Restorative Justice breakfast debuts at St. Mark’s

“So many times I wanted to say, ‘This isn’t worth it,’ but God showed up for me every single time.”

Daisy Gonzalez, Excell Network student

By Melissa Vlach

St. Mark parishioners filled the hall at the Belmont parish as the parish hosted the first of a series of monthly breakfasts to support the Restorative Justice Ministry scholarship program for students who are on probation or parole.

Father Angel Quitalig, pastor of St. Mark, opened the Feb. 19 event with a prayer centered on themes of social justice, praying in part, “We graciously ask You to pour out Your spirit on our parish and fill us with Your grace to be instruments of peace and charity to all those whom You place in our path who are less fortunate, defenseless, marginalized, or forgotten.”

Following this, Julio Escobar, Archdiocese of San Francisco Restorative Justice coordinator, described the program, which provides not just financial support, but also a network of emotional and life-skills support for students.

“We have been praying the Social Justice Prayer every third Saturday of the month since last year and so there is awareness and concern for the plight of our less fortunate brothers and sisters, including the incarcerated,” explained Dinna Bayangos, parish communications coordinator, who helped plan the event. “Hosting the Excell Network breakfasts brings our community together in living out this prayer.”

Bill Mallet, a parishioner at St. Mark, was part of the effort to bring the breakfasts to the parish. He has been involved with the scholarship program and other parts of the Restorative Justice Ministry and wanted the program to be part of the parish’s social justice ministry.

“I think social justice and restorative justice matters all over the Bay Area. It’s critical to all communities in the Bay Area,” he stated.

Mallet described how meeting the justice-involved students changes perceptions about these individuals. “You meet them, you find out what their dreams are, you find out how strong they are, how brave they are, and how generous they are, and now they are simply people who need our help. They’re no longer a label,” he said.

Each breakfast features a student speaker, who tells his or her story and answers questions from those in attendance. For this breakfast the speaker was Daisy Gonzalez, who described growing up in a small town where she learned about the world of drugs at a very young age.

“The drugs, they really change the way you think and the person that you are,” she said.

It wasn’t until she was facing extensive federal charges that she began to make changes in her life, knowing that she needed to be there for her daughter. She took part in treatment programs, focused on her education, and worked to get her daughter back from foster care. Even though she was facing many challenges, she cites her faith as something that supported her through it all.

“So many times I wanted to say, ‘This isn’t worth it,’ but God showed up for me every single time.”

Gonzalez is now focused on her future goals and trying to make sure she meets the needs of her daughter, of whom she regained custody. For all she has faced, she says that she wouldn’t change the things that have happened, explaining that she draws on those experiences in her current work in social services. “Your pain can help you pull someone out of their pain.”

Parishioners were riveted as they listened to Gonzalez recount her life, and many gave her a standing ovation at the end.

“I’ve never heard a story that hit my heart so much,” commented Jack Murray, who was in attendance.

Although the proceeds from the breakfast support the scholarship program, Mallet agreed that attendees gain as much or more than the students. “For all that we do for the students… we get the greatest benefit,” he said.

St. Mark will host breakfasts on the third Saturday of the month through November of this year. This complements the monthly breakfasts at St. Agnes in San Francisco on the second Saturday of the month.

–Melissa Vlach is the social action and digital media coordinator for the Office of Human Life & Dignity.