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Grants Awarded to 28 Nonprofits

SC Ministry Foundation conducts semi-annual responsive grant cycles for funding requests from qualified nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations which align with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati mission.

In June the SC Ministry Foundation Board of Directors approved fifteen responsive grants for:

Catholic Charities and Community Services of the Archdiocese of Denver, Denver, COto provide indigent and low-income immigrants in the Archdiocese of Denver legal advice and application assistance, deportation defense, including immigration education and parish outreach.

Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO – to provide immigrant families living at or below the poverty level services designed to help families successfully move out of crisis, build resiliency, and achieve stability.

Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, Cincinnati, OH – to serve and educate low-wage and immigrant workers and advocate against wage theft and unpaid wages to achieve positive systemic change.

Elder High School, Cincinnati, OH – to provide technological, educational, and community outreach programs within the Price Hill community through the tech-reach program.

FutureChurch, Lakewood, OH –  to support their Catholic Women Preach initiative to increase engagement of younger Catholics in Church life and leadership.

Holy Family School, Cincinnati, OH – to support the social worker program that contributes to the spiritual, social, intellectual, and physical development of each child.

Ohio Interfaith Power & Light, Columbus, OH – to expand energy stewardship activities for houses of worship and other faith-based nonprofits.

Ohioans to Stop Executions, Columbus, OH – to educate and raise awareness about the flaws in Ohio’s capital punishment and criminal justice system.

St. Joseph Orphanage, Cincinnati, OH – to support behavioral therapy training to support children and adults who struggle with mental health and behavioral concerns.

St. Lawrence School, Cincinnati, OH – to support the counselor/social worker program which supports the spiritual, academic and personal development of a diverse community of students.

St. William School, Cincinnati, OH – to support the social worker program to help students overcome barriers to their education which include their health, safety, socio-economic needs and concerns.

SBP (formerly St. Bernard Project), New Orleans, LA – to  support rebuilding homes in South Louisiana.

Starfire Council of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH – to support building better lives for people with disabilities that are filled with relationships, purpose, and meaningful contributions.

US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, Wayne, PA – to support education and advocacy in an effort to eradicate modern-day slavery.

Working in Neighborhoods, Cincinnati, OH – to support the net-zero energy housing development in South Cumminsville for low and moderate-income residents.

Also approved were thirteen director’s responsive grants awarded to organizations in Rome, Italy, Washington DC, Maryland, Colorado, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania that will advance our mission nationally and globally.

The semi-annual responsive grants represent one type of grant program provided by SC Ministry Foundation. In addition, the Foundation provides grants for sponsored ministries of the Sisters of Charity, capacity building grants, and discretionary grants. In 2014, the Sister Elise Grant was introduced as a small grant fund for programs where a small amount of money can make a big difference.

For more information, see:

Funding priorities

Responsive grant process

Sister Elise Grant

Featured

SC Ministry Foundation President and Executive Director Sister Sally Duffy to Retire

For Immediate Release  |  July 13, 2017

Delhi Township, Ohio –The SC Ministry Foundation has announced the retirement of Sister Sally Duffy, SC as president and executive director of the SC Ministry Foundation. With this announcement, Sister Sally shared, “I remain deeply grateful for the call to servant leadership at the SC Ministry Foundation. Thank you to all the organizations who have partnered with the Foundation in sharing the Sisters of Charity mission to act justly and to share their resources with those in need.”

The SC Ministry Foundation is a public grant-making organization that promotes the mission and ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. Sister Joan Elizabeth Cook, SC, president of the Sisters of Charity congregation stated: “We thank Sister Sally for her sixteen years of leadership and the positive impact she has had on the many groups, near and far, that have benefitted from the Foundation.”

