Last month, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that former FBI agent Phil Andrew would be its first-ever director of violence prevention initiatives. The position grew out of Cardinal Cupich’s April 2017 announcement of an effort to strengthen the work of current anti-violence programs in parishes and schools and other archdiocesan ministries, such as Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Catholic Charities and Kolbe House, the archdiocese’s jail ministry.
Andrew’s career with the FBI spanned 21 years and he most recently served in the bureau’s Chicago Division as a special agent with a focus on gun violence, counterterrorism, counterintelligence and crisis management. His responsibilities included managing high-risk hostage negotiations, FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force investigations, training of special agents and serving as an adjunct instructor and presenter.
Andrew and his family attend St. Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette. He recently spoke with the Chicago Catholic about his appointment.
Chicago Catholic: What drew you out of law enforcement into a position focusing on preventing violence?
Phil Andrew: The church, the pope and Cardinal Cupich have an important message and the archdiocese has a unique role at a unique time in our city.
Pope Francis has called us to be a field hospital, this imagery of us getting out and close to the problem and connecting with the people most afflicted with the problem. I believe he is saying this because it changes both sides. You actually help people that need help and you change the narrative for the helper.
It may start off as charity, but what you learn is that we are in a community, and this is a neighbor and as neighbors we really all want the same things. We want opportunity, and we want some independence and we want to be able to thrive and flourish and, for many folks, to see their children thrive and flourish, free of violence.
Chicago Catholic: This is a new position created by Cardinal Cupich. What goals have you been given?
Andrew: We’re going to do everything we can as a Catholic faith community to keep children safe and free from violence. It turns out this is a big place and we’re already doing a lot of stuff involved in that. The Catholic Church, the archdiocese and its organizations have been addressing root causes of violence for a hundred years, in terms of poverty, training, counseling, mental health care, new mom’s training. These are addressing root causes.
Are they as expansive as they could be? Have we collaborated with our partners as effectively as we could so that we know where there are gaps? I think we need to explore that. Have we triaged it to address the folks that are most needy? These are tough questions.
I don’t think we have to start out trying to address 100 percent of the crisis. If we activate 10 percent and increase capacity 10 percent, the engine is primed and we’ll get way more than 10 percent out of that.
Chicago Catholic: How do we as church improve upon what we’re doing now?
Andrew: By recognizing that these are our neighbors — the cardinal has been really clear about this — and that each of us has the opportunity and the responsibility to do what we can. I think people get that. They don’t know what the next step is and that’s for us to work out. I don’t think we have any problem with folks wanting to help. I think we have to figure out where we have opportunity to grow capacity. Some of that is resources, some of that is the people.
The cardinal and I talk about this in terms of people, property, parish, pulpit. We need an inventory of what it is we have and how it can be used more effectively. Is there an empty school house, is there an empty gymnasium, is there is an unused parish kitchen that could be utilized by us or another organization we can partner with? If we’ve got a field, the Urban Initiatives might use that field for a soccer program if they can count on it for four nights a week. But we have to make it available.
Whatever we do should be scalable and replicable because Baltimore needs this. St. Louis needs this. We just have a cardinal that has a vision to do something. Not to say that those others don’t, but there’s just a little more capacity here with the size and the makeup of this archdiocese. We have a lot of people who care, we have people with resources and we have a lot of people who are really good at this stuff who are plugged in.
The church, this cardinal, this pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are strong voices of moral authority. I think that we can build community around them. And we can follow the lead of some really brave kids and not be afraid to follow them because they are doing a great job.
Jesuit Father Greg Boyle wrote the book on helping former gang members turn their lives around. Literally. The author of “Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship” (2017) and “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion” (2010) spoke at the First Friday Club in Chicago on Jan. 5.
Jesus was a game changer. “He interrupted what was the status quo. Sisters and brothers, I think ...