Parish using Lockhart tragedy to train other churches on domestic violence awareness

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Fr. Mike Hazard remembers Christopher Lockhart and his wife Theresa to be “beautiful people” he said. In the early years of their marriage, they were regulars at his parish St. Joseph Catholic Church on Lake Street. However as time passed, Theresa began coming to mass alone.

"Most of us knew nothing of their family life at home," Fr. Hazard said during an interview at the church. "Some of us knew that they had had difficulties but we didn’t know anything about why."

On Oct. 24, 2017, they learned why. That was the day the Portage Police Department found Christopher Lockhart dead in his home on Poplar Bluff. They also found a suicide note in which Lockhart stated that he killed Theresa in May of that year and buried her body in a large gaming area in Allegan County.

"After Chris committed suicide I preached about them and about domestic violence,” Fr. Hazard recalled. "A couple of these ladies here today approached me after mass and said ‘you know that’s my story.’"

It was after that Sunday that Fr. Hazard and few others from St. Joseph’s began planning a domestic violence workshop, he said. They specifically invited other church leaders in the area  to learn how to best to deal with the issue in thrown congregations. Tuesday morning those plans came to fruition with the YWCA hosting the event.

“Churches are really first responders to domestic violence,” said Sherry Brockway, director of emergency response services with the YWCA. “Many people go to their faith-based organization and talk to them before anybody else.”

Brockway was among the dozens of attendees who discussed the issue, the types of  abuse and the various warning signs, from insults to stalking. Fr. Charles Dahm drove in from Chicago to teach about what he see on a regular basis. He’s the director of domestic violence outreach with the Archdiocese of Chicago and talked about some of the challenges victims face.

“Often men do not see the problem,” Father Dahm said. “They’re not sensitive to what women are experiencing. That’s a problem. And many clergy are men.”

Fr. Dahm highlighted that victims aren't always women. Sometimes, it's men, children and pets. Brockway told the crowd that the YWCA has set up a partnership with the local humane society and SPCA to provide shelter for the pets if needed.

“There is no better way to control somebody than to threaten their pet,” Brockway said. “So we want to make sure we have the services and resources to help keep not only women, children and men safe but also pets.”

Brockway said in 2017, the YWCA received 3,685 calls of domestic violence. She said that’s a large number per capita. However, she hopes that by getting other churches involved, they can help to reduce those calls.

“If there’s abuse nobody should be staying in that relationship,” said Fr. Dahm. “We can walk with them and just continue to reassure them that they don’t have to suffer this abuse.”

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