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The SC Ministry Foundation is dedicated to many social justice issues such as the revitalization of the Price Hill neighborhoods in Cincinnati, comprehensive immigration reform, and access to affordable, quality health care. Sister Sally has earned numerous recognitions including: the St. Katherine Drexel Award from Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) for exemplary and outstanding contributions to philanthropy on behalf of the Church and the common good; recognition by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for service to women religious in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina; recipient of the Gabriel Award as co-executive producer of the documentary, “We Shall Not Be Moved: Catholic Sisters of New Orleans;” the Catholic philanthropy Charles Carroll Award for her love for the poor and her passion for social justice; the Doctor of Humane Letters from Mount St. Joseph University; and the Career Woman of Achievement by the Greater Cincinnati YWCA.

“Sister Sally has been an invaluable asset to the success of the Foundation and has served as an important counselor to many Foundation grantees, community partners and to the board,” shared Denise Kuprionis, chair of the SC Ministry Foundation Board of Directors. “We are grateful for her dedicated years of service to the SC Ministry Foundation and wish many blessings for her future.”

During this time of transition, the vice-chair of the Foundation’s board will assume the management of operations, and Foundation staff members will continue in their current roles.


About the SC Ministry Foundation: Since 1996, SC Ministry Foundation has been promoting the mission and ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati as a public grant-making organization that supports direct service, advocacy and systemic change. Through their commitment to living Gospel values, the Foundation strives to reduce poverty and injustice, maximize human potential and build healthy communities through regional, national and international partnerships and collaborative initiatives.

For more information, contact: Amelia Riedel, Director of Communications and Program Officer at (513) 347-1086 or ariedel@scministryfdn.org.

The Future of the Energy Sector

FeaturedThe Future of the Energy Sector

“We’re living in a truly contentious time right now, but I do believe we have the capacity to find common ground if we have the right information.”
– Michael Bonfiglio, director of “From the Ashes”

One of the many challenges facing our country is our reliance on energy to keep us moving, working, operating, communicating, living. Do we fully understand where the energy comes from that illuminates a room when we flip a switch? What are the costs for this energy – not just from our wallets, but also our air, our water, our planet, our health and our jobs?

On June 15, SC Ministry Foundation hosted an advance preview screening of the National Geographic documentary, “From the Ashes,” to provide an opportunity to learn more about the coal industry and its effect on our lives. The screening was offered in partnership with one of the foundation’s grantees, Ohio Interfaith Power & Light (OhIPL), an organization which empowers a religious response to climate change by promoting energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy with communities of all faiths. Sara Ward, executive director of OhIPL, facilitated a discussion with attendees following the film.

SC Ministry Foundation offered this learning opportunity as a way of promoting the mission of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, whose mission calls to “care for all creation,” and whose vision compels members to “live simply in a complex world.”

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“From the Ashes” features coal-mining communities across the country and the compelling and often heartbreaking personal stories from residents, environmentalists, and activists, to “put a human face on the complicated issues tied to coal production, such as the future of the energy sector, the risks to people’s health and livelihood, and the environment,” as stated by the film’s director Michael Bonfiglio.

The film explained the coal industry’s impact on health, evidenced by hazardous drinking water and increased cases of asthma from polluted air. The environmental impact of surface mining displaces plants and animals and leaves the land unusable for agriculture and/or development. The burning of coal not only pollutes the air we breathe, but is the single largest contributor to the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming.

As the coal industry suffered from decreased demand with the rise of natural gas use, and many coal mining jobs were replaced with technological advances, hundreds of coal mining towns and their residents felt the impact deeply, as was poignantly demonstrated in the film.

Hope for the Future

Despite the challenges surrounding the coal industry, there are alternatives and viable options for energy sources and for sustainable jobs. The film shared how organizations are taking action to help coal communities transition to renewable energy industries and create sustainable economies by producing solar panels and wind turbines.

Other groups, such as the Sierra Club, are strong advocates in the movement to end coal pollution and promote alternative energy technologies. They initiated the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy campaign, a nonpartisan initiative for local leaders to commit to leading their communities toward 100% clean renewable energy sources. Cincinnati’s Mayor John Cranley recently joined this initiative.

