Slain nun's call for peace resonates amid shootings - The Buffalo News

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Slain nun's call for peace resonates amid shootings

The number on display in front of Bissonette House has never crept past 18.

It reflects the number of days since the last homicide in the city. For weeks this summer, the tally never made it past four or five days.

[Gallery: Honoring Sister Karen Klimczak's 73rd birthday]

More than a decade has passed since Sister Karen Klimczak first posted her “Days of Peace” dove sign in front of the residence, but her call for non-violence is still as urgent as ever.

Through the end of September, at least 227 people had been shot in Buffalo this year. That month, someone was shot nearly every other day. Two children were hit by stray bullets over the summer.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Cindi McEachon, executive director of Peaceprints of Western New York, the organization Klimczak founded. “I was shocked at the level of violence. It’s very telling of the climate in our community.”

The dove sign came down shortly after Klimzcak was murdered in 2006 by one of the ex-offenders she sought to help re-enter the community after serving time in prison. The Peaceprints organization put it back up in February as part of a yearlong effort to honor  Klimzcak’s legacy – and reinforce her message of non-violence 10 years after her death.

Cindy McEachon , executive director, left and Jamal Johnson at a free community party to commemorate the 10th anniversary of slaying of Sister Karen Klimczak at Ephesus Ministries Parish Hall in Buffalo on Sunday Oct. 30, 2016. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Cindi McEachon, executive director of Peaceprints of Western New York, left and Jamal Johnson at a community party to commemorate the 10th anniversary of slaying of Sister Karen Klimczak, who founded the organization, at Ephesus Ministries Parish Hall in Buffalo on Sunday Oct. 30, 2016. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

On Sunday, they continued that effort with a community celebration honoring what would have been her 73rd birthday.

Klimzcak spent her life promoting peace, largely through helping ex-offenders who did their time and were returning to the communities.

She saw them not as ex-convicts, but men whose lives were often shaped by challenges, trials and circumstances – even as young children. She knew something needed to be done to stop what too often becomes a vicious cycle of poverty, crime and neglect that traps generations.

“She was completely correct in what she saw very early on,” McEachon said. “We want the community to know that there is hope. It’s important for our youth as well as our adults to hear that message.”

Few people demonstrate that more than Jamal Johnson, who first came to Bissonette House in 2014 after serving a five-year prison sentence for a robbery he committed at 18.

“I had nowhere to go,” said Johnson, who got caught up in crime as a youth when, receiving little direction at home, he turned to the streets for guidance.

“When I was his age, I was out there,” said Johnson, now 27, gesturing to his 12-year-old son. “I grew up in foster homes. I found myself going out in the streets to find something no one was giving me at home.”

In 2005, Sister Karen Klimczak arranged a memorial featuring a cross for each of the more than 50 murder victims in the City of Buffalo since June of 2004 in the garden at the Bissonette House on Grider Avenue. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

In 2005, Sister Karen Klimczak arranged a memorial featuring a cross for each of the more than 50 murder victims in the City of Buffalo since June of 2004 in the garden at the Bissonette House on Grider Avenue. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

After serving his sentence, Johnson wanted to get his life back on track. But his options were limited. Bissonette House took him in and helped him find permanent housing. Now, he volunteers for Peaceprints.

“Sister Karen had a way of seeing things in people they couldn’t see in themselves,” said Antwan K. Diggs Sr., once a resident at Bissonette House, who now works for the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.

Diggs recalled that Klimzcak saw potential in him where no one else did. She demonstrated that during his stay at the house by entrusting him with various keys and responsibilities.

“First she gave me the key to the cupboard,” he said. “Then the teen center. Then a car. I would think ‘I’m a convicted felon. If things go left, I may end up selling this.’ ”

Klimzcak knew he wouldn’t.

“When I couldn’t trust myself, Sister Karen saw something in me,” he said.

And of everything she did to promote peace in the city, those who knew her said perhaps that was her best solution.

See the good in people. See past the differences. See that there is still hope for everyone, and in turn the community.

“We all need to be pastors of peace,” Diggs said. “We have to be good neighbors. We have to understand that if I’m doing good, but you’re not, I’m not doing as well as I think. We have to ask ‘What am I doing to help you be a better person?’ ”

Just as Klimzcak did for him.

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