Artwork for podcast Encounters With Dignity
Andrea Hug — Meeting the Man who Killed Daddy
Episode 223rd February 2024 • Encounters With Dignity • Catholic Mobilizing Network
00:00:00 00:39:37

Share Episode


Andrea’s youngest daughter was just a toddler when her father was struck on his bicycle by an intoxicated driver.

Learning to process the grief of his death was something this family had spent most of their lives doing. But 15 years later, that journey took a big step forward when Andrea’s daughter asked to “meet the man that killed Daddy.”

In this episode, Andrea joins us to share what it was like to participate in a restorative process with the man who caused her husband's death, and how she continues to live out her journey of healing and forgiveness.

- - - -

Stay connected with Catholic Mobilizing Network and our mission to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice.

Sign up to get our emails at

Ready to learn more about restorative justice? Register to attend an upcoming Intro to RJ workshop at

To hear more stories like Andrea's, sign up for our blog at


Hello Hello, and welcome to Encounters with Dignity. Thank you so much for tuning in to this podcast on restorative justice from Catholic Mobilizing Network. We are working nationally to end the death penalty, advance justice solutions that align with Catholic values, and promote healing through restorative justice.

I’m your host, Caitlin Morneau, and I have the joy of serving as Catholic Mobilizing Network’s Director of restorative justice.

And what is restorative justice? That’s exactly what we’re exploring on this podcast through the stories and learnings of people who have lived it firsthand.

Broadly, restorative justice is an approach to harm and crime that seeks healing rather than punishment. Its practices aim to repair broken relationships and restore the human dignity of all those impacted - to the greatest extent possible.

Today we’ll talk with a Catholic mom, whose husband died after being struck on his bike by an intoxicated driver. She’ll share with us about how she and her children met with the man who caused his death, in a restorative justice practice called a peacemaking circle.

Andrea Hug is a spiritual director who shares her love of Christ through individual conversations, group programs, and retreats. She also serves as a Chaplain in a nursing home where she provides spiritual care to residents and team members. Andrea is an advocate for restorative justice as a way to bring herself, other individuals, and communities from harm to healing, forgiveness, and peace.

I am so grateful for this conversation with Andrea. She speaks humbly and honestly about the day her husband died and her own lifelong journey with forgiveness. Her story takes us inside the experience of a restorative justice dialogue and how it continues to shape her life to this day.

Andrea, welcome.


It's really an honor to be with you Caitlin. Thank you for reaching out and seeing how this story can bear fruit for the world.

Caitlin Morneau

First will you just tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.


I have 3 children who are all grown: 30, 33 and 35 and all married. All doing great things now. My husband Chris was a Navy pilot and he used to fly search and rescue. He was not perfect, but as close to perfect as I can imagine. He was just a humble, honest, faithful guy who was faithful to God first. And then to our family and certainly to our country as a pilot for the Navy. He had a dry sense of humor which would catch you off guard because everybody thought of him as just this humble quiet guy and then all of a sudden, he'd come in with a zinger that was funny but didn't make fun of people. So it was always fun to be with him.

Caitlin Morneau

Sounds like an awesome person to spend your life with. So tell us a bit about the day that Chris died. How did you find out and what were those memories for you?


Yeah, well we had shared a really impactful weekend of just family fun because Chris had been on duty for the entire week before, and so he was working 12 to 16 hour days and didn't see the children all week except while they were sleeping. And so the weekend he had off and we played, and had picnics, and went to the park, and just had a really fun time. On the day that he died, we had been at a parish picnic and my youngest, Daniel, was four months old and everybody wanted to hold him and pass him around. So after this picnic we got home and the kids were so tired having missed their nap time the two year old and the four year old were just needing to take a rest and Chris wanted to go for a bike ride and I expected him back in a couple hours. And when he didn't come back, I waited another hour and asked my friends to pray for him and when he still didn't come back after three hours, I called the hospitals and one of them said that they didn't have a bike accident, but one was taken to the other hospital. And, you know, I had this…. I knew right from the moment that it happened that something terrible had happened and…. so I wanted to go over to the hospital and as I was reaching for the door handle the parish priest came to the door.