Director Michael Bonfiglio stated, “After making this film, I’ve concluded that the idea that we must poison our air and water and render our planet uninhabitable to have jobs in this country is a falsehood. Hopefully this film will be part of a sane and rational dialogue about how to move forward as a nation in the 21st century.”

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In the discussion that followed the screening of the film, one participant remarked that “the future of energy is not an either/or decision—clean energy or jobs—but that it is possible to have both clean energy and jobs through industries creating solar, wind, and other clean energy solutions.”

It is important for all of us living in the United States – no matter our political ties or region of the country – to support the efforts to transition to clean energy. The future of our children and many generations after them depend heavily on the decisions we make at this critical time in history.

For more information about the film:

“From the Ashes” film website: https://www.fromtheashesfilm.com/

A helpful educational resource from the film is available for download here.

The film will broadcast on National Geographic TV on Friday, June 30 at 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

For a limited time, the National Geographic website is providing the opportunity for the film to be viewed online.

Video Clips from the film are also available online.

 

Faithfully Green: Harnessing Green Energy for Nonprofit Communities

Faithfully Green: Harnessing Green Energy for Nonprofit Communities

In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, On the Care of Our Common Home, Pope Francis expresses, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, at the same time protecting nature.”

A key component of the mission of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati is to “care for all creation,” a message which was reaffirmed with their 2015 Chapter Direction: “Called from the beginning of our foundation as Sisters of Charity to address the needs of our world, we move intentionally and creatively toward the vulnerabilities of our Earth and our sisters and brothers.”

This Spring, in recognition of Earth Day, SC Ministry Foundation invited three Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Sisters CJ Willie, Marge Kloos, and Barbara Busch to share how they are fulfilling the call to environmental stewardship. Staff from 20 nonprofit organizations joined in the conversation to learn how to adopt “green” practices, reduce energy costs, and inspire their community to do the same.

The Legacy of the Solar Nun

Sister CJ spoke from her varied experiences as the program director for EarthConnection, a member of environmental committees for both the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Mount St. Joseph University, and a board member for Ohio Interfaith Power and Light (OhIPL). Sister Paula Gonzalez, SC co-founded Ohio Interfaith Power & Light in 2007 as the statewide affiliate of the national organization. Before her passing in July 2016, Sister Paula had spent 45 years of her life advocating for renewable energy, earning her the recognition as the “solar nun.” Sister CJ shared how OhIPL is continuing Sister Paula’s mission by partnering with energy assessment experts to help faith-based nonprofits obtain low-cost energy audits and implementation plans to reduce energy costs. She included information about financing options that are available to support energy conservation projects, such as the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funding mechanism.

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Ohio Interfaith Power & Light connects faith-based organizations with resources to become more energy efficient. Founded by the late Sister Paula Gonzalez (pictured center), the organization continues its mission through leadership of executive director Sara Ward (left) and board member Sister CJ Willie (right).

Moving “Off the Grid”

As the co-founder and executive director of Working in Neighborhoods (WIN), Sister Barbara discussed how WIN is providing energy-efficient home renovations, and developing plans to utilize solar and geothermal energy in newly-constructed affordable homes. For many years, Working in Neighborhoods has been providing energy-efficient renovations for low-income homeowners, which includes Energy Star rated furnaces, water heaters and appliances, insulation and replacement windows, as well environmental remediation to manage issues with lead or asbestos. In addition, WIN builds new homes with the same principals of energy efficiency and sustainability. WIN’s latest project will create a “Net-Zero” Urban Village in South Cumminsville, one of Cincinnati’s oldest, predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Within a targeted area, WIN will build 25 net-zero or near net-zero energy usage homes using energy efficient design and green energy technology such as geothermal and/or solar. WIN’s goal is to move low-income residents out of costly, inefficient and often unhealthy rental properties into affordable, sustainable homeownership. Within the same targeted area, 25 current homeowners will receive weatherization and energy efficiency upgrades.  Sister Barb shared, “We think we can help those in poverty… we’re not going to increase their money, but we can increase their ability to use their money differently.”

