Part VII of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series
“The only thing that has limited us in the past was our own fears.” – Dolly Pomerleau
We are ending the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series with several installments honoring our fearless leader and co-founder, Dolly Pomerleau. I had the immense pleasure of working with and learning from Dolly this past year. I will forever admire her spunk, endless passion and conviction, as well as her ability to surround herself with people who want to make the world a better place.
In order to convey the inspiration and influence of Dolly Pomerleau, we must start with the story of the Quixote Center. In the mid 70’s, co-founder Bill Callahan worked at the Center of Concern, another justice-centered organization that took hold after Vatican II. Together, Dolly and Bill realized that none of the new and shiny nonprofits in promoting justice and social change in this vein were autonomous from the Church, which greatly limited their ability to work on the various problems within the Church and on issues that it opposed. It was then, in 1975, that these two radically progressive Catholics began hatching an idea to create their own social justice organization – the Quixote Center.
When discussing how the name ‘Quixote Center’ came to be, she recalls, “our goal was to work on issues of justice regardless of what people thought of us. Don Quixote did what he believed in and suffered the consequences. Quixote is someone with a lot of imagination, a little zaniness, sometimes not having good judgment in terms of societal standards, and willing to be called crazy. One of the hallmarks is laughter and a strong sense of community.”
In 1976, the Quixote Center officially opened with the goal of ruffling some feathers within the Catholic church, promoting equality, and fighting for the overlooked of society. Unsurprisingly, the Center sought out one of the most taboo issues they could find: women’s ordination. While working on women’s ordination Dolly became one of the founders of the Women’s Ordination Conference and a leader within the movement.
The Center continued to expand. As things began to erupt in Central America during the late 1970s, the Center turned its focus to the injustice and violence in the region. Dolly recalls, “We didn’t know what it would involve, but we knew it was a revolutionary time.” In 1980, the Center held a vigil for Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran Archbishop who was assassinated, and thus their work in Central America began. Dolly and Maureen Fiedler journeyed to Nicaragua, intrigued by Pope John Paul II’s disastrous visit, only to see the devastation and returned to the States thinking, "What can we do?"
In the hopes of educating the American public, Dolly and Maureen decided to publish a tabloid entitled Nicaragua: A Look at Reality, answering the basic questions about the Sandinista’s revolution and U.S. intervention. Within a year, the Center’s involvement grew and they began regularly shipping millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to the country, thanks in part to the fundraising work of Dolly.
Dolly transformed monotonous fundraising into community-building. She stated, “Turn people into constituents by giving them something to do – organize them politically, have them call legislators, organize cargo containers, etc. People were materially and physically invested in the Center’s programs.” Dolly invited people into the fold, creating not just supporters but friends - a Quixote family called by the Quixote spirit to enact radical social change and promote peace.
The Center has collected a wide array of issues and continues to pick up new ones up along the way. When speaking with Dolly she told me, “The Center hasn’t tended to rush to the popular issues,” instead taking on the passion of the employees, ranging from the elimination of the death penalty to inclusive citizenship.
As I sit and talk to Dolly she has a smile on her face. She reminiscences, “The most creative and productive time was in the ‘80s, and the work of Quest for Peace. There was national organizing, lobbying against Congress, aid sent to Nicaragua – just an incredible era. They were the best years of the Center for me.” Dolly’s hope for the Center is that it will continue to grow in size and allow the current programs to thrive.
After 42 years, Dolly is retiring (for real this time) next week. Without her we would not have the Quixote Center, and for that we are ever grateful.