Jo Ann Nardelli has been a Catholic Democrat her entire life. Her father was one before her. And she couldn't imagine a day where that wouldn't be true.
But that day was Wednesday of last week.
I read a story about Jo Ann leaving the Democratic Party and was interested because she cited her Catholic faith as the reason.
So I gave her a call. I got her machine and as I was leaving a message she picked up. She said she'd been screening her calls because so many people have been calling to say nasty things to her or just pleading with her to change her mind. But when I called, saying I was with The National Catholic Register she picked up.
She said she figured I wouldn't be too mean to her.
Nardelli has been the focus of quite the firestorm in Pennsylvania because the thing is that Jo Ann Nardelli isn't just another Democratic committeewoman. She's the president and founder of the Blair County Federation of Democratic Women, she was Vice President of the PA State Women’s Caucus, and was 1st Vice President of the PA State Federation of Democratic Women (she had been in line for the presidency of that organization in 2014). She met with Hillary Clinton, gave a rosary to Joe Biden, and appeared on the cover of US News and World Report going to Church with then Senate candidate Bob Casey Jr.
Nardelli has always been a pro-life Democrat and felt that there was always room for that position in the party. But she said that for the past few years she's felt that the party was drifting further and further away from her. She said she never shied away from speaking about her Catholic faith or her pro-life views as a Democrat.
She said that for years she hoped that she could change the party from within, make it more in line with traditional values. "I thought I could make a difference to change our party. It didn’t work," she said. "I noticed it that it’s been going more and more to the left. This is not my father’s party. I did not leave the party, the party left me."
In a letter of resignation to the Democratic party, Nardelli cited her Catholic faith.
“I respect all of you and all that I have achieved in the past. Due to personal matters and faith beliefs at this time, it is only fair to resign,” she wrote. “I will miss you all very much as you are all a part of my family; however, it is time to move forward with my life in a direction that is more in line with my faith.”
She announced her decision at a press conference at the courthouse in Hollidaysburg and standing next to her was Monsignor Anthony Little of the local parish of Saint Patrick's in Newry.
She said it started a few weeks ago, ironically as she and her husband were getting ready for Mass and watching Meet the Press when Joe Biden, a Catholic, cited his support for gay marriage.
This shocked her. She said she'd always related to Biden. She said he reminded her of her father. But this announcement shocked her. And then, shortly after, President Obama announced that he'd "evolved" into supporting gay "marriage."
And then as a Democratic committeewoman she received her agenda from the party espousing the same position. "To stand up and agree and sign off on this I couldn’t do it," she said. "So I talked to our priest."
While she didn't say what they talked about, she said Monsignor Little warned her that she would be the focus of much criticism.
His words have proved prophetic. Nardelli said she's heard from people saying she hates gays or that she's a bigot. It got so bad that she started screening her calls. And she didn't know who was calling to say something terrible or something nice to her. She said that even when Republicans call her, she's afraid to pick up simply because she doesn't know them.
"I’ve been a Democrat for over 40 years," she laughed. "I don't know any of the Republicans."
She's been shocked at how the story about her announcement has taken off with reporters calling and her phone ringing off the hook. She said that's not why she did it but she hopes some good can come out of it.
But as unsure of her future as she is, Nardelli says she simply had no other choice. When it came to choosing between her faith and her party, she chose her faith. "God is the reason for all being," she said. "We have to follow our faith."