Janice Vanderhaar: In the name of Peace and Justice
On this holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems fitting to lift up the lives of others who continue his legacy of nonviolence and justice.
Janice Vanderhaar’s passion for nonviolence and justice peacemaking took root in the wake of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and Vatican II. As a student at Spaulding University in Louisville, Kentucky in the summer Masters in Theology program, then Sister of Providence, Janice Marie Searles, was blessed with extraordinary teachers.
As Providence would have it, the professor whose passion for justice and nonviolence most influenced her was Father Gerard Vanderhaar, then a Dominican priest. They soon began corresponding with each other. After a number of years, they believed they were meant to spend their lives together; they left their religious communities and married in 1969.
Years later, a friend would observe about Gerard and Janice’s marriage that it was a vocation of peacemaking. They would spend 35 years together working untiringly for justice, peace and nonviolence.
In 1970, after moving to Tennessee, Janice became coordinator of Adult Education for the newly formed Diocese of Memphis. Bishop Carroll Thomas Dozier gathered around him other persons with a strong commitment to peace and justice to assist him in writing a pastoral: Peace: Task and Gift declaring the Vietnam War immoral and unjust. It instantly put him on the national map. In Bishop Dozier, Providence provided an extraordinary leader and partner in Janice and Gerry’s dedication to nonviolence.
In 1982 on Jan. 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., Janice and Gerard along with others founded the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. The center was founded on the legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi, meaning it is grounded in the spirit of nonviolence. The center is also faith-based, but not to any particular religious group.
At Christian Brothers University where Gerard was a professor, he and Janice were instrumental in helping to establish the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence founded by Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi.
For 16 years, Janice was a social worker with Metropolitan Interfaith Center providing emergency services helping those who were in desperate need of assistance.
In 2003, Janice and Gerard received the Bishop Dozier Award for Peace and Justice from Christian Brothers University where Gerard taught for 28 years.
In 2005, after Gerry’s death, Janice established the Vanderhaar Symposium, an annual event at Christian Brothers University to carry on his legacy. Each year an extraordinary scholar or peace activist is invited to address social and moral issues related to peace and justice and/or Catholic social teaching. At the symposium an award is given to a student in the mid-south area who exhibits a strong commitment to peace and justice.
In 2006, Pax Christi USA named Janice an Ambassador for Peace. This program was created to officially honor and identify extraordinary and experienced leaders in Pax Christi USA, to empower them to represent the organization through ongoing outreach efforts, and to mark significant moments in their history.
In 2007, the Muslims of Memphis recognized Janice as a “World Class Force” for peace and for her contributions to interfaith dialogue.
Currently Janice is married to Edwin Wallin, a Vietnam veteran. Together they are raising funds to build West Tennessee Care Home in the Memphis area for veterans. The home will provide the special services needed for persons who have experienced such trauma. “I am opposed to war,” Janice says, “but not to veterans who have served their country.”
In a world so in need of justice and peace, we celebrate those whose gospel lives shine brightly like stars in our midst.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.