The 1985 founding of the Roundtable, the national association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors, began with an idea three years earlier in 1982 during a lobby day at the Rayburn House Office Building. During this time, Harry Fagan, John Carr, Mary Heidkamp, Eileen Dooley and others began to discuss the state of Catholic Social Action. Urban ministry offices, which had been formed and staffed by diocesan priests in response to urban needs and realities in the 1960s were transitioning into diocesan social action offices, focused on serving the needs of parishioners and teaching Catholic Social Teaching in urban and rural settings.
In the early days Harry Fagan, former social action director in the Diocese of Cleveland, served as the Roundtable’s secretary and John Carr, a social action director in the Archdiocese of Washington, acted as chair of the board. The Roundtable was headquartered in New York as part of the National Pastoral Life Center, an organization founded by Msgr. Phillip Murnion. In 1986, the Roundtable hosted the first Social Action Summer Institute. In 1987, Roundtable gave their first Award, (which would be named for Harry) to Rev J. Bryan Hehir, current Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations.
After Harry’s passing in 1993, Msgr. Phillip Murnion became the Secretary of the Roundtable. He served as Secretary until 2001, when Jeff Korgen, former coordinator of Roundtable, became the Secretary for the organization. During this time the Roundtable began to change as the larger Church changed. Indeed, women, who had been previously been members of the Roundtable began to take on a larger role within Roundtable leadership.
A new era in the history of Roundtable began on November 30, 2009 when the National Pastoral Life Center announced that it would close. The Roundtable Board, chaired by Barbara Budde, social action director in the Diocese of Austin, sought to re-locate Roundtable in the nation’s capitol, where many of our partner organizations also have their headquarters. On September 23, 2011, the Roundtable became an officially independent organization. Now approaching its 30th year, the Roundtable continues to play a primary integral role in the social mission of the Catholic Church.