Legal ministry helps people with ‘nowhere else to go’

Lisa Johnston
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Forget all the lawyer shows you've seen on television. What attorney Marie Kenyon does is a ministry.

Kenyon is approaching her 25th year with the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry, the Catholic Charities agency that helps the people Kenyon calls "the working poor" to have their day in court.

The managing attorney of Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry, Kenyon said, "There's a reason this is called a ministry. This is something we are called to do."

In the past year her agency has helped about 1,200 clients, "people who have nowhere else to go" with legal assistance in civil and immigration cases.

"Under the Constitution, the only people entitled to free legal representation are people accused of a crime," Kenyon said. People involved in custody cases, seeking help with child support or Social Security disability benefits often have nowhere else to turn when they need a lawyer.

Kenyon's staff includes two other full-time lawyers, an accredited representative for immigration cases, three part-time lawyers and, "since my offices are at St. Louis University School of Law," some third-year law students.

"We go to court in every county of the archdiocese," Kenyon said.

Among her recent clients is Sharond Thorpe, a working grandmother who sought guardianship of her granddaughter. The child's father, Thorpe's son, and mother had not been married. The child's mother was severely injured in an accident and couldn't take care of her. Thorpe's son got help from Legal Aid, Thorpe said, "and a couple of years later, he had an accident. I needed help. The Legal Aid lawyer recommended Marie Kenyon, and she was really, really helpful."

Kenyon helped Thorpe gain guardianship of her granddaughter, now 7, who attends St. Louis Catholic Academy.

Thorpe said, "What a good lawyer she is, and what a blessing it was we got her. Marie has been just wonderful ever since."

Kenyon said, "Without our help, Sharond couldn't have gotten guardianship. The City of St. Louis won't let you file for this without a lawyer, and she couldn't have afforded a lawyer."

And without the Annual Catholic Appeal, Kenyon said, there would be no Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry.

"The bulk of our funding comes from the ACA," Kenyon said. "I believe this is one of the bravest things the Church does," providing a poor person help "to make sure your voice is heard in the court room. It is really empowering the poor. It is a whole other level of helping the poor."

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