Members answer call of Peace And Justice Commission

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When the Catholic Church comes a-calling, asking for your participation and expertise, what would you say? Would you hem and haw? Would you ask for time to think about it?

Direk Hunt and Deacon John Heithaus did neither. Straight-up, right off the hop and without hesitation, they said, "Yes," when asked to serve on the Archdiocese of St. Louis' new Peace And Justice Commission.

"I was approached by our parish priest, who asked me to consider being a member of the commission," said Hunt, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish. A former military policeman, he's the police chief of Perryville and a candidate for the incoming diaconate class.

Though he knew little about the commission and its mission, he jumped right in.

"I hardly ever say 'No' to the Church," Hunt explained. "Anything to make the Church better and to serve the public, which is what I'm about."

Same with Deacon Heithaus.

"It's part of our ministry," said Deacon Heithaus, who was ordained in 2010 and serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant. "We are ordained for service, not just to those people in our pews but to those who are suffering."

Hunt and Deacon Heithaus are among 27 people who either answered affirmatively when the archdiocese called, or applied to join the commission nine months in the making. Though established in August in the wake of the police officer-involved shooting death of Michael Brown and subsequent violence, the Peace And Justice Commission will deal with issues beyond Ferguson -- social justice issues that affect parishes in different parts of the archdiocese, whether immigration, health services, environment, etc.

The make-up of the commission members reflects its area-wide approach, with five counties and the City of St. Louis represented. The breakdown: 12, St. Louis County; nine, St. Louis; two each, St. Charles and Perry counties; and one each, Jefferson and Franklin counties.

The commission has 18 men and nine women, and of the 27 members, one is Hispanic, five are African American and 21 white. According to Marie Kenyon, director of the commission, those numbers reflect area demographics.

Eight clergy or religious are on the commission -- four priests, three sisters and one deacon.

Civic leaders on the commission include Tom Irwin, the executive director of Civic Progress; Christine Chadwick, the former executive director of FOCUS St. Louis; and Patrick White of the Labor Council.

"The archdiocese is so blessed to have so many community leaders willing to work on these issues," Kenyon said.

Perhaps the most poignant story among the newly-minted commissioners is from Washington University assistant professor Jason Purnell of the School of Social Work

Educated at St. Louis University High and Harvard University, Purnell did a study, "For the Sake of All: A multidisciplinary study on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis" -- In comparing two St. Louis area zip codes -- 63106 just north of downtown St. Louis and 63105 in Clayton -- the study found life expectancy in 63105 to be 18 years greater than in 63106.

"African Americans bear a considerable burden of disease, disability and death in the St. Louis region," the Washington U. website quoted him.

Kenyon simply described Purnell as "excellent."

The commission will be the Catholic voice on issues presented through the lens of the family -- i.e. the impact on people in the pews as well as families in different parts of the county. For instance, people in Valley Park might not think issues raised by events in Ferguson affect them, but in the universal Church and body of Christ, if one area suffers, everyone suffers.

Kenyon expects the commission will meet every other month and address issues "that bubble up," as opposed to operating in a top-down fashion. The commission also is based on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Justice, Peace and Human Development committee, just on the local level.

"We're starting from scratch; we don't know how this will evolve," Kenyon said. "We'll hopefully give parishes guidance to work on issues or motivate them to work on issues. ... It's centered on the family, the role of the family in the world."

Members of the Commission

Father Donald Anstoetter Part-time professor, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary; associate pastor, Holy Infant Parish. 

Father Michael Boehm Vicar for Priests, Archdiocese of St. Louis

Ray Boshara Senior advisor and director, Center for Household Financial Stability, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Patrick Carron President/CEO Perry County Memorial Hospital

Christine Chadwick Former executive director, FOCUS St. Louis

Father Christopher Collins, SJ Director, Catholic Studies Program; assistant professor, Theological Studies, St. Louis University

Angel Costa Real estate investor

Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND Pastoral associate, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish

Deacon John Heithaus Chief development officer, Family Resource Center

Jessica Hoskins Criminal defense attorney

Captain Daniel Howard Commander, District 4 of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department

Direk Hunt Chief of police, Perryville

Thomas Irwin Executive director, Civic Progress

Felicia Jones Federal public defender

Dr. Barbara Lutey Assistant professor of medicine, Washington University School of Medicine

Nancy McCarthy Regional administrator, Board of Probation and Parole, Missouri Department of Corrections

Thomas Miller Resource analyst, Edward Jones

Barbara Morrow Director of business services, Harris-Stowe State University

Sister Ellen Orf, CPPS General councilor, Sisters of the Most Precious Blood

Sister Christine Price, ASCJ Director of faith formation, St. Alban Roe Parish

Jason Purnell Assistant professor, Washington University School of Social Work

Peter Salsich Jr Professor-emeritus, SLU School of Law

Father Carl Scheble Pastor, St. John the Baptist Parish

Jim Schmieder Assistant city administrator, Union

Daniel Vatterott Vice-president and financial advisor, Morgan Stanley

Patrick White President, St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Dr. Joseph Worth Vice president of student affairs, St. Louis Community College, Florissant Valley

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