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Sister Barbara Busch, SC Executive Director and co-founder of Working in Neighborhoods, has been presenting keys to first-time homebuyers for nearly 40 years. 

Living the Mission

Sister Marge’s background in environmental studies and global travel experiences have prepared her for the responsibility of coordinating environmental initiatives on the Sisters of Charity properties, through her role as an executive councilor with the Sisters of Charity Leadership Council. She shared how Pope Francis’ call to “integral ecology” led the Sisters to consider “what we were doing with our own properties to protect our ‘non-human neighbors’.” Sister Marge shared that when we utilize any energy, we “have to look at the ecological cost as well as the economic cost. As long as I can remember, Sister Paula has been encouraging us to do this.”  She described how the Sisters of Charity are on the leading edge of the renewable energy efforts in the Greater Cincinnati area through geothermal, solar, and other energy-efficient initiatives in order to transform their properties into “ecological models of sustainability.” One example Sister Marge cited was their effort to switch 10,500 lightbulbs in the Motherhouse to LED lighting. This has resulted in an estimated cost savings of $62,000 a year. Beyond the Motherhouse, the Sisters have installed geothermal HVAC technology for two of the Sister’s residences and solar technology for six of the residences. The combined impact of these renewable energy solutions is anticipated to reduce carbon emissions at the equivalent of 120,000 miles driven by a passenger vehicle in one year, or 54,000 pounds of coal burned each year.

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The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati contracted with Melink Corporation to utilize solar and geothermal energy on their properties. 

A recording of the “Faithfully Green” panel presentation as well as additional resources are available at: www.scministryfdn.org/programs/faithfully-green.

 

Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati statement on Care for the Earth:
http://www.srcharitycinti.org/opjcc/earth.htm

 


 

Contributors: Brittany Hein, communications assistant with SC Ministry Foundation and English major at Mount St. Joseph University; Amelia Riedel, director of communications and program officer with SC Ministry Foundation. 

Neighbors Helping Neighbors – The Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati

Neighbors Helping Neighbors – The Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati

At a time when most of their peers are focused on climbing a career ladder or advancing their education, five young women and men from around the world have chosen to live in Cincinnati in a lifestyle challenged by poverty as they devote a year of their lives in service for others. They share a home in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood, share modest meals and utilize public transportation. They serve in full-time positions and earn only a small stipend for living expenses. They are a uniquely special group of young professionals called the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati.

The Vincentian Volunteer program was created by the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Cincinnati in 2012 to expand the Society’s mission of “neighbors helping neighbors.” The program engages young adults in 11 months of full-time service to neighbors in need, while living in intentional community with each other and growing in faith. Though similar programs such as AmeriCorps exist across the country, at the time the Cincinnati Vincentian Volunteer program began it was the only faith-based, residential service opportunity available in the area.

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As program manager for the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati, Maura Carpinello enhances the program through her wealth of personal experience as a Colorado Vincentian. Here she is discussing the “Getting Ahead” mentorship program with Fare Olagbaju.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society has served Cincinnati-area neighbors in need for nearly 150 years, and is the largest provider of emergency assistance services that prevent homelessness. The need is great, since approximately one in three Cincinnati residents fall below the federal poverty line, according the 2015 Ohio Development Agency’s Poverty Report. In 2014, 69% of homeless families in Cincinnati were turned away from shelters, largely due to lack of capacity. As requests for services became monumental, the additional assistance from the Vincentian Volunteers has helped to meet the increased demand.

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The assistance from the Vincentian Volunteers has helped to meet the increasing demands for services. Vincentian Volunteer Molly Gibbons coordinates the Choice Food Pantry and is pictured here with Tim Barr, a former Vincentian Volunteer who currently serves as volunteer coordinator for St. Vincent de Paul. 

The SC Ministry Foundation has supported the Vincentian Volunteer program since its inception in 2012. Several Sisters of Charity serve as volunteers, including Sister Mary Ann Humbert, as spiritual advisor and advisory committee member, Sister Christine Rody, as pharmacy volunteer and board member, and Sister Nancy Bramlage, as an advisory committee member.

