Domestic violence moves to fore at four parishes

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, April 22, 2012

When Father Larry Dowling took to the pulpit at St. Agatha Church, 3147 W. Douglas Blvd., last Oct. 30, he began with a pointed question.

“Has anyone ever heard a sermon about domestic violence?” Dowling asked his congregation.

When no hands rose, Dowling knew a sermon on the often perpetrated but rarely discussed topic was long overdue.

For Dowling and a trio of West Side pastors, the time had come to put domestic violence front and center, particularly as a means to combat the violence so prevalent on Chicago’s streets.

“We talk a lot about violence on the streets, but don’t talk about the role that violence plays in the home,” Dowling said. “If we can get stronger, more peaceful homes in the neighborhoods, we believe that will spark a reduction in violence on the streets.”

The four parishes — St. Agatha, Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, 3121 W. Jackson Blvd., St. Malachy-Precious Blood, 2248 W. Washington Blvd., and St. Martin de Porres, 5112 W. Washington Blvd. — have combined efforts to combat domestic violence with a program rooted in education, prevention and the Catholic faith.

The process began last October when pastors at the four parishes and nearly a dozen additional parish staff members brainstormed the creation of an interparish domestic violence program. As the first step, all four pastors agreed to preach on the topic during Mass on Oct. 30.

Since that final October Sunday, however, efforts have continued in earnest. Each parish has held a public meeting on the issue and provided a list of domestic violence resources in the parish bulletin and on business-sized cards. The parishes have also established a hotline number connected to Catholic Charities.

“The early effort has been in trying to get the word out and to help people realize the places they can call for help,” Dowling said.

In the coming months, the parish leaders hope to roll the awareness momentum into formal support groups and individual counseling at each parish. Working together and sharing resources and skills across a network, the four parishes believe their collective efforts will produce more beneficial results for parishioners and nonparishioners alike.

“We’re stronger together than we are separate,” St. Malachy-Precious Blood pastor Father Matt Eyerman said. “We’ll reach more people and we’ll provide more resources and options.”

All four pastors view combating domestic violence as an integral step toward creating more peaceful communities and stable homes.

According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, while up to 10 million children observe domestic violence around the U.S. each year. Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.

“This is not an issue limited to any one group. This is a people of God issue,” Eyerman confirmed.

In fact, Eyerman added, Matthew 28 is clear.

“What do you do for the least of these? We’re going to work across whatever divisions we’ve created and try to bring peace into the home. That’s our mission here.”

With access to peoples’ homes as well as the ability to appeal to the soul, Dowling said the church inherits a unique, persuasive position to promote an atmosphere of respect and love that can spur the restoration of home and family life.

“We’re challenging people to be above the violence and to be committed to respectful, loving homes,” Dowling said.