Road of transformation

I remember Mr. Creighton always wore colorful bowties and smelled of formaldehyde. The only other recollection I have of this middle school biology teacher is that he introduced us to the mysteries of ‘metamorphosis’ – the Greek derivative signifying change in form – as exemplified by the life cycle of Monarch butterflies. Because the school was religiously unaffiliated, Mr. Creighton could not credit the Supreme Designer with the creation of these glorious creatures. Instead, he was obliged to allow us to believe anything or nothing about their provenance.

In retrospect I wonder what indelible understanding would have impressed itself on our juvenile minds had Mr. Creighton explained that we too are the handiwork of the same Designer and that, sharing a common creative source, we and the Monarchs are “kinsmen creatures.” Just as caterpillars metamorphose into the spectacle for which they are intended, we also are created to develop into the full humanity for which we are purposed, that humanity St. Irenaeus writes about when he claims the glory of God is man fully alive. Like the Monarch butterfly, we too are on a road of transformation.

I came across the phase “road of transformation” reading about the incarceration rate of women in the United States. In 1970, there were 8,000 women in prison in this country; today the number is 110,000, a fourteen-fold increase! Forty-five years ago in three quarters of the counties in this country, no women were in jail. Now there is scarcely one county without imprisoned women.

It can’t be that in the course of two generations women have become more criminal. Rather the cause must be in the increase of domestic violence, addiction, broken families and human trafficking, all of the societal ills which wound and break the lives of many of these vulnerable souls. Tragically, incarceration seems as ineffective as it is inappropriate since the recidivism rate among women released is very high.

The St. Vincent de Paul’s Catherine Center in San Mateo, California (www.svdpsm.org) is one response to this heart-breaking situation. It is here I read the poignant suggestion that the recovery of these women is a ‘road of transformation.’

Founded in 2003 in collaboration with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Sisters of Mercy (here they are again), the Catherine Center helps women recently released from prison by providing practical, emotional and spiritual support. Its twelve-month residency program assists women during their re-entry into the community by helping them with skills training, financial management, parenting, holistic health practices, and other forms of physical, mental and social health development.

All the women who have participated in the Catherine Center community – and there have been over one hundred – have successfully made the transition from prison to reintegration into family life and society. This transformation is made possible by the professional staff and the volunteers (many ‘alumnae’ of the program themselves) who operate the Center and do so without federal aid and solely and critically on charitable contributions.

Had Mr. Creighton explained to us young students that all living beings share a “co-creaturehood” imbued with purposeful existence, we today might be more respectful of the salutary ‘metamorphosis’ experienced by the residents of the Catherine Center. What’s more, we might recognize how their need and example help us find and follow our own road of transformation.

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