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Sister Mary Ann Humbert, SC, serves as a spiritual advisor for the Vincentian Volunteers. She is pictured here (back row, second from left) with the 2016 cohort of volunteers and Sisters of Charity Associate Liz Maxwell. 

The Vincentian Volunteer program engages a range of 4-6 participants each year. The current 2016-2017 cohort includes a diverse group of five members (pictured at top, from left): Mary Ellen Ostrowski from Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Olafare “Fare” Olagbaju from Lekki, Nigeria; Sarah Spech from Willoughby Hills, Ohio; René Betance from Chihuahua, Mexico; and Molly Gibbons from Margate, New Jersey.

 

Giving More than Medicine

A variety of reasons may influence a young adult to choose to give a year of their life to service. Mary Ellen’s decision to become a Vincentian Volunteer was tied to her career goal to become a physician’s assistant. Her position as a patient advocate for St. Vincent de Paul’s charitable pharmacy has provided Mary Ellen valuable experience with patient interactions. The charitable pharmacy provides low-income individuals access to prescription medications free of charge, due to donations from pharmaceutical companies, doctor offices and nursing homes, and donated service from volunteer pharmacists and pharmacy students. Before any prescriptions are filled, Mary Ellen and other patient advocates meet with each patient confidentially to document the cost of their medications in addition to other living expenses that exceed the patient’s income.

Sometimes a patient needs more than medication. Mary Ellen shared a poignant story about a woman who had recently lost her spouse and then was diagnosed with cancer. Mary Ellen could tell the woman was struggling on many levels. “I asked her if she would like me to pray with her, and she agreed,” shared Mary Ellen. “We prayed for strength and peace, and shared a hug.” Experiences such as this, Mary Ellen shared, “provide a different lens for me to see and better understand the struggles of underserved populations.”

One of the unexpected benefits of Mary Ellen’s experience has been the friendship developed with her co-worker, Sister Christine Rody, SC.  Mary Ellen has had friends who have chosen religious vocations so the idea of working closely with a Catholic sister was not strange to her. “It has been fun to see how our friendship has grown,” Mary Ellen said, reflecting on her relationship with Sister Christine. “It was surprising for me to learn of her experiences, especially when she ministered in El Salvador. She has done some crazy, awesome things by making a radical, counter-cultural choice.”

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Vincentian Volunteer Mary Ellen Ostrowski and Sister of Charity of Cincinnati Christine Rody have enjoyed working together as patient advocates for the Charitable Pharmacy. 

During the nearly 60 years through which Sister Christine has been a Catholic Sister, she has been a math teacher, ministered in violence-afflicted El Salvador, earned her license in canon law, and became a member of two religious congregations. Sister Christine became a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati in 2004 when her previous congregation, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity from Bedford, Ohio, assimilated into the Cincinnati congregation. “When our two congregations were discerning our options, we realized that the spirit and the charism of our communities had a connection,” she shared, referring to the model of St. Vincent de Paul in caring for the poor, and how that model was later adopted by St. Elizabeth Seton when she founded the Sisters of Charity. “St. Elizabeth Seton ‘American-ized’ the Vincentian charism.”

Sister Christine shared how the Vincentian Volunteers are continuing to live out this model. “Their generosity of spirit and willingness to live in poverty and in solidarity with the poor is remarkable. Most people their age are focused on their career and/or finding a life partner. These volunteers are so spiritually-minded at an early age.”

The additional assistance the Vincentian Volunteer program provides has allowed St. Vincent de Paul to effectively serve more neighbors in need, specifically reporting a 135% annual increase in individuals served. As the emergency needs of more neighbors are met, evictions are avoided and homelessness is prevented.

 

A Year of Service, Impact for a Lifetime

The program has also proven to be beneficial professionally, developmentally and spiritually for the participants, with 100% of the program’s alumni reporting that they secured employment or advanced education opportunities following completion of the program. Two of the volunteers have become full-time employees of St. Vincent de Paul after their service, and all of the program’s alumni remain actively engaged with St. Vincent de Paul and/or with other nonprofits.

