She knew little about the area and what would become the full scope of the ministry, but she says she clearly felt God was calling her to San Bernardino. When she departed the Diocese last month, she left a fully formed and growing Ministry of Restorative Justice.
“Through the years I’ve come to recognize that I have a gift of being able to help new programs and projects start,” she says. “It’s been exciting to be part of a brand new Restorative Justice Office in a diocese.”
She won’t be going far. Sr. Sue will take the position of Executive Director of a new non-profit, Healing Hearts, Restoring Hope. She’ll be working with longtime friend and fellow restorative justice minister, Father George Horan, focusing specifically on ministry to those impacted by homicide – including victims’ families and loved ones, violent offenders in prison and first responders. “We’re going to focus on how to bring healing to all of those people who have been involved,” she says.
To hear Sr. Sue’s colleagues and those she formed in Restorative Justice ministry tell it, she has been doing just that in the Diocese of San Bernardino for years. At a farewell reception at the Diocesan Pastoral Center on Aug. 20, several people spoke about her impact.
“Through your leadership you made Restorative Justice one of the highlights of local ministry in our diocese,” Bishop Gerald Barnes said at the gathering. “It’s one of the ones I like to brag about.”
Don Nelson and his wife, Pat, spoke about Sr. Sue’s central role in the conversion of Nelson, who had lost his mother to murder and was a staunch supporter of the death penalty.
Nelson said Sr. Sue did not demand that he change his position on the issue and forgive his mother’s killer at the time. That would come at a time of God’s choosing and he would feel it very clearly when it happened, Nelson recalls Sr. Sue telling him. Today he says he opposes the death penalty and has forgiven the man who murdered his mother.
“It was gentleness,” says Nelson, a parishioner at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. “She just listened to me.”
The Restorative Justice ministry of the Diocese has evolved during Sr. Sue’s six years here, she says. When she began it was focused almost solely on ministering to the incarcerated, a continuation of the detention ministry that had been spearheaded by others in the Diocesan Department of Life, Dignity and Justice. She spent considerable time coordinating the annual Get On the Bus event for the Diocese, in which volunteer ministers prepare and accompany children to visit their mothers and fathers in correctional facilities statewide.
Then in 2010 the Bishops of California, through the California Catholic Conference, called Restorative Justice ministers to a two-day training that Sr. Sue says was a watershed moment in her view of the scope of her ministry. “You can’t have a Restorative Justice ministry if you’re not reaching out to victims,” she says.
The Diocese has offered retreats, days of healing and Masses for people who have been impacted by violence – those who have lost a loved one to murder, and loved ones of the perpetrators. After a series of Lenten Masses for crime victims this year, parishes are already calling offering to host a Mass next year, she says.
This new focus has not come at the expense of ministry to those behind bars, however. As she departs, Sr. Sue is proud to report that the diocese now has a presence in every detention facility in the San Bernardino and Riverside counties except the Riverside County jail in Blythe.
The expansion of detention ministry has come through the development of volunteer lay leaders commissioned by Bishop Barnes to visit the incarcerated. Sr. Sue also credits the work of Steve Gomez, the former Associate Director of Restorative Justice for the Diocese, who provided the “yin to my yang” though several years of working together.
But as the Restorative Justice ministry has grown new branches, so too has the job of directing the ministry. Throw in her leadership duties in her religious community, the Sisters of St. Francis, Rochester, MN, and the time is right to slow down and focus more completely on outreach to both victims and those who hurt them.
“For some reason I feel called to work with people who have been affected by violence,” she says. “If people don’t get healing, the violence continues.”