Last week, St. Louis attorney Marie Kenyon was named the director of the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ new Peace and Justice Commission.
The issues Kenyon expects to take on with that commission, including poverty, race and education, are the same issues she has dealt with as a lawyer.
“For the past 28 years, I’ve run the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry,” Kenyon told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Monday. “We deal mainly with victims of domestic violence (and) their children; we deal with landlord-tenant cases where people are getting evicted; we deal with homeless veterans who need military discharge upgrades; we deal with immigrants who are trying to become citizens of the United States. These people are poor. For the past 28 years, I’ve been dealing with issues of poverty and race and education on a daily basis, case by case. So this is a chance for me to look at these same issues, but systemically.”
In August, Archbishop Robert Carlson announced he would re-establish a human rights commission, but he has not identified issues that the Peace and Justice Commission will focus on.
“His vision is that we’re going to get a commission appointed, and it’s going to be what bubbles up from the commission,” Kenyon said. “He has no pre-set agenda here, he just said ‘Marie, you go and let’s see what comes out of this.’”
When she starts her new job on Feb. 16, Kenyon will be responsible for appointing members to the commission.
“We’re asking pastors and agencies and regular Catholics in the pew if they think they’re interested to send us their information,” she said.
Unlike other commissions that have been created after the August shooting death of Michael Brown, Kenyon said the Peace and Justice Commission will have a broader focus.
“I think the Ferguson Commission’s task is to look at the actual issues that caused Ferguson to happen,” she said. “Ours is much broader. The archbishop wants us to look at issues of peace and justice throughout the archdiocese. We have 11 counties; St. Louis County is just one of them. The issues that people are dealing with in Perry County and Ste. Genevieve County and St. Francois County are different than the issues that people are dealing with in St. Louis County.”
Kenyon does expect to work with some of other commissions, though, and organizations in the area.
“My appointment was announced on Tuesday. Last week I probably got calls from 15 different organizations saying can we collaborate with you,” she said. “There’s a lot of people doing a lot of really good work out there on these issues.”
Most important, though, is the opportunity to take action, Kenyon said.
“It’s all good and well to say we’re going to have this commission and we’re going to think that these issues are important, but then I think we speak out on the issues,” she said. “We figure out how the church can assist the folks that are in the trenches on these issues, what policies we can try to influence. One of the things with our Peace and Justice Commission is to be the voice of the church, to speak out on issues that we think the church should be speaking out on.”
“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.