Charissa Qiu, a member of the first Vincentian Volunteer cohort, currently works as Campus Ministry Coordinator at Mount St. Joseph University alongside Sister Nancy Bramlage, SC, who will retire from her role as Director of Mission and Ministry at the end of June. (See related article)  When reflecting on her experience, Charissa shared, “It made me question what it truly means to love one’s neighbor. It sharpened who I am and who I want to be in the world.”

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As a member of the first cohort of the Vincentian Volunteers, Charissa Qiu (above left) highly recommends the experience to all young adults. For the past year Charissa has worked closely with Sister Nancy Bramlage, SC, (above right) at Mount St. Joseph University. 

Sister Nancy, who serves on the advisory committee for the Vincentian Volunteer program, shared how the St. Vincent de Paul Society reflects the mission of the Sisters of Charity and the spirit of St. Elizabeth Seton. “St. Elizabeth ministered to everyone, whether they were rich or poor,” she explained. “The Vincentian charism recognizes the dignity of all people. The Vincentian Volunteer program is a concrete expression of that charism.”

The Vincentian Volunteer program has played a vital role in building the capacity for the St. Vincent de Paul Society to meet the needs of the neighbors they serve. But perhaps its greater role is in laying the foundation for passionate, committed Vincentians who will continue to serve their neighbors in the spirit of St. Louise de Marrilac and St. Vincent de Paul, as well as St. Elizabeth Seton for many years to come.


 

Contributors: Brittany Hein, communications assistant with SC Ministry Foundation and English major at Mount St. Joseph University; Amelia Riedel, director of communications and program officer with SC Ministry Foundation. 

Recognizing National Migration Week

Recognizing National Migration Week

“…faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.” – Pope Francis

National Migration Week is January 8-14, 2017

On January 8, the celebration of the Epiphany, Christians reflect on the journey of the wise men in search for the Savior. This date also marks the beginning of National Migration Week – a time designated by the Catholic Church in the United States as an opportunity to reflect on the circumstances confronting immigrants and refugees. Many of these migrants are children, and many are victims and survivors of human trafficking.

The theme for National Migration Week 2017, “Creating a Culture of Encounter,” draws attention to Pope Francis’ call to create a culture of encounter, and in doing so to look beyond our own needs and wants to those of others around us.

Too often in our contemporary culture, we fail to encounter migrants as persons, and instead look at them as “others” or render them invisible. We may not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, as fellow children of God, but remain aloof to their presence and suspicious of their intentions.

During this National Migration Week, let us all take the opportunity to engage migrants as community members and neighbors worthy of our attention and support.

Prayer and Reflection for National Migration Week

“Do not be afraid,” the angel Gabriel told Mary. Immigrants and refugees face fear daily.

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Let us pray for the grace of love,
which casts out all fear.

 

 

Jesus was born a migrant. Bethlehem had no room, so Jesus was born in a stable.

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Let us pray for the
grace of hospitality to

welcome newcomers.

 

 

 

The Holy Family became refugees through the wrath of King Herod. Today migrants and refugees are still forced from their homes.

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Let us pray for the
grace of charity,
to offer comfort and consolation.

 

 

 

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Merciful and Loving Father,
Open our hearts so that we may provide hospitality and refuge to migrants
who are lonely, afraid, and far from their homes.

Give us the courage to welcome every stranger as Christ in our midst,
to invite them into our communities as a demonstration of Christ’s love for us.

-Adapted from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Unity in Diversity, A Scriptural Rosary”
Images of stained glass and nativity scene from the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Immaculate Conception Chapel. 

 

Additional Resources for National Migration Week:

Justice for Immigrants Network

National Migration Week Toolkit

Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Public Statement on Immigration

 

 

 

The Criminal Justice System through the Lens of Faith

The Criminal Justice System through the Lens of Faith

You are transported into a darkened room measuring 6×9 feet. Your landscape becomes a picture of blank, cracked walls, a sliver of a window, a small desk, sink, and a toilet. Now you must spend 22-24 hours alone and constrained within this space with no visitors. Having only minimal human interaction, it is not uncommon for a whisper of insanity to creep into your thoughts and actions.

