Fr. David Kelly is the founder and executive director of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR), a restorative justice ministry and community center serving several neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago. He has also worked as a parish-based jail minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago for more than 30 years.
In this episode, Fr. David shares about the five pillars guiding PBMR's work: radical hospitality, accompaniment, relentless engagement of young people and their families, relentless engagement of stakeholders and systems, and collaboration. His stories and insights illuminate how in instances of harm, simply asking the right questions can help us embark on a path of restoration and healing — a path that models Jesus' reconciling way.
Greetings! And welcome to the very first episode of Encounters With Dignity, a new podcast on restorative justice from Catholic Mobilizing Network.
I’m your host, Caitlin Morneau, coming to you from Washington, DC. I serve as Catholic Mobilizing Network’s Director of Restorative Justice.
If you’re new to Catholic Mobilizing Network, or CMN for short, we are a national organization committed to transforming the U.S. criminal legal system by ending the death penalty and promoting restorative justice. We do this by inviting Catholics and all people of goodwill into education, advocacy, and prayer aimed at dismantling broken systems and building up life-affirming responses to harm and injustice.
In my role, I am incredibly fortunate to collaborate closely with Catholic ministers, restorative justice practitioners, and individuals who have been impacted by crime and incarceration.
In Encounters With Dignity, you’ll hear from some of these inspiring individuals, as they share their stories, learnings, and actionable wisdom from years of, well, “doing” restorative justice.
But let’s back up for a minute. Because I know some people listening to this episode are wondering, “What is restorative justice?”
Here at CMN, we like to describe it as an approach to justice that emphasizes living in right relationship. It resonates deeply with Gospel values and Catholic social teaching. In a restorative approach, crime and harm are understood in terms of the people and relationships impacted. It's not solely about the rules or laws that were broken. Restorative practices seek to repair relationships and attend to the needs of all involved in a healing way — starting with the victim, including those responsible for the harm, and members of the community. In cultivating these practices, we acknowledge and appreciate their roots in Indigenous peacemaking.e that CMN hosted in October:
Let’s get started!
Today we’ll hear from Fr. David Kelly, the founder and Executive Director of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, or PBMR for short.
PBMR is in the Southside of Chicago and serves the communities of the Back of the Yards, New City, and Englewood. The people in these neighborhoods have been impacted by violence, incarceration, poverty, racism, and generational trauma. And they are strong, resilient and hold a deep desire to thrive in the communities they love.
Fr. David, along with other members of his religious congregation, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, founded PBMR to create a place for those who have been impacted by violence and conflict. They promote a restorative justice approach to conflict and build a sense of community - often through the restorative justice practice of peacemaking circles. They also strive to be a resource to other groups and communities who seek reconciliation and serve as one of seven Restorative Justice Hubs in the city of Chicago.
Fr. David has also worked as a parish-based jail minister with the Archdiocese of Chicago, for more than 30 years.
In just a minute, you’ll hear Fr. David’s reflections from his ministry at PBMR. I invite you to listen in a spirit of prayer and take notice of the following:
How do you recognize God’s presence in the life and work of PBMR?
What gospel values do you hear represented in Fr. David’s stories?
Do you sense an invitation in your own life and relationships?
Here’s Fr. David…FR. DAVID:
So we are a restorative justice organization on the south side of Chicago working with young people and families who have been impacted by violence and incarceration. So what we strive to do is within a community that knows very well violence and where a large percentage of our young men and women, growingly, are subject to incarceration, we strive to create a space in this environment where healing is possible and reconciliation is a goal.
Precious Blood has five pillars. Radical hospitality, because so many of our young people who come here might not come here ready to be received very well. So they might have an attitude, a chip on their shoulder because of all the trauma in their own lives. So we have to be really skilled in trying to create an environment where they feel like they are a part of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation or PBMR.
We're also accompaniment. So most of our staff are young men and women who are closer to the issue. So, many of our staff have spent time in prison. Others have grown up in this neighborhood and they are the ones who are on the front lines really working with young people and families who have been impacted by so much trauma because they know it themselves. And so they accompany young people and families through this process of trying to reach some sort of stability in their own lives.
The third is we are relentless in our work. So relentless engagement of young people and families, trying to create a space where young people who otherwise don't find themselves in schools or community groups, or even churches, don't feel welcome, where they are here and they may say to me, "Kelly, thanks, but no thanks," but we're still in relationship with them.
And equally we strive to be in relationship with systems and stakeholders. So that means being in relationship with the courts, being in relationship with the police, without giving up our values and who we are as an organization, but yet not going to battle with them.
And then the last pillar is collaboration, really working with other organizations as well. We did a lot of work with the courts in victim offender circles. And what we found in those kinds of instances were people were being referred to us either by the state's attorney or by community groups from outside of our community. And so we reached out to other organizations to see if they would join us in this effort of creating these community led spaces where people could come and the community themselves could begin to seek to repair the harm and hold one another accountable to build that kind of community cohesion.