I was surprised to see him and um, you know he just said I'm so sorry Chris, Chris is dead and he had been riding on a country road where the speed limit was fifty miles an hour and there was a man who was driving while intoxicated. His name is Ron and Ron hit him from behind and that collision is what killed Chris. So Father Mike let me know about that and um, it was a couple of days, a day and a half before the family came into town.

And I remember standing in my kitchen alone while everybody was around the dining room table and they were talking and as you would there was this tone and cadence of what this death would mean. You know it was full….. it had anger and and it just named the um injustice that a premature death causes, and I knew that if I gave into that it would it would become what I would become. It would become what my children became and as I said, Chris's legacy is one of love and care and compassion.

And I knew that from the moment I met him and when I heard what was going on in the dining room I also knew that I had to make a decision. And so that decision was a pretty hard one um, but it was prayerfully made. I stood in the kitchen and just said, “God, what do I do here?” And I knew in that moment that I needed to forgive the man who killed Chris. And so I taught my children those lessons you know all through their lives and while I was teaching them about Chris, I was also teaching them about God and how God would carry us through this and give us the people that we need. It was a difficult time.

Caitlin Morneau

I can only imagine. Thank you for bringing us into those moments. Can you remind us how old each of your children were at the time and how did they react? How did you see them impacted by Chris's death?


Kelsey was 4, Courtney was 2, and Daniel was four months old and, you know, they responded as children at those developmental ages would respond. Courtney, at the funeral, wanted to kiss him and so she did and then she said, “He didn't wake up.” Like a fairy tale, right? And Kelsey had little grief bursts, where she would just cry for a minute or two. And then she would pick up her dolls and start playing again. And developmentally that's really really normal for children. For Daniel, you know, he was an infant. He was completely sheltered from the reality of it and yet he lives it every day.

Caitlin Morneau

So as you were journeying with your own grief, as you were walking with your children in their grief and processing, then you were also interfacing with the criminal legal system at the same time. Tell us about what that was like.


So I received in the mail, shortly after Chris died, a victim impact survey. And that victim impact survey was probably more for a purse snatching or burglary than it was for somebody who died. It asked things like, was there a loss of income or was there any physical harm done or did you lose any property? Which all seemed ridiculous questions to me. And so I ended up writing a letter to the powers that be and I just said that you know, this justice system is not going to work. We need to have a system that recognizes that although this is tragic and terrible and it's going to impact me for the rest of my life, and for all of my children's lives and all of the people who knew Chris, that the justice of putting someone in jail for a certain amount of time does not bring peace. It does not really bring justice.

And so what I hoped for – and I named it in my letter – was that he would be required to do community service or engage in something that was more restorative than punitive. It seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, that letter. But when I went to court to bear witness to the process. And I was kind of confused by that process, having never been part of anything like that before. And as I was walking out, Ron's lawyer asked to speak to my lawyer and in that conversation, what transpired was that Ron was asking to speak to me. And my lawyer said don't do it. Don't do it, don't do it. And I said no I think I need to do this. So Ron proceeded to offer me an apology, and it was heartfelt. And in those moments in time where time just seems to slow down, this seemed like it was a 10 minute apology. And it was so sincere. And it was so heartfelt.

And I could see that he wished that moment didn't happen as much as I did. And in his apology he didn't ask for forgiveness. He just apologized. And I just nodded at him because I was sort of tongue tied. But then I saw his mother standing behind him, crying, and I just looked at her and said this isn't easy for anybody and I'm sorry you're going through this also. And then we parted ways. And I didn't see him again.

Caitlin Morneau

The apology when it happens is such a gift, such a gift. I'd be curious for folks listening, who maybe have been harmed themselves, who didn't have that kind of encounter with the person who harmed them, what would you say to them?


I think as you know, Caitlin, this process of healing is so, so individual and so demanding. To imagine that my process would be the same as someone else's, I would never imagine that. But there's this thing that I knew in my kitchen 36 hours after Chris died that has remained true for me this 30 plus years later, is that, that forgiveness piece is completely not about Ron. It is entirely about me wrestling with my own expectations and my own sense of fairness and my own understanding of God and how I think things ought to be. And the forgiveness itself is decisional more than a feeling. You know, I made the decision.