The scene described above was experienced by more than 200 college students from Mount St. Joseph University and Xavier University through a virtual reality simulation. The Critical Issues in the Criminal Justice System project brought the experience to college campuses through partnerships with Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC), Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), and Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE), with support from the SC Ministry Foundation. The brief, nine minute virtual reality simulation is a method to increase awareness of the moral injustice of solitary confinement, and the need to reform our criminal justice system.

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Sister Andrea Koverman, SC prepares the gear for a Mount St. Joseph University student to participate in a virtual reality simulation of solitary confinement. Sister Andrea coordinates the anti-death penalty programs for the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center.

“Our goal with this project was to share these issues with the young adult population—which tend to be difficult to reach,” explained Sister Andrea Koverman, SC, who coordinates the anti-death penalty programs for IJPC. “The virtual reality technology truly immersed the students into a deeply impactful experience.”

These issues are examined through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching, which promotes the life and dignity of every person and the right to basic needs for proper development, for all are created in the image and likeness of God. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop of Cincinnati and later of Chicago, described life as a “seamless garment,” which symbolizes a “consistent ethic of life.” All issues concerning life are interconnected – such as the death penalty, euthanasia, human trafficking, the right to migrate, workers’ rights, and just warfare – and focused on all stages of life at the beginning, throughout our time on Earth and at the end of life.

Within the frame of Catholic Social Teaching, the Critical Issues in the Justice System project provides data-driven evidence of the unfairness and misperceptions of the U.S. criminal justice system. Some evidence challenges the effectiveness of the death penalty. In fact, according to the Death Penalty Information Center:

  • From 2000 to 2016, data affirmed that states that do not utilize the death penalty have lower rates of murder.
  • The grave possibility exists that an innocent person might be executed. Since 1973, more than 150 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence; nine were released from death row in Ohio.

Further increasing the injustice, the American Civil Liberties Union reports that 93% of states often place people on death row in solitary confinement, which the United Nations considers to be an act of torture. This practice has been proven to exacerbate existing mental illness and lead to mental illness in previously healthy individuals, often with an increased risk of suicide.

In 2007, the American Bar Association found that the state of Ohio failed to meet basic standards of fairness and equity in 93% of the capital punishment cases they reviewed. The Critical Issues in the Justice System project aimed particular focus on the lack of response from the Ohio legislature to the task force recommendations to correct those issues.

Students participating in the virtual reality experience were provided postcards to sign and send to Ohio’s governor and legislators to advocate for action. Students were emotionally overcome by the fact the virtual reality they experienced is an actual reality for many, which prompted more than 100 students to sign postcards.

Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center partnered with the Catholic Mobilizing Network to present the virtual reality experience of solitary confinement to more than 200 students at Mount St. Joseph and Xavier Universities.
Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center partnered with the Catholic Mobilizing Network to present the virtual reality experience of solitary confinement to more than 200 students at Mount St. Joseph and Xavier Universities.

Difficult issues such as the death penalty and solitary confinement are often hidden and from those not implicitly involved. Evidence shows that perpetuating a culture of violence and revenge may continue to put innocent lives at risk. As an alternative, IJPC, CMN, and OTSE are promoting restorative justice, a community-centered approach that focuses on victim’s needs and the offender’s rehabilitation and responsibility to repair harm and foster healing.

As people of faith, we are called to promote the seamless garment of life. Pope Francis shared, “In the face of unjust and painful situations, faith brings us the light which scatters the darkness.” To shine more light on these issues, consider taking action:

  • Sign up for email action alerts from the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center: ijpccincinnati.org
  • Ohioans may sign an electronic petition provided by Ohioans To Stop Executions, urging Governor Kasich not to resume executions in 2017: otse.org
  • Learn more about the national efforts of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice: catholicsmobilizing.org