November 6, 2020

‘Forgiving with Grace’ topic of Nov. 21 corrections ministry conference

By Mike Krokos

Book coversWhat began as an evening full of joy 30 years ago ended in senseless tragedy for Jeanne Bishop and her family.

The heartbreak that resulted from that tragedy led Bishop to a defining choice for her life—a choice between hatred and forgiveness.

“On the night before Palm Sunday—April 7, 1990—I was out to dinner with my family celebrating the happy news that my younger sister Nancy, 25, and her husband Richard, 29, were expecting their first child,” Bishop said in an e-mail interview. “This was an occasion for joy in my family, because Nancy, even though she was the youngest of me and my two sisters, was the first who was to become a mom. The baby she was carrying would have been my parents’ first grandchild, my first little niece or nephew, so we were all over the moon.”

Nancy and Richard left for their townhome after the dinner. There, the couple and their unborn child were murdered by a gunman who had broken into their home. Jeanne’s father found the bodies the next day when he stopped by after church to visit them.

“When the police told my parents and me how Nancy and Richard and their baby had died—from gunshot wounds—the first thing that came out of my mouth seemed to emerge without any conscious thought: I heard myself say, ‘I don’t want to hate anyone,’ ” Bishop said.

“Everyone in the room looked at me as if I were insane. But looking back, I know exactly why I said that. I saw with stark clarity that evil had intruded on our lives, that evil had cast a shadow over lives that until then had been privileged and peaceful. And I knew that evil must be responded to; you cannot not respond to evil.

“I knew, too, that if my response to whomever had killed them was hatred, there wouldn’t be enough hate in the universe to pay for the lives of my loved ones. I knew there had to be some other response.”

Her response, which led to eventually reconciling with her loved ones’ killer, will be among the stories Bishop shares during the fourth annual archdiocesan Corrections Ministry Conference, which will be held virtually from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 21. The topic will be “Forgiving with Grace.”

Bishop’s transformation after the life-changing event included leaving her job as a corporate attorney at a large law firm in the greater Chicago area to become a public defender in Cook County, Ill. It was a way for her to make a “real difference” in the world.

“I had already lived four years on this Earth that Nancy never got to have, and every day I lived after that would be another day that I would have a chance to open my eyes, breathe in air and go out into the world and do good,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t waste one more minute of this gift of life I had been given. I owed it to God and to Nancy, to honor her memory.”

In her new role, Bishop began to advocate for gun registration and to fight against the death penalty. Twenty-five years after the tragedy, she wrote a book, Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer, which is a powerful account of the murders and her reconciliation with the murderer, David Biro, who was a high school student at the time of the crime. He is serving a life sentence.

“My faith had everything to do with my journey to reconciliation with the killer,” Bishop said. In the book, she describes four pastors who helped direct her path: two were pastors at her Presbyterian church in Chicago; the third was a Southern Baptist preacher and a university president; and the fourth was an Episcopal priest at a service she attended one summer.

“All had wisdom to impart to me, just as I have gained wisdom from my beloved Catholic brothers and sisters,” she said.

The author will also discuss her latest book, Grace From the Rubble: Two Fathers’ Road to Reconciliation After the Oklahoma City Bombing, which grew out of the reaction to her first book, Bishop said. The book shares how Bud Welch, the father of Oklahoma City bombing victim Julie Welch, forges an unlikely friendship with Bill McVeigh, the father of bomber Timothy McVeigh. It is also a story of forgiveness. Both books are available on

The book about the two fathers “speaks of reaching across the divide to reconcile with those who, by earthly reason, should be your enemies. I saw such hunger out there for this word of forgiveness and mercy. Jesus said love your enemies,” Bishop said. “And I knew the most amazing story, of the father of one of the Oklahoma City bombing victims actually reaching out and befriending the father of her killer. It was breathtaking. I’m so grateful that this story is going out into the world. We have so much to learn from these two men about grace and redemption and the power of love over hate.”

The author said she hopes people who take part in the Nov. 21 conference understand “that we don’t have to be stuck in the past, burdened with resentment, anger and bitterness. We can lay that burden down and move forward in freedom and peace. There is a better way,” she noted, “and it is the way of Christ.”

Bishop will have signed copies of both of her books available for purchase and will send them to whomever would like to read these stories of transformation.

During the virtual event, there will also be a pre-recorded panel discussion of inmates at an Indiana correctional facility on their struggle with forgiving others and others forgiving them.

To register for this free event, go to †

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