And sometimes still I need to remind myself wait wait wait; I chose to forgive. And now I take actions toward that forgiveness. So it is a continuous process. It is 70 times 7 every day.

Years before I had seen a TV show where the mom forgave the man who killed her son and I just went, “That's not real, that can't happen”. And I believed it. But the reality is that you receive the grace when you need the grace. God doesn't store up grace in you, saving for that day down the road when this happens. No. It's when I need it, God provides.

Caitlin Morneau

I want to pause for a moment and appreciate how you've complicated, in a really wonderful way, what a spiritual journey through restorative justice can look like.

I know when I first learned about this process, it was in this very over simplified sequence and language of: victim explains impact, offender apologizes, then victim forgives. But you’ve painted a picture of something quite different.

What I heard was that the grace of forgiving was something that happened between you and God - independent of Ron. And Ron was moved to express his remorse - independent of you. Then at the time of your first meeting, you were at really different places in your readiness and desires to express that to one another.

I feel like it’s important to acknowledge too, that there are stories and exchanges like yours in that courtroom that have become very public, to which some people would look and say. Boom! Restorative justice done.

But there was another layer of needs and repair that, that moment in the courtroom just wasn't big enough to hold, and you - as you say, weren't yet ready for. It was more than 15 years later that you undertook a restorative justice dialogue with Ron and your then teenage children.

Tell us about what that process looked like for your family, the preparation in addition to the dialogue itself.


It was Courtney who decided that she needed to meet the man who killed daddy. I said, Wow, that's a big ask. What do you need that for? She said with 100% clarity, you got to look him in the eyes and see that he was sorry. I never did. Okay, that's a drop the mic moment. You know she was really thinking through this. And I knew I needed to help her do that and if it was gonna be for one of them, it was gonna be for all of them so that any questions that they might have, they might have the opportunity to ask.

Restorative justice was not at all on my radar. And when Courtney came to me and I really understood that she was authentic and her reasons were clear and we had done the processing of why this was important, I contacted Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and they said that they couldn't help, they didn't know anything to do but perhaps the restorative justice people could help. And so they put me in touch with someone who um you know, put me in touch with something more and president son of and on and on so until I landed where we did.

And then in turn, that circle keeper – her name was Edith – she reached out to every single person who was going to be in the circle to hear from them, you know, what's your motive? Why are you doing this? What do you need? Um, what do you hope to give? What's important here? And then she made sure that we were all doing it for the right reason, maybe?

And so once that happened, it was up to me to find a place and find a time and coordinate all that.

I was working in children's bereavement at the time and so I used all my my questioning skills to to circle up the kids on a regular basis and ask them questions about, you know, what do they need to know, and why do they need to know that, and what would change for you if you did know that and just all kinds of questions that might help them to enlarge their own curiosity in their own story.

Once we got to a place where it felt like they had a handle on their story and what they needed and how they wanted to say what they needed to say, I was in touch with Ron and he agreed to meet with us and so he flew to Chicago, where I live.

And we met in a church basement with three restorative justice circle keepers, so there were 10 of us in the circle and we practiced the skills of restorative justice, where you have one person speaking at a time and you pass a talking piece. You use “I” statements and you share what needs to be said while taking care of yourself and knowing that this space is meant to be a place of healing and a place where truth can be told. And so that's what we did. We sat in the circle.

Caitlin Morneau

Wow and you sat in the circle for multiple days too, right? So can you tell us a little bit about what kinds of things were shared in that time to the extent that you're able?


Yeah. The first part of the first day was sort of a getting to know you with questions that kind of would just help us to be safe in the circle. I remember one of the questions was, “What do you need to do to take care of yourself?” There was some sharing of what seemed superficial but was important.

