Diocese honors Sister Karen 10 years later

by KIMBERLEE SABSHIN
Fri, Apr 8th 2016 11:00 am
Staff Reporter
Sister Karen Klimczak, SSJ, arranges some of the small crucifixes in the Peace Garden at Bissonette House in Buffalo. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)
Sister Karen Klimczak, SSJ, arranges some of the small crucifixes in the Peace Garden at Bissonette House in Buffalo. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)

In the month of April, the SSJ Sister Karen Center for Nonviolence, SS. Columba-Brigid Parish in Buffalo and the Diocese of Buffalo are honoring Sister Karen Klimczak, SSJ, who was murdered 10 years ago on April 14, 2006. To commemorate the anniversary of her death, Vivian Ruth Waltz, the director of the center named for the peace-loving sister, spoke of her legacy and events taking place in the diocese this month.

Waltz recalled how Sister Karen was murdered after attending a Good Friday service at Bissonette House, a halfway house in Buffalo where she lived with and served ex-convicts. The house was named for Father A. Joseph Bissonette, a priest who met a similar fate years ago. After Sister Karen returned to her room to find one of the residents stealing her cell phone, the man killed her. She was 62.

"Her congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph, wanted to do something to honor her legacy and to keep it going. She had a great heart for nonviolence," Waltz said of Sister Karen. "We opened (the center) in March of 2007, and I became the director in September of 2007."

On April 10, SS. Columba-Brigid will host a play, "This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Sister Karen Klimczak," at 4 p.m., featuring the work of playwright Joan Albarella, actress Kelly Meg Brennan and musician Mary Kuhn. On April 14, Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora will hold a memorial Mass at 4:45 p.m. in the seminary chapel, followed by a dinner at 5:30 p.m. (reservations required) and a second production of "This Little Light of Mine," to take place at 7 p.m. in the seminary's auditorium.

Peaceprints of Western New York, a non-profit organization providing services to men and women who have been incarcerated, is holding its annual dinner at Kloc's Grove in West Seneca at 6 p.m. on April 15.

"Because it's the 10th anniversary of her passing, we're going to have a special presentation of her life and ministry," Waltz explained. "That will be a video presentation, and there was a writing and art contest in the dioceses' seventh- and eighth-grade schools. One of the members of our committee, Evelyn Brady, was the editor of the book 'Peaceprints: Sister Karen's Legacies of Nonviolence,' published a year after she died. There was a curriculum written that meets the New York state standards for education for the book."

As a result, packets were given to seventh- and eighth-grade teachers and principals to have Peace Week in March, in which they used the curriculum to encourage students to submit entries. Visual artwork will be displayed in a video format at the presentation, and all written entries the students submit will be published on the website of the Sister Karen Center and on the website of the Diocese of Buffalo.

According to Waltz, Sister Karen had a great capacity for forgiveness. She said at the trial of Craig Lynch, the man who was convicted of her murder, her sister, Sister Jean Klimczak, OSF, read a letter dubbed the "Dear Brother" letter, which Sister Karen wrote in 1991 before she was killed. Waltz said she had a sense she would meet a violent death years before she met that horrible fate.

"I don't know what the circumstances are that will lead you to hurt me or destroy my physical body. No, I don't want it to happen. I would much rather enjoy the beauties of this earth, experience the laughter, the fears and the tears of those I love so deeply," Sister Karen told her killer, going into detail about all the things she enjoyed most in life on earth. "Now my life is changed and you, my brother, were the instrument of that change. I forgive you for what you have done and I will always watch over you, help you in whatever way I can. The most difficult experiences in life can sometimes reap the greatest growth for us."

Waltz said when Sister Karen spoke about making peace in the world, she discussed "letting a thousand flowers bloom," and she contributed to the planting of many such "plants" in her time.
"She planted so many seeds in different places that have really bloomed in the work of nonviolence in the community," Waltz recalled. "We have the Alternatives to Violence Project, which is our main training program. It teaches peaceful conflict resolution skills, and we do that in the prison, in Wende Correctional Facility (in Alden). That honors Sister Karen's memory for sure in her work with prisoners."

The Sister Karen Center also organizes community workshops and work in the area schools, and those at the center were especially proud of their work with the Buffalo PeaceMakers Violence and Gang Intervention Program when it began. This program offers programs for counseling and education and teaches would-be gang members how to resolve problems and manage anger.

"We also have Camp Peaceprints, which is a summer camp in July for 8- to 13-year-olds, where we teach about non-violence, conflict resolution and social activism, and activists from the community come in and give presentations," Waltz said.

For more information about these events contact the SSJ Sister Karen Center for Nonviolence at 716-362-9688 or info@sisterkarencenter.org. To make a dinner reservation for the April 14 dinner at Christ the King Seminary contact Gayle Mann at 716-805-1438 or gmann@cks.edu.  

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