Father Larry Dowling is the Pastor for St. Agatha Catholic Parish in Chicago’s west side. He is also a leader with the Reclaim Campaign and has been a longtime advocate for increased restorative justice in schools, communities and the criminal justice system. We spoke with Father Larry about his passion and vision for a Restorative Justice Peace Hub in his community.
What is your vision for a restorative justice in your community?
St. Agatha wants to create a space, literally a hub, where people can come together, resolve conflicts and begin to heal. We’re looking at justice and forgiveness in a new way. We envision a place that goes beyond our punitive justice system and actually restores individuals to their community.
St. Agatha’s Church is taking part in several initiatives. We are working in the public schools with children at risk of expulsion and suspension, and with school staff by teaching them methods of conflict resolution and restorative justice. For the first time, we are bringing together about twenty-five ex-offenders in a peace circle to talk about their experience, their hopes and dreams, obstacles to reintegrating back into the community and identifying needs and resources to help with those needs. We’re also looking to engage the police and court system to make the peace hub a place where they can send people with low level infractions instead of prison.
How has your faith influenced your work advocating for restorative justice with the Reclaim Campaign?
Celebrating our faith in a way that causes us to go out and live that faith individually and collectively has a powerful impact. In my community, it is impossible to ignore the devastating effects of a broken justice system, but acting together as a Church and community, we can begin to work with individuals in need of healing to accompany and empower them to take responsibility as they take on positive roles in families and in the community.
Jesus’s miracles of healing were always done among the community. He didn’t just heal someone in private. When Jesus healed someone, the person was also restored to the community. That’s what we want to create; an atmosphere where someone can be restored to their community through an experience of forgiveness and healing.
We can only do that if we work together to create the spaces for restorative justice and convince our elected officials to allocate the resources for our communities to do this work.