And so now we have seven restorative justice hubs scattered throughout the city. We share a common database. We have a training academy. And what it allows us to do is communities now have a place at the table. Whereas so often communities are told what they ought to do, and perhaps given a little funding to do it. In this situation, we have really taken the lead in some of these issues: violence prevention, creating a safer community. And because there are seven organizations in seven communities that are placed at the table, it’s that much stronger. We have some universities, Adler University in particular, helping us with some evaluations and really kind of tracking what are the outcomes in the work that we're trying to do.
So we're on the south side of Chicago and restorative justice really allows us to live out our mission of reconciliation. So I've been in jails and detention center work all my adult life. I've also worked on the south side of Chicago as a parish priest, and I've been in courtrooms too many times. Oftentimes what I find when I go in those courtrooms, that there the focus is on punishment. The focus is on what are we going to do with the person who did the harm and absolutely no effort, no resources are given to someone who has been harmed. There is no accompaniment for that person. They might be kept aware of what's going on in court. They might even be called to testify, but out of that, there's nothing else that really they're offered.ld do better than that. So in:
And when you focus on relationship and focus on safety, then what happens is whatever the issue that might have brought you there is so much more easily dealt with because you're not talking about some other, but you're now talking with someone who you have a relationship with. And as we know, restorative justice is all about relationships.
There's three things I hope that I can share across during this little bit of time I have. One is that much of what I speak about and what we encounter is the impact of trauma and harm. That while an instant might be fleeting, somebody getting hurt, the inequities that are a part of these communities, racism, the lasting trauma is really what's impactful. So we really tend to the lasting trauma that is a part of people's lives.
The other thing is that we can't punish our way out of this. This is not a criminal justice issue. This is many times a public health issue. So really that's where restorative justice comes in to really seek to repair harm rather than just punish the person who's done the harm. Then thirdly, what I hope we can walk away with is this is the church, as in community and society, we can't just sit on the sidelines. We can't just be spectators. This is a work that we need to be about. As we entered into those muddled messes, our vocation, our call is to give witness to the possibilities, give witness to hope, give witness to life, even in the midst of so much trauma and pain.
Oftentimes when I give a talk, I take a young person with me to kind of really speak to the community and the young person's kind of experience of community. So, oftentimes it's more impactful to have someone who's actually lived in the community and has been impacted by some of the things within our community, to allow them to speak.
I went to Dominican University and I took Joe along with me. Joe is a young man that's very able to share who he is and he's very authentic and really speaks from his heart. And so as we spoke that night, Joe was doing what Joe did. He really talked about some of the things going on in his life, some of the trauma in his own life. He's been locked up a number of times, you have family members who are incarcerated. His has been a tough life. And he shared that with this group of students. As always, the students were captivated.
On the way home, I noticed Joe was very quiet. Now normally that means that somebody is on their social media. They're on Facebook or some social media app, but I noticed that the phone was in his lap and he was just looking out the window.
I asked Joe, I said, "Joe, what's up? Anything the matter?" He just shook his head. "No, nothing," but he was still staring out the window. Then I asked Joe. I said, "Joe, just look at me for a minute." When he turned toward me, he had tears in his eyes. I said, "Joe, what's up? What happened? What's hurting you?"
Through the tears, he spoke about how he just felt that people had really left him. What had happened was that as he spoke his story, as he told his story, some of those trauma events, some of what he carried came forth and he carried that with him. Because we are on our way back from Dominican University and it was Chicago kind of traffic stop and go, Joe and I spent the next hour or an hour and a half just talking about some of the issues that were going on in his life. The things that were bothering him. It became really a sacred moment in which Joe and I could connect on a level that allowed him to express what he was going through and what was happening in his life.
Traumatic events undermine everything that gives us being. It causes fragmentation in our own lives. Things that used to make sense, no longer make sense. We often hear families who have lost a child to homicide talk about those weeks and months even after as a complete blur. They don't even really know what happened as they went through the motions of the funeral and preparing for the funeral. Because trauma, those events in our lives, cause that kind of fragmentation and hurt.hip, a sense of community. In:
So building relationships gives us resilience. It allows us to get through some difficult times. I may not be able to really change what young people go through. I might not be able to stop some of the violence within our community, but I can create a community of care, a community of hope. I can create a space and a place where people feel welcomed, where they don't feel like we're just tolerating you. In that kind of space, we can tend to the healing and the resilience of young people.
Work with a lot of mothers who have lost children in homicide. I had a group of Spanish speaking mothers, and they knew I went into the jail juvenile detention center. They asked me about that. Now these are all mothers who have lost a child to homicide. So you can imagine that kind of trauma and that kind of pain. As they asked me questions about the young people, in particular about the juvenile detention center, I invited them to come in. They quickly said no, but one of the things I invited them to was the mass. That they knew, that was safe. So they came in and attended mass with the young people and then after mass, we did a circle. I had invited some young people who would really talk about some of their feelings in Spanish. We created a space where mothers and these young people, many of whom were being tried as adults, sat together.
