From counseling to advocacy, a Sister’s instincts save a family

This is the story of how one Good Shepherd Apostolic Sister went from counseling to advocacy and saved a family in the process.

Chris Hock, RGS, left Portland, Oregon, and the counseling ministries that fed her soul to return to her roots in southern Indiana. When she applied for counseling jobs in the largest neighboring city Louisville, she found her path blocked. The Commonwealth of Kentucky wouldn’t accept her licensed credentials from Oregon and Colorado.

Befuddled and miffed, Sister Chris hired an attorney to win the right to counsel people in Kentucky. She lost the case and was forced to accept that she wouldn’t be counseling anyone in that state. So, she became a volunteer instead of a paid practitioner.

Drawn by a desire to help adolescents, Sister Chris started teaching girls at Maryhurst how to meditate. Soon she was invited to serve on the Maryhurst Board of Directors.

Introduction to CLOUT and CASA lead to advocacy

from counseling to advocacy Portrait of Chris Hock
Chris Hock, RGS

One day at Mass someone suggested that Sr. Chris get involved in an organization called CLOUT (Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together.) A handful of ministers, including a priest, created the organization in 1991 to solve critical community problems by holding systems accountable. They believed that the church ought to be involved in everything that impacts a community’s quality of life. The mission was a good fit for Sr. Chris with her Good Shepherd values. She immediately became active in the organization.

At about the same time, peers in her parish church introduced her to the Court Appointed Special Advocacy Agency (CASA). Coming into contact with this agency put her even more squarely in the thick of Good Shepherd values. CASA trains volunteers to be a voice for abused and neglected children. Chris’ life was about to take a dramatic turn.

Sister Chris accepted a CASA case as a volunteer. Her job was to advocate for the removal of two children from their biological mother. When Sr. Chris met the mother and was introduced to her as the “children’s advocate,” the mother replied, “I need an advocate.”

Sister Chris’ heart split in two. The woman’s statement threw her back in time to when she counseled Good Shepherd girls. In that instant, she knew she would become the mother’s advocate to keep her children instead of the children’s advocate to remove them.

“How could I not become her advocate? The mother — Jenni — was like a Good Shepherd girl who had become an adult without ever having had the chance to grow up. It was clear that she had mental health issues, but I could also clearly see that she loved her children. My heart opened to her,” Sr. Chris said.

When Jenni was barely 15, her drug-addicted mother tossed her onto the streets. The girl had nowhere to go. She became pregnant and had her first baby the same year, at age 15. She had a second child at 17, a third soon after, and finally a fourth child by the time she was 22.

Jenni was going to abort the last child, but when she learned the child she was carrying was a boy she decided to keep the baby. Her other children were girls. The boy was in and out of multiple foster homes and a psychiatric treatment facility during the time Sr. Chris engaged with the family through CASA.

Determining custody of the kids

Jenni was diagnosed several years ago with severe PTSD from her traumatized youth. She dealt with fear and anxiety by smoking pot, succumbing to depression, getting clean, succumbing to depression, smoking pot, getting clean … It was an endless cycle.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services removed her two younger children from her for neglect and began testing her earnestly for drugs. She failed the tests. The paternal grandmother already had gained legal custody of the two older girls. Jenni was now without her children.

Our Lady of Peace

Although the boy had never been diagnosed with any form of psychosis, former foster parents told judges that they were afraid of the child and felt threatened by him. He was not a good candidate for long-term fostering and ended up getting moved around short-term placements like hospitals, foster care, and other inpatient facilities. He eventually wound up at Our Lady of Peace psychiatric hospital when he was eight years old.

Advocating for the fate of the family

By the time all of this unfolded in the lives of Jenni and her children, Sr. Chris had become active on a sub-committee of the Maryhurst Board. Being on the sub-committee proved pivotal the day she attended a conference meeting with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to determine the fate of Jenni’s young son. Nobody knew what to do with the institutionalized boy because he was having so many problems.

As it happened, shortly before the conference meeting, Sr. Chris had attended a Maryhurst board sub-committee meeting, where she learned about a program called Renewal. Renewal helps prevent the institutional placement of children. During the Cabinet conference meeting, Sr. Chris recalled the discussion about the program and suggested that the government agency looks into it as an option for Jenni and her son.

The Cabinet agreed and made a referral for Renewal to get involved. Renewal reviewed the case, resonated with it, and went for it. The outcome was a success. Jenni’s son was eventually discharged from Our Lady of Peace and returned to her. His angry outbursts, terrifying nightmares, and fitful acts of rebellion soon subsided. He calmed down once he knew he wouldn’t be removed again from his mother. The boy, now 11 years old, is thriving. In fact, Jenni has all of her kids back.

