Deacons’ wives helping victims of domestic violence

By Hilary Anderson | Contributor
Sunday, October 9, 2011

They are women without a voice. They are the approximately one in four women who become victims of domestic violence. They come from every race, ethnic, social and religious background and live in urban, suburban and rural areas alike.

It is for these individuals that the archdiocese’s Women of the Diaconate Community recently held an information session at St. Bernadine Parish in Forest Park to educate their members with hopes of encouraging more Chicagoarea parishes to begin programs to help domestic violence victims.

“Our vision is to create a source of information in every parish where victims can get help. Domestic violence affects the entire family,” said Marge Colgan, the women’s representative to the Diaconate Council and one of the organizers of the effort.

Her group’s focus on this issue began about 18 months ago when members were looking for a social- justice effort to support.

“We knew it was a topic we could do something about but did not realize the scope of the problem until we began learning about it,” she said. “Participants have grown beyond what we ever imagined. Not all are deacons’ wives. These are women of action in parishes across the archdiocese.”

Parish experience

Colgan and members sought the help of Dominican Father Charles Dahm who served as pastor of Pilsen’s St. Pius V’s Parish and who is now the archdiocese’s director of domestic violence outreach. His efforts to help victims of domestic violence began when he hired a pastoral counselor to assist women in his parish.

“The counselor began educating me about the problem,” said Dahm. “You won’t discover it until you start looking for it. As I began talking about domestic violence from the pulpit, more and more women in need of help came to us for assistance.”

As need increased, the parish went from one staff member who knew how to help victims to seven. He discovered that women affected by domestic violence in his parish also wanted something for their children and spouses.

“There are almost no services for children witnessing domestic violence acts,” the priest said.

Dahm’s program at St. Pius V grew to be what he says is now is the largest parish-based domestic violence program in country. He estimated that St. Pius V, where he now resides as an associate pastor, gets 150 to 200 new clients yearly. There also are about 200 children and 100 men who come to the parish in need of help throughout the year.

Spreading the ministry

When Dahm’s tenure as pastor at St. Pius V ended, he began promoting his program to help victims of domestic violence. He contacted some parishes asking to preach at Sunday Masses about the problem. So far he’s helped set up about 14 domestic-violence ministries in local parishes.

One is Waukegan’s Holy Trinity Parish, which established a program about four years ago. They recently hired their second female counselor and soon will open a shelter for victims. Another is St. Raymond de Penafort in Mount Prospect.

“Everything the church is about puts it in a unique position to help domestic violence victims,” said John Monaco, co-chair of St. Raymond’s Domestic Outreach program. “Agencies do a wonderful job but they cannot reach people like a parish can. Studies show that victims of domestic violence prefer going to their church or synagogue for help rather than secular agencies.”

Some signs of abuse

Intimidation: Putting victim in fear by using looks, actions, gestures, loud voice, smashing things, destroying victim’s property.

Isolation: Controlling what the victim does, who they see and talk to, where they go.

Emotional abuse: Put downs, name calling, making victim feel like they are crazy; mind games; making the victim feel bad about themselves.

Economic abuse: Trying to keep a victim from getting or keeping a job. Making them ask for money, giving an allowance, taking their money.

Using children: Making victim feel guilty about the children; using the children to give messages; using visitation as a way to harass the victim.