Year Joined MKLM: 1995
Focus: Education, Community Building, Peace and Justice
Project(s): Proyecto Inclusion Social (Social Inclusion Project), Prison Ministry
People Served: Disabled and incarcerated people
Project Goal(s): Empower the disabled to reach their maximum development potential. Assist the incarcerated with legal services so they might obtain a more just process and avoid the vicious cycle of recidivism.
Joe oversees a ministry that helps children, youth and adults, who have visual, hearing, intellectual, physical and other disabilities, receive self-sustaining rehabilitation in their rural home communities. One service area is located in the Altiplano, among the indigenous, subsistence farmers, and the other service area is in a more tropical area, where great poverty exists among the immigrants. The project’s main goal is inclusion and non-marginalization of those with disabilities. Services include prevention, detection, educational support, medical attention and teachings about their human rights. Government, school and family workshops help to create awareness, so that equality, inclusion and other opportunities can occur.
Joe summarizes mission as being all about opportunity. He is sustained by his desire to provide an opportunity when reaching out to the marginalized. Joe says, “Mission is frequently about being able to hear God’s call and having the flexibility to heed that call.” Just over a year ago, the Archbishop of Cochabamba asked Joe to take over a ministry to help those with disabilities who had gotten ensnarled in a myriad of administrative, financial and legal problems. At times, Joe felt like Jonah and wanted to flee the call. Yet his family, fellow missioners and the greater Maryknoll community in Cochabamba encouraged and helped him start a new ministry that did not even have a pencil when it began. Today, the ministry helps nearly 200 persons with disabilities achieve community-based rehabilitation.
Using his legal background, Joe also works in prison ministry. He has a special interest in restorative justice and is on a Bolivia-USA team that teaches the incarcerated how to avoid recidivism. The prisoners learn to forgive themselves and others, to let go of hatred, resentment and the desire for vengeance, and to reach out to victims for reconciliation.
Joe was born in Royal Oak, MI. He has law degrees in both Bolivia and the United States.
After working for ten years as an assistant public defender in Detroit, MI, with a caseload at times of up to 80 persons charged with felonies, Joe began to reflect upon his long-term goals. Despite being a lifelong practicing Catholic, he found himself at a crossroad. Should he abandon a faith practice that had become rather routine and unimaginative, or should he take a risk and dive deeply into his faith? He knew that the most rewarding aspect of his legal career was assisting the disadvantaged to obtain competent legal representation; yet he did not find the offerings of lucrative private practice to be calling. Upon a chance encounter with an advertisement to become a Maryknoll lay missioner, he sent off for the application. In MKLM, he found a wonderful opportunity. He could use his skills on behalf of the poor, learn a new culture, deepen his faith and have a community for support.
During his initial years with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Bolivia, Joe served as an administrative assistant and teacher at a school for blind children and youth. At community legal aid clinics, he provided indigent persons with legal services in civil and criminal matters. Joe assisted with parish catechism programs.
Joe and his wife, Filo Siles (a Maryknoll lay missioner), met on a blind date, and after three years of mission and two years of courtship, they married in Bolivia in 1999.
Six years later, Joe returned to the U.S. to do stateside service as the Mission Services Department Director in Ossining, NY. He managed the recruitment, admissions and training programs. While there, Filo and Joe had two children, Benjamin and Pauline, who now attend high school in Cochabamba, as the family returned to Bolivia in 2010.