The Life and Death of Sister Karen Klimczak Sister Karen Klimczak and the Rev. Roy Herberger founded Bissonette House, a halfway house for former convicts in Buffalo, N.Y. On Good Friday, a resident of the house killed the nun. Father Herberger tells Scott Simon about her life and mission.

The Life and Death of Sister Karen Klimczak

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In 1989, Sister Karen Klimczak opened a halfway house for former inmates called Bissonette House in Buffalo, New York. Bissonette House is a place in which recently released convicts can receive some of the help they they need to rejoin society. It was named for a priest who had been murdered on that site while trying to help hungry vagrants. Last week in that same building in Buffalo, Sister Karen Klimczak was murdered by one of the men to whom she had devoted her life of service. The Reverend Roy Herberger co-founded Bissonette House with Sister Karen, and he joins us from Buffalo.

Father Roy, thanks very much for taking the time this week to speak with us.

Father ROY HERBERGER (Bissonette House): Sure enough. I appreciate the opportunity.

SIMON: And, you know, before we get to the Sister's death, tell us what she invested her life in. What is this place, Bissonette House?

Father HERBERGER: Basically, after she had done some volunteer work at Bedford Hills a number of years ago...

SIMON: This is the penitentiary.

Father HERBERGER: Yes, right, for women. She came back and was totally into what can we do for inmates while they're incarcerated and upon release. It was to give men an opportunity, for example, who maybe had no families to go back to, maybe their families had refused to have anything to do with them in light of their previous crime and history, or maybe they wanted to relocate to Buffalo or anywhere other than where they might go back into the same neighborhood, the same problems and pressures.

So we thought by providing a place for them, where they not just have a place to sleep and to eat, but to get someone who would have an ear and a heart open to them and give them some direction by helping them get a job or go back to school. It was spiritual, but not specifically Catholic, but spiritual and emotional, psychological, physical, so that holistic approach.

SIMON: Father Roy, what happened, on Good Friday, of all days?

Father HERBERGER: Well, she was here and took part of the Good Friday service at 7:00 o'clock in the evening, then went home, probably got back to their house about maybe quarter to nine, and from what we could tell from this man's confession, that he had been out, was, you know, into the crack cocaine and went up to her room, which happened to be open at the time, and decided to steal her cell phone so he could get some more money for some more crack, and then when she came in, he must have grabbed her from behind, hit her over the head, choked her, and then they say probably a couple hours later, disposed of her body.

SIMON: The man who has confessed to the crime we're talking about is Craig Lynch.

Father HERBERGER: That's correct.

SIMON: You know, Father, I ordinarily detest an avoid those questions that begin, What would a deceased person say? Because who knows?

Father HERBERGER: Right.

SIMON: But I'm going to chance, half-chance it with you and ask if you think there was a message in Sister Karen's life that you, in a sense, hear her memory speaking now, how she would want people to treasure her or what sense she would want them to make of her life?

Father HERBERGER: Well, the very first thing I think she would say, literally, would be forgive him.

SIMON: This is Craig Lynch, the man who has confessed to her murder.

Father HERBERGER: Correct, yes. Her whole life was about trying to give people another chance and to be able to say we have to be open to the person that God has created. Now, maybe sin in its own way has marred the image, but that person is special, and we have to treat them that way. And more often than not, she used to tell me and others, you know, it's not so much what I have taught them, but what they have taught me about life, about their own problems, their own changes in their families, and she said I feel all the richer because of my work with them, not for them, but with them.

SIMON: Well, Reverend Roy, good luck in continuing your work.

Father HERBERGER: Okay, well, thank you.

SIMON: The Reverend Roy Herberger, who is co-founder of Bissonette House in Buffalo.

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