When I was a kid and being raised in the Catholic Church, we had a pastor who was sent to our parish with the goal of raising the money to build one of those architectural monstrosities that were so popular in the tasteless ’60s. His name was Clement H. Funke, and after several assignments in Texas, Indiana, and Wisconsin, he was sent to our small suburban parish in 1953 to transform it. I remember the original church as a 4th-grader, and the new church which was dedicated in 1961.
Father Funke began with the construction of a school, into which my siblings and I were transferred when our parents bought a sprawling, showy Tudor home on the banks of a creek north of the campus of Notre Dame University. It was a wonderful place to grow up, but I never got over the disruption of having been torn from friends with whom I had been enrolled in a “pilot class” of kids with above-average aptitudes who were taught French language and other advanced subjects. My mother had made a big deal of how a parochial school would provide a more rigorous level of academic discipline, but the truth was that the parish was made up of the children of working-class families who always regarded us with suspicion as “rich kids” better kept at an arm’s-length. I never felt that I fit in. It wasn’t until high school when I was driving that I finally convinced my family that I should be allowed to transfer to the school where my first childhood friends had ended up. I was happy and accepted once again, but I digress.
Father Funke. As I said before, he started raising money for the school, and then moved on to a new church, and then to a convent for the school’s nuns, and a rectory for the priests. He was good at raising money, but his style wasn’t pretty because he was so single-minded about it. Sitting through his sermons was excruciating because they were a constant harangue about money. For a young kid who was bored with the subject, Father Funke’s sermons were anything but uplifting; my mother complained of them, too. She went on to serve on over 100 civic boards in which fundraising was a part of the job description. Father Funke provided a good example of what not to do when asking people to give.
People were charmed by my mother’s appeals for support. She had a soft touch that people didn’t seem to mind. I’m sure people complied with Father Funke’s approach just to get the guy to shut up. Though I hate to admit it, but it worked.
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing about him today. You are about to be harangued.
But I’ll try to be nice about it.
We have an innocent kid in Alabama, Travis Montgomery, who is being railroaded for the murder of his mother, probably committed by his father. He is no longer a cute little boy and being charged as an adult, which is a real disadvantage in raising money for his legal defense. But if you can’t find it in your heart to look beyond this fact of life, the chances are good this kid is going to endure years of suffering in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Until age 16, Travis suffered relentless abuse which should justify the fact that his mother is no longer walking this earth. When Travis was a cute little boy, this awful woman whored out her own son to older men for drug money. She used to beat Travis with a hot frying pan. She burned him, nearly drowned him, and threw him out of a moving car. She tried to stab him with a knife. Yet Travis didn’t kill his mother, as much as she probably deserved it. This crime appears to have been committed by his father who was still fighting with her when Travis went to sleep.
Travis is the ultimate throw-away kid who is being used by some of the adults in his life for their own selfish ends. If for no other reason, he deserves our support to prove that his life has value beyond being a scapegoat for the selfish adults who seem to surround him.
Why the police have not properly investigated his alleged crime and have made him the “designated patsy” is anybody’s guess. But this is not a first. Travis seems to be a good kid and continues to enjoy the support of the parts of his family and community who have not been hoodwinked by the real perpetrator.
Travis will be represented by the Des Moines-based law firm of Kutmus, Pennington and Hook (KPH), one of the best criminal defense firms in the US. Until Trever Hook of KPH spoke with Travis on the phone, Travis’ court-appointed counsel had contacted him only a few times in the 21 months since the crime. We don’t have any evidence that the court-appointed attorney has investigated the physical evidence which would exonerate Travis and shift the blame elsewhere.
I have received a $10,000 lead-gift commitment (of which $5,000 has been paid) from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, plus $500 from a donor in Europe. But that is all. These donations are sufficient to have engaged CPH, but they cover only the bare expenses. Trever Hook called me after he had talked with Travis, and asked if we could raise more. A blood-spatter expert witness needs to be engaged, plus Trever will have to travel to Alabama to interview Travis and plead for a change-of-venue; there is no way Travis could get a fair trial in his small town (pop. 6,804) or county (pop. 30,334, given the media coverage. Trever is going to conduct his defense so as many of the costs as possible are borne by the state of Alabama, but total out-of-pocket costs for an adequate defense could reach a $50,000 level.
So we’ve obviously got a long way to go.
Where the money will come from, I don’t know. Yet I have seen enough old Bing Crosby movies to have faith that it will be forthcoming. As my ersatz-daughter Sarah says, this work on behalf of abused youth is God’s work, every bit as worthwhile as raising money for a rectory or church. Where God guides, He provides. Perhaps you will divide your almsgiving between Travis’ basket and your church’s. If you are not a church-goer, perhaps you will make a special gift at this time.
I received a call yesterday from Derek King, and his experience reminds me of how hard it is for former inmates to make it in our unforgiving world. Derek, his fiancée, and their son are on the verge of having to move into a homeless shelter. We must save Travis from a similar fate.
Please save me from boring you with repeated appeals for funds and proving Father Funke’s methods correct. Please give today for the best reasons, for your reasons, and to help Travis achieve his God-given potential.
To make a contribution to the Redemption Project, please use the link at the top of this page or click here. Thank you!
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