Criminal Justice Ministry recharged at new site

LISA JOHNSTON | lisajohnston@archstl.org

The Criminal Justice Ministry, formerly a part of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, has moved to a building across from St. Vincent de Paul Parish in south St. Louis and has re-established collaboration with the parish's social services.

The ministry was based at the parish until 2005, when it moved to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul offices, first in Midtown St. Louis and then Downtown. A year ago, the board of the Society approved a reorganization of programs to focus on supporting its parish conferences and asked the Criminal Justice Ministry to separate from the Society. After a study of possible options, a task force recommended that the Criminal Justice Ministry (CJM) become a separate nonprofit organization affiliated with the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The Annual Catholic Appeal recently approved a grant to enable the ministry to become established on its own.

"During our transition to become a freestanding nonprofit corporation, we have been helped in many ways by the archdiocese and Catholic Charities. We appreciate this assistance and are pleased that CJM will be affiliated with the archdiocese," said Sister Carleen Reck, SSND, executive director.

The archdiocese had no coordinated efforts in prison ministry until the late 1970s. Father John Vogler was appointed as a part-time chaplain at the St. Louis City jail and a year later full time there and in St. Louis County.

The archdiocese's Human Rights Office had been involved initially, but the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an organization of lay volunteers, agreed to meet the need. In 1979, Dominican Sister Mary Pius Fagan was hired to start the ministry and work with Father Vogler, who is the current chaplain of the ministry. The only other directors have been Sister Karen Pollard, BVM, and Sister Carleen.

The focus has been person-to-person assistance rooted in the Gospel message. It brings comfort to those who are incarcerated and shows them they are valued as persons.

John Foppe, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of St. Louis, said operations were restructured "to more effectively support our core mission -- the person-to-person service done through our 140-plus conferences. The hallmark of the St. Vincent de Paul is its parish-based chapters."

Foppe said the focus is on "how we more effectively recruit members, train members, form them and continue to provide that person-to-person, neighbor-to-neighbor help."

Two permanent supportive housing programs also are being transitioned, and the Society worked with the City of St. Louis to find another agency, Depaul USA, to sponsor them.

The goal is to allow these programs to grow and flourish elsewhere, and there was no interruption in services, he said.

The Criminal Justice Ministry recently received the Ethical Humanist of the Year Award from the Ethical Society of St. Louis for its work with people who are in special need and have few resources.

Criminal Justice Ministry

WHAT: The ministry improves the safety and well-being of individuals affected by crime and the criminal justice system, their families and their communities, through person-to-person assistance rooted in Jesus Christ's message of love, reconciliation and hope.

INSIDE THE PRISON: Visiting with incarcerated men and women, providing religious services, writing letters to prisoners, teaching classes for faith and personal development, tutoring in reading and math. Ministry is provided in two St. Louis City jails and 10 county jails along with four state prisons.

OUTSIDE THE PRISON: Short-term direct assistance such as Welcome Backpacks; long-term supportive residential programs such as Release to Rent and Release to Rent for Veterans.

EDUCATION: Increasing understanding of restorative rather than retributive justice. Systemic change includes supporting opportunities and opposing obstacles for re-entering society and working for fair prison terms. The ministry works with the Department of Corrections, other agencies and legislators to find alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders, reduce re-incarceration and increase safety in the community.

INFORMATION: The ministry has moved to 941 Park Ave. in south St. Louis near St. Vincent de Paul Parish. The mailing address is P.O. Box 15160, St. Louis, Mo. 63110. Call (314) 652-8062 or email info@cjmstlouis.org. To volunteer call (314) 881-6019. For information see www.cjmstlouis.org.

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