“Jenni, her daughters, and her son are all Good Shepherd kids. Helping this family brought my life as an Apostolic Sister full circle. I was able to use my skills from past Good Shepherd ministries and private counseling to help save and reunite this family,” she said.

Seeking prayers as an intervention

Sister of the Good Shepherd in habit
Sharon Rose Authorson, RGS

Three years ago, when Sister Chris first became involved with Jenni and her children, she asked Sr. Sharon Rose Authorson to pray for the family. Sister Sharon Rose is a contemplative Sister of the Good Shepherd.

“Jenni is an overgrown child. But despite that, this is the bottom line: she loves her children. She needs to be with her children, and her children need to be with her. The family needed intervention and prayers. I knew Sr. Sharon Rose would be a prayer warrior for Jenni and her kids, and she has been. She has never stopped praying for them,” Sr. Chris said.

Jenni knows about Sr. Sharon Rose’s prayer ministry and will call Sr. Chris asking to have Sr. Sharon Rose continue to pray for her and her family. Sister Sharon Rose, Maryhurst, Renewal, and CASA are intertwined through Sr. Chris and Jenni’s family. A story that started with a lawsuit against Kentucky has ended as a real gift to Sr. Chris.

Sister Chris credits Sr. Sharon Rose and Maryhurst as the conduits that saved this family. She said, “I was able to count on Sr. Sharon Rose to seek the highest power of intervention for the family, and I was able to leverage my role as a board member of Maryhurst to involve Renewal in bringing the family back together,” Sr. Chris said.

Sister Chris made a second referral to Renewal when Jenni’s two older girls struggled with adolescence. Jenni was afraid her daughters would end up on the streets the way she had as a 15-year-old girl.

“Jenni didn’t get a chance to grow up, and I didn’t want to see this cycle repeat itself with her girls. Renewal had come through for the family once. I hoped they would come through again,” Sr. Chris said.

Stabilizing the family

And it did. Things have settled down with Jenni and her kids. Everybody has been reunited and they are living together as a family. Jenni got married in October 2020 to a man who was raised by his grandmother.

“They love each other and he is good with Jenni’s four kids. He treats them like they are his own. He and Jenni work gig jobs. Little by little they will put their lives in order. They’ll get by,” said Sr. Chris.

As for Sr. Chris, she is tying up loose ends with the CASA cases that started her on this path, and she is taking time to regroup. CLOUT keeps her busy, and so does serving on the Maryhurst Board. Her own somewhat unsettled life has finally begun to simmer down too.

Sister Chris’ beloved aunt who meant everything in the world to her died just before the pandemic struck, leaving her feeling sad and lonely. While grieving her deep loss, she was forced to pack everything and move out of her apartment when her landlord announced unexpectedly that he was renovating her apartment. And then last June she had major surgery and was hospitalized for three weeks. The ordeal set her back. A year later, Sr. Chris still tries to manage symptoms of fatigue and weakness brought on by the hospital experience.

“It feels like I am finally beginning to come out of the fog. My focus is on regaining my strength and health,” she said.

Moving toward the future

Sister Chris is glad she moved to Louisville. When Judy Lambeth, long-term Executive Director of Maryhurst, put a call out for a Good Shepherd Sister to come to Louisville, Sr. Chris responded.  She said, “I’m from New Albany, Indiana. My family is here. Answering Judy’s call for a Sister made sense to me. It felt right.”

Maryhurst staff visits the Good Shepherd Sisters in Cincinnati regularly, and  Sister Chris wanted to be a part of that too.

“But we’re dwindling like crazy and there are fewer and fewer Sisters left in Cincinnati. I’ll go to the Little Sisters of the Poor when the time comes so Maryhurst staff can visit me right here in Louisville,” she said half-jokingly but really meaning it.

Sister Chris’ journey with Good Shepherd began with the Little Sisters of the Poor. Her great-grandmother was a resident at the Little Sisters. And Chris received her calling to be a Good Shepherd religious when she was making a retreat at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Indianapolis as a young adult in her thirties.

Jeanne Jugan is the Foundress of Little Sisters of the Poor, whose charism came out of St. John Eudes. Having felt the need to care for the many impoverished elderly who lined the streets of French towns and cities, Jugan established the congregation to care for the elderly in 1839.

“There are many ways I feel connected to the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Good Shepherd girls who became adults and unable to make it on their own in the world stayed with the Little Sisters whenever Good Shepherd would leave a city and close a ministry.

They took in our girls who were vulnerable and in need of being cared for. They will take me in too,” Sr. Chris said.

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website veganstoryteller.com