“You have reminded us of how we are to love one another and of the cost of that,” Bishop Gerald Barnes said, addressing Arnquist during the celebration. “It’s not easy. It takes sacrifice.
“You have been an example of that for us.”
A mathematician by education, Arnquist got into public ministry in the early 1980s, influenced by the Peace Movement and Catholic Worker. She spent six days in an Arizona jail in 1986 for her involvement in peaceful protest outside a Nevada Nuclear Test Site, which she recalled in a 2010 posting to the diocesan blog. She says her passion for social justice began when she was a girl growing up in segregated Louisiana in the 1950s.
“I just couldn’t stand it that some people didn’t have a chance,” Arnquist says. “They were excluded by an arbitrary characteristic they had no control of.”
Living in Hemet, Arnquist was appointed to the now-defunct Diocesan Pastoral Council in 1985. A year later she took a seat on the Human Concerns Commission, established by Bishop Phillip Straling as an initial diocesan ministry in the area of social concerns. A few years later she was hired part-time by Catholic Charities to serve as coordinator of the commission. During that same period she co-founded a homeless shelter, Valley Restart, in Hemet, where she was able to further her ministry with the poor.
In 1999 Bishop Barnes established the diocesan Office of Social Concerns and tabbed Arnquist to be its first director and, initially, its only full-time employee. She gradually built the office staff through grants. A decade later she was named director of what is now called the Ministry of Life, Dignity & Justice, which includes the offices of Social Concerns, Pro Life Catholic Ministries, Restorative Justice and the Justice for Immigrants campaign. The launching of the Restorative Justice ministry, a new Bereavement Program, an expansion of outreach to immigrants and public education efforts that led to significant parishioner participation in the Catholic Legislative Network were hallmarks of Arnquist’s time at the helm of Life, Dignity & Justice.
She was awarded the Papal, Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice Cross, the highest honor given to a layperson in the Roman Catholic Church, in 2004. In retirement, Bishop Barnes bestowed upon her his Episcopal Amar Es Entregarse”Award.
Arnquist will retire to Arizona with her husband, Cliff. While she felt called to retire from leadership ministry in the diocese, she says she looks forward to working more directly with the poor and marginalized in retirement.
“I’ll just start by taking water out into the desert,” she says, referring to a potential ministry to immigrants.
As someone who came to work for the Church in her 40’s and gradually rose to positions of leadership, Arnquist said she hopes her story will help others hear God’s call to ministry.
“I would hope that maybe some people would be willing to take a risk and explore some of the areas that they haven’t already explored,” she said. “God isn’t done with you.”