At the beginning of a circle is always a check-in and an introduction. So as we used that talking piece to go around, we began to introduce ourselves and the mothers, when the talking piece came to them, just wept. Their identity was of losing a child to homicide. The young people, of course, their eyes were wide open. Then as the talking piece went around to the young persons, they began to speak and they spoke about one, not knowing his mother, another mother in prison, you had another mother in drugs, and they started to tell about their stories and who they were beyond just being incarcerated and being labeled a delinquent.
What you found in that space was the mothers who came in pretty tentative, pretty guarded, pretty I would even say suspicious, as the young people began to tell their stories, they began to lean in and they saw these young people so differently. They recognized that they were not just delinquents, but rather they were young people that carry their own trauma, their own pain. They too were victims.
So there was a bond that formed in this unlikely group of folks who all experience trauma, different kinds of trauma. Yet alone they were able to connect in a more real and relational way. As we left the space, the young people were ushered back up to their cells. The mothers, as mothers do and said, "Well, what now? What are we going to do?" I said, "I don't know." They said, "You can't just leave him." I said, "Well, we can't stay either."
These mothers then went on to insist that they come back and they bring food for these young people. So what happened in that space was a new relationship was forged and the mothers kept checking in on them. A community albeit different was formed. The wellbeing of those young people were foremost in that community.
This work, restorative justice and in particular the peacemaking circle, is really what we as Catholic organizations, Catholic parishes, Catholic institutions all ought to be about. It's the gospel message of reconciliation, bringing us to go to those places and spaces that maybe are uncomfortable to us, and yet witnessing the power of God to transform us and others into a new entity, into new relationships.
If you think about some of the gospel stories, the gospel story of Emmaus and how when Jesus was crucified, two apostles were leaving Jerusalem to Emmaus, going to Emmaus, not so much where they were going, but what they were getting away from. The trauma, the pain, the hurt of their own lives. We hear the story of how the stranger begins to accompany them and walk alongside them.
The stranger we know as Jesus asks them, "So what are you talking about?" They said of course, "Don't you know what happened in Jerusalem?" And began to tell their story. Jesus says, "No. Tell me about it. Tell me what your pain is, tell me what your hurt is." They told their story and only after they finished their story did Jesus then place that story into the context of the larger story of our Christian story. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
20:19 This work is about creating a space where people can be heard, where their stories can be valued, where we can actually tend to one another's needs and not just judge someone that impedes our understanding of one another.CAITLIN:
“What happened? What is hurting you? Tell me the story.” In instances of harm or conflict, how often do we truly slow down enough to ask these questions? Not only of others, but of ourselves?
Or, when we do ask these questions, do we really listen to the responses? In a way that is not geared toward responding, or investigating, or fixing, but toward simply knowing one another more deeply?
The work of PBMR shows us that by simply asking the right questions, we can honor our common dignity. We can acknowledge our interconnections, and walk together in our woundedness — even if we are at odds with one another.
From this starting place, the path toward healing — toward God’s vision of justice — begins to look very different.broken relationships. In its:
Father David and PBMR embody this vision of justice, and show us that healing and repairing relationships takes many forms. It can happen in all manner of spaces.
In living their values, PBMR has created a space that invites every person to bring their authentic self. And in that sacred space, broken relationships are healed and transformed.
Thank you for tuning in to the very first episode of Encounters With Dignity. We thought that Fr. David’s perspective as a Catholic priest and longtime practitioner of restorative justice was the perfect way to kickstart this series. We hope you’ll join us again soon to hear more voices and stories of people who are living restorative justice.
Thank you so much to Fr. David Kelly and everyone at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation. You can learn more about their mission and ministry in the show notes.
If you haven’t already, please be sure to subscribe to Encounters With Dignity from your favorite podcasting platform, or by visiting catholicsmobilizing.org/encounterswithdignity. For updates on the podcast and announcements about new episodes, follow along with us on social media or sign up for our emails at catholicsmobilizing.org/join
If you are ready to bring restorative justice to your Catholic parish or ministry, Then you’ll want to check out “Paths of Renewed Encounter,” CMN’s restorative justice engagement guide for Catholic communities. The engagement guide is available as an interactive digital resource, a downloadable PDF, and hard copy workbook. Access them all at catholicsmobilizing.org/paths.
Next time on Encounters With Dignity, join us as we hear from Executive Director of the Innocence Project, Christina Swarns, and President of the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice, Sheryl Wilson about what a restorative process can look like in a death penalty case.
Please join me in our closing prayer:
God who lives in relationship with each and everyone of us, who knows us each by name, may we mirror your companionship, create a culture of welcome, and encounter your spirit in each person that we meet through the eyes of dignity. Amen.