritual biography of a Catholic woman, the arc of whose life spanned the twentieth century and whose Catholic faith informed her approach to politics.
As an idealistic twenty-three year-old Yale Divinity School graduate, Liz and her husband Peter were invited to serve on the legislative staff of John C. Danforth, an Episcopal priest and a Republican Senator from Missouri affectionately referred to by his then-Senate colleagues as “Saint Jack.” Jack modeled integrity and humility in his approach to politics, and to life in general, so that even working on Capitol Hill did little to dampen Liz’s enthusiasm for the premise that the best of the faith traditions can have a positive impact on the political world.
This positive view of the relationship of faith and politics, and favorable view of politicians as a whole, proved useful in a different and more divisive congressional era twenty years after she left the Hill when Liz became President of The Faith & Politics Institute in 2012. While the media and the public decried the lack of honor in politicians, Liz was working with Members of Congress whose dedication to service she found admirable. Not tempted to call them saints, even in jest, still their humanity was obvious to her and she found herself telling incredulous colleagues and friends that she actually liked, even loved, these people.
The Profiles in Spirit project was born of these experiences. For Liz, it is a heartfelt effort to share her affection for the human beings who sacrifice their privacy, their family time, and often the respect of others, to serve the public.
Liz is grateful to the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University for having given her a perch (and the resources) to work on this project, as well as thankful for the support of the Templeton-funded Humility and Conviction Project at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute.
Liz and Peter currently live both in St. Louis, Missouri and in the Washington, DC area, while their three young adult children explore vocations in poetry, medicine, and the study of psychology in far-flung corners of the country.
Blessing for One Who Holds Power
May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.
As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.
When the way is flat and dull in times of gray endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizon.
When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.
May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And know when the seeds of change will flourish.
In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.
May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.
May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.
May you welcome your own vulnerability
As the ground where healing and truth join.
May integrity of soul be your first ideal,
The source that will guide and bless your work.
John O'Donohue, from To Bless This Space Between Us