And then the circle keepers helped us to move into the deeper questions of why are we here. And I let the children speak for that, pretty much that first day where they were able to ask their questions and hear Ron tell the answers to those questions. You know they wanted to know like, Did you go to jail? And did you get married but you know like and what's that like? And do you have kids and did you tell them about us? And they were honest and he answered them humbly and spoke directly to them. He was respectful and I really didn't say a whole lot that first part of the day because I really felt like this was their moment, right? I had had my moment 15 years before.

Caitlin Morneau

Wow, I’m struck by the courage of your children in their speaking and your courage to be a quiet, listening, supportive presence. That’s not an easy thing to do. Did there come a point in the circle process where you did speak or ask any questions?


It actually happened at the end of the first day. The circle keeper said to me, Andrea, you have allowed the kids to ask the questions that they need to ask and I wonder if there's anything that you need to say. And then she looked at the children and said, your mom has really been careful not to upset you with anything that she might say and she may need your permission to share what she needs to say. Which I thought was really lovely. And the children all acquiesced, shall we say. And then I knew I needed to be as brave as they were and really come to the table as they had.

And I had prepared a 5 page document that explained what it meant to me that Chris had been killed and what it was like since Chris had died and the highs, the lows, the struggles, the moments of grace. There were things that happened that were really moments of grace that God bestowed upon us that I wouldn't have known God in the same way had I not been through that tremendous loss. And in the process of sharing, I realized that I hadn't shared this with anyone before, that it was only in my journals or only in my own head. And so it was important to do.

And as I looked up periodically from the writing, I watched him kind of sink into the chair a little bit lower and a little bit more until in the end his his head was bowed and he looked like he had imploded into the chair. And I realized that what I'm saying here is really impacting him.

The next day, when we circled up again the children had some lingering questions that Ron was able to answer and it looked as if we might be finished for the day pretty quickly until I said, you know, I have this question. I know that the circle is meant to go from one person to the next all the way around before you get a chance to speak again. But I would really appreciate an opportunity to talk one on one with Ron just back and forth between us. But I want you all to stay. And that was agreed to by everybody in the circle.

I asked him directly, What did you hear me say yesterday? And I took the document out of my purse and I laid it down on the floor as a talking piece and I encouraged him if you need to you're welcome to pick it up and read it right back to me. And so he reached for it and took it in his hands without unfolding it, he looked up at me and he said, I don't need to read it. I heard you and what I heard was a lot of pain. And then, Caitlin, he proceeded to summarize what I had written almost verbatim. And I couldn't, I couldn't get over that.

We spoke really honestly for the next few hours, sharing our loss and our struggle and our grief. And he shared his frustration about his friends still drinking too much. And like I said before, I mean, this just made it more real that he carried this moment like a mantle over him at every turn.

The last question that I needed to ask him was, what is August first to you now? And you know he took the talking piece and he said, I've never told this to another person, not even my wife. But it isn't just August first. It's every Mother's Day and Father's Day. It's every holiday. It's every day that I think of you and your children and I wonder how you are, I wonder what you're doing and I wonder if you're okay. And it's hard for me to enjoy my life because I know the destruction that I caused in your life. And that was a turning point for me because he became like me. We both shared things that we had never shared before and created this like weird intimacy like, wow, I could tell that he felt my pain and I felt his. It was palpable in the room. And I heard his agony. And I heard him say, I'm so sorry. And all I could think was, I'm sorry, too.

And it was about that time that we ended our circle and it was 15 hours of being in a circle and we were exhausted but boy it changed our lives, it really did, for the better.

Caitlin Morneau

So now another fifteen years later, how would you describe the way that it's changed your life for the better for you, for your kids?


I would say that there is this moment when forgiveness is realized. And it did not happen in the circle. My children extended forgiveness to him in the circle. Courtney said, I'll never forget it. She said, “Well, I've had a good life and I want you to have a good life too and I want you to know that I forgive you.” And I spoke shortly after that and said you know I'm not there yet. I want to be there. I'm choosing to be there, but I'm not there yet. And I am going to continue to strive to get there.

So being with him increased my resolve and my commitment to that process of forgiveness.

My youngest, just over Christmas, I asked him, you know, if you were to name what that meant to you, what would you say? And he paused and he just said, Mom, I would say that arguably it was the most important conversation our family ever had. And it made us better.

