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Sisters’ ‘Soul Box’ Exhibit Brings Comfort to Families of Victims Killed by Gun Violence

For the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, offering well-meaning “thoughts and prayers” to grieving families after every mass shooting is sometimes not enough.

On June 29, the sisters honored hundreds of victims of gun violence in Michigan and in memory of one of their own: Sister John Clement Hungerman, who was murdered 40 years ago in Detroit.

“Her death was very difficult for the sisters to deal with, and she was killed right outside the house where she lived with several other members of our order,” Sister Elizabeth Walters told OSV News.

Pictured in an undated photo is Sister John Clement Hungerman, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan. The sister lost her life to gun violence in 1983. (OSV News Photo/Courtesy IHM Archives)

Sister Hungerman – a beloved and hardworking physics teacher and academic dean at Mary Grove College in Detroit, who held a doctorate and was known as the “bionic nun” – died on November 7, 1983. She had been shot by a wandering neighborhood that she had helped several times.

“We watched the news about it on television and his death inspired us to advocate against gun violence,” Sister Walters said.

Speaking of the gathering, Sister Walters said, “Various groups have sent us the names of people who have been lost to gun violence, and our exhibit in the gallery provides a very thoughtful and powerful moment for those who visit.

In order to honor the memory of Sister Hungerman and other victims of gun violence, the sisters at IHM have organized a “Soul Box” exhibit. As artist Leslie Lee, founder of The Soul Box Project, told OSV News, Soul Boxes are “handcrafted origami boxes that hold space for each completed life – and more. who have been affected – by armed violence”.

A longtime professional artist, graphic designer and ceramic sculptor, Lee told OSV News that she created the Soul Box project following the mass shooting of Las Vegas in 2017 at an outdoor music festival.

The shooter behind the horrific atrocity slaughtered 59 people and injured dozens more.

“Nobody told me to do it; the idea came to me when news of the tragedy hit my phone,” Lee said. “It was all too much for me, but I also realized that I couldn’t turn away from the problem (of gun violence),” she added.

“I wanted to create something that represents each of those unfortunate people who were tragically lost, with each of their lives remembered in a separate physical space,” Lee said.

The finished project – beautiful in its simplicity – has grown in popularity as, sadly, the tragedy of gun-related murders continues across the United States, increasing survivors’ need for comfort and closure.

“The Soul Box has a bottom and a lid, allowing people to put messages inside and a photo image of their lost loved one on the outside,” Lee explained. “The overall effect is very poignant.”

So poignant in fact that in 2021, proponents of the project would display 200,000 of the boxes on the National Mall in Washington to commemorate those whose lives have been taken by gun violence.

Today, The Soul Box Project has over 50 participating branches located in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

Lee noted, however, that the project is not just about “the mass shootings that have been so prevalent over the past decade.” They represent only a small fraction of the number of daily deaths from gun violence in the United States

The Pew Research Center analyzed comprehensive 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that 48,830 people died that year from gun violence in the United States. Of these gun-related deaths, 54% were suicides, while 43% were murders. The others were a combination of accidental deaths, law enforcement-related killings, and undetermined circumstances. Gun deaths have also increased by 23% since 2019, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pew also reported that 81% of all murders involve a gun, with FBI data showing that 59% of murders involve handguns.

The nuns’ parent house planned to display its Soul Box exhibit through July 9.

“I am so excited that these 30 panels are currently on display and that the sisters plan to provide them to interested local organizations to display through the end of the summer,” Lee said.

She also noted that “the faith community has really embraced this project – even more so than people working on (gun reform) legislation, because it’s a great exhibit and a powerful example for many to follow. people”.

“We’re trying to do something that works beyond ‘thoughts and prayers,’ and it’s been very calming, especially when people hear that the box is going in a display with hundreds of others,” said Lee.

While The Soul Box Project began as a way to remember the mind-boggling number of victims of gun violence – of all ages and races – those who participated quickly discovered an unexpected beneficial effect.

“People find it soothing to do a lot – it only takes a few moments to make a soul box – and the participant can also add art, messages and memorials to the victims,” ​​Lee said.

For the IHM sisters honoring Sister Hungerman, Sister Walters explained, the words of Jesus Christ from Luke 4:18 on her soul box say it all: “The spirit of the Lord has been given unto me, to bring good tidings to the poor, to the oppressed. »

To learn more about the Soul Box Project, visit https://soulboxproject.org.

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