Our Brothers’ Keepers grew out of the dreams of several ordained and lay prison ministers in the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois. After several years of experience inside the prisons of southern Illinois and with an ever-increasing awareness of parolees’ recidivism, they concluded that ministry only during incarceration is not enough. They decided that action needed to be taken to help the released avoid returning to prison as well.
Recognizing the need for a “returning citizens’ reentry house in St. Clair County, retired Bishop Stanley G. Schlarman and Father Christian Reuter, O.F.M., undertook a four-pronged initiative. First, they communicated their idea to fellow Catholics active in prison ministry. Second, they contacted St. Leonard’s Ministries, Chicago, IL, a residential housing facility providing services and programs for formerly incarcerated men leaving the Illinois prison system and returning to the community. These contacts resulted in Victor Gaskins (Program Director) becoming a member of our Advisory Board to assist us in programs and reentry services. Third, they visited numerous parish organizations and Knights of Columbus councils to heighten awareness and enlist potential support. Fourth, they communicated the dream to the Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton, Bishop of Belleville, to seek his advice and support. This approach yielded immediate fruit. On October 17, 2013, a group of about twenty-five Catholic prison ministers, social service providers and potential volunteers, met at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows to hear representatives from St. Leonard Ministries and to begin the first stages of planning. A “planning committee” of six was formed to take the first steps.
For both theological and practical reasons, the committee members realized immediately that the reentry project must be ecumenical. At the suggestion of Bishop Braxton, they began reaching out to the Lutheran and Episcopal communities. Bishop S. John Roth (Central/Southern Illinois Synod (ELCA) became a member of Our Brothers’ Keepers Advisory Board and Michael S. Davis, Executive Director of Prisoner and Family Ministries of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois a member of the Board of Directors. To eventually include participation of other churches and community agencies, the planners are also in dialogue with the Community Support Advisory Council (CSAC), United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM), and other groups.Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois was incorporated in the State of Illinois under the General Not For Profit Corporation Act as of August 25, 2014.
In an effort to reverse Cain’s abdication of responsibility (Genesis 4:9), Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois was incorporated in the State of Illinois under the General Not for Profit Corporation Act as of August 25, 2014. OBK also has received tax exempt status from Federal income tax under section 501 (c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code on June 25, 2015. In addition, a set of OBK By-Laws and an OBK Policies and Procedures Handbook were completed. The OBK operations are handled by a professional Board of Directors and assisted by an Advisory Board. Whenever the obstacles have seemed too great, the OBK team has been inspired by the example of Pope Francis, who reached out to prisoners at the very beginning of his papacy.