Caitlin Morneau

Are you and your family still in touch with Ron? What do you know or not about where life may have led him since that conversation?


So, we are not in touch. Um, he has my contact information, I have his. If there was a need then we would be in touch. But as I said, we have been given a gift by his his coming to Chicago for us – and I really think of it as a gift because it has given me and my children an opportunity to let go of the anger and the destructive feelings that come when an injustice happens and to step into that freedom and that place of absorbing the hurt, right?

Because isn't that what Jesus did? He absorbed the hurt. He didn't turn around and say, well, you did it to me first, you know, and so this is what required of us, is to follow that example, as difficult as it is. It becomes our mandate to follow that example and I think we don't really need to be in touch with each other anymore.

We were sort of picking up the pieces of something that was shattered and putting it together so that we could move forward.

Caitlin Morneau

I appreciate that and I think it's important for folks to recognize that there are times that going through that restorative justice process does result in an ongoing relationship and there are times that it doesn't and both are perfectly all right. It doesn't make the process any less valid or valuable or important or necessary.

Well you have certainly revealed and illustrated for us the ways that you have just turned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout this process and I wonder where do you feel the Holy spirit may be leading you next? Where do you feel like the Holy Spirit is leading you today?


That's a great question. It's one that I always hold as my question for a day you. It's the old you make a plan and God laughs right? There's a part of me, Caitlin, that has seen how this story has impacted, whether it was in sharing with someone on a one-on one basis or in a larger context. The reality is that this story is one that really really happened, that really really is possible and not just for me. I'm no different than everybody else. I'm no stronger in my faith than anybody else and God doesn't love me more than anybody else and…..

I needed God. And I knew I needed God. And I named it. And I begged, I need help, I can't do this alone. So every day I started my day on my knees and then we rose to the challenges. God sustains us but doesn't prevent things from happening to us. So throughout life, you know, things happen and God is there to shore us up, to provide people to help us and so I listen for that every day. And I look for ways to be that for others and trust that even when I think everything's going wonky, God is right there you know saying this isn't your problem I'm going to take care of this.

One of the great things that this process does this restorative justice does is it bears witness to some of the most difficult moments in people's lives that, wow, wouldn't we just love to skate right over them?

But when you sit down and you tell truth and somebody witnesses it and responds in a way that says, I hear what you're saying, it changes the story. It changes the way you can live out of that story. And makes it better.

But it costs, too. It took us a week to recover from that time with Ron out of fatigue and exhaustion and demand. And it was worth every second. As painful and as difficult and as hard as it was – had to do it. It was good. It was important. And honestly, it takes a lot of courage and bravery and if Courtney hadn't of stepped forward, we would not have done it. My little brave girl.

Caitlin Morneau

Um, oh my gosh. Well as as a parent of little people I can just only hope to raise children as brave as yours and thank you so much, Andrea, for this time for bringing us into and through this journey with you. We are so grateful to you and to your children, to Ron and to Chris, who I know is just smiling down from heaven upon all of you and, thank you so much for this time.


And it's an honor to be able to share the story in hope – in hope – that somewhere someone might take the leap and engage in the process. You know to reach out and to say I need help and to choose something better than bitterness, better than anger. We are meant to be more. That's our invitation from God. Abundant life.

Caitlin Morneau

Amen. Amen. Thank you so much, Andrea.


Good to be with you.


I hope you enjoyed this episode of Encounters With Dignity. Be sure to subscribe to our show from your favorite podcast platform, or by visiting

Join us next month when we’ll talk with Felix Rosado, a Catholic man who founded a restorative justice program called “Let’s Circle Up” while incarcerated.

To stay engaged with Catholic Mobilizing Network, and our mission to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, follow us on social media or sign up for our emails at

Let us close in prayer…

Good and gracious God, thank you for this opportunity to come together, to be in relationship across time and distance. May this conversation remind us that every person has dignity because we are made in Your image and likeness - cherished and beloved. May we participate with one another in the redemption that you made possible by your suffering, death, and resurrection. And may we bear witness to your healing, restorative, transformative work in the world. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, your son. Amen.



More from YouTube