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From tragedy to forgiveness, with a stop at San Quentin

  • The O'Reilly family including mom, Patty, center, and daughters Erin, 17, left and Siobhan, 12, right, are coming up on the 5th anniversary of the death of their husband/father. Danny O'Reilly was killed by a drunk driver as he was riding his bike to work April 19, 2004.

In the past five years Patty O?Reilly of Sonoma has gone from a wife to widow, from a private person into a familiar face at San Quentin prison.

On a journey that began with heartbreak and fueled by deep religious faith, the mother of two young daughters finds herself these days focusing on hope.

She admits, she started off hating the man who killed ?my Danny.?

?But I was reminded by a good friend that everyone can change. I remembered that as a Christian I am called to forgive as I am forgiven,? she said.

No one is more amazed than she to find herself devoted to the last thing she ever considered doing ? volunteering as a surrogate victim in prison restorative justice programs.

?I remember thinking, you?re crazy,? said her daughter Erin O?Reilly, 17<NO1><NO>, now living in Washington, D.C., where she studies at the Washington School of Ballet.

?I thought, ?I?m living with insane people,?? she said <NO1>Erin O?Reilly <NO>of her first reaction. Today, she is proud of her mother. ?She?s getting a lot out of it and she?s doing something really positive for people in prison. They need help.?

Patty O?Reilly has participated in two pilot programs, the Victim-Offender Dialogue Program through the State of California and Victim-Offender Education Group at San Quentin State Prison. It was through such programs, which facilitate dialogue between victims and inmates, that O?Reilly eventually traveled to Folsom Prison to meet with and forgive Mike Albertson, 51, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence for killing Danny O?Reilly.

She will speak about her journey through the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese Restorative Justice and Detention Ministries at a special crime victims Mass at St. Eugene?s on Farmers Lane Saturday at 11:15 a.m. The event ushers in National Crime Victims Week, April 26 through May 2.

It took three sets of wheels to shatter the dreams of the O?Reilly family on April 19, 2004, five years ago on Sunday.

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