Commission on Justice Director Leads 'With Great Passion'

Posted: 10/1/2009

Father Bob Dalton, Marcus Keyes, Brother Larry Johnson"We are called to defend Earth and the poor together, to learn from the wisdom of both and to care for God's single web of life."
—From the Appalachian Bishops' Pastoral Letter, At Home in the Web of Life. Quoted in the Mission Statement of the Glenmary Commission on Justice.

In 1978, Glenmary's Commission on Justice (COJ) was created to help those struggling for justice in the home missions and to facilitate change. Marcus Keyes assumed the role of commission director in 2001. And in January 2010, he'll retire after eight years of service, years when he and the commission built on past accomplishments and broke much new ground in their work—marked by his "great passion for justice," in the words of a colleague.

The commission knows it can't solve all the world's problems, Marcus says. But its goals are to be a voice for those whom Glenmary founder Father Bishop described as "the most neglected" and to care for the planet.

The commission is a network of persons and groups—Glenmarians, coworkers, regional committees and other interested individuals—that provides a forum for discussion and action.

"This project belongs to God," says Marcus. "Our role is to keep Gospel-related concerns in front of people and provide ways to address those issues" through education, advocacy, prayer vigils, peaceful protests or responses to requests for action. "Our work is just a beginning. All we can do is be faithful and provide ‘an opportunity for the Lord's grace to do the rest,' as Archbishop Romero said."

Marcus' road to Glenmary was a long one. From 1964 to 1989, he served as a missionary in the Philippines. "I experienced great faith among the people," he says, "in the midst of injustice, repression, murder and ecological destruction.

"Over the years I reached a deeper understanding of why the Church must focus on both human justice and ecological preservation, because they're so inextricably connected."

In 1989, the bishop of Knoxville, Tenn., hired Marcus as diocesan consultant on social justice and ecological concerns. Within a year, a group of committed Catholics assembled by Marcus recommended establishing an Office of Justice-Peace-Integrity of Creation. The bishop agreed and asked Marcus to be director, later joined by his wife Glenda as codirector.

Eleven years later Glenmary was searching for a Commission on Justice director, and Marcus applied. He learned that Glenmary's priorities largely matched his own, and he accepted the position. One of the commission's first actions after his hiring was to revise the mission statement to highlight the "ecological context of the work for justice emphasized by the Appalachian bishops [through their pastoral letter]," says Marcus.

"We have to listen carefully and see where God is already at work as people struggle for justice," he says. Soon after he started the job, Marcus began to visit, listen to and learn from Glenmarians, coworkers, diocesan personnel and community groups working for justice throughout Appalachia, the South and the Southwest. The commission also holds annual Glenmary mission forums to discuss concerns and provide needed education and training.

During Marcus' tenure as director, the COJ has tackled issues such as racism, immigrant rights, the plight of poultry workers, the greening of the environment and for-profit prisons, through workshops and other means.

Raising awareness about these issues—both in Glenmary and in the greater Church—is key to the commission's work. For example, in 2004 the COJ released Removing the Blindfold, a free video/study guide that examines the criminal justice system through the eyes of both prisoners and guards. The resources were designed for parish study groups, schools, or any groups interested in the issue of prisons and the justice system.

"The video and study guide were developed to help Christians gain new insights into the reality of the criminal justice system—and move to act on these insights," Marcus says.

Father Bob Dalton, a longtime commission co-convener, says Marcus has helped reinforce the importance of justice work in Glenmary's ministry. Among Marcus' many strengths, Father Bob adds, are "his commitment, great passion for justice and ability to form alliances" with individuals and community-group experts working on the same issues as Glenmary.

Marcus is very thankful to Glenmary for the opportunity to serve and for the support he has received from Glenmary's leadership, commission co-conveners Father Bob and Brother Larry Johnson, commission members and many others in Glenmary.

"Glenmary has evangelized me in so many ways. They live as simply as any missionaries. When you see a model, it keeps you examining your own life and how you live. We can be a great light to the Church in the United States."

For the future, he hopes Glenmary will continue being a model, "taking God's hand and working for justice within the integrity of creation."

This article first appeared in the October 2009 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.