Fighting poverty through policy and the pulpit

Father Jud Weiksnar.

For a School of Management alumnus, William “Jud” Weiksnar, PhD ’88, is rather unusual.

Instead of a business suit, he wears a brown robe. Weiksnar is a Catholic priest in the Franciscan order. He currently serves as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J.

Weiksnar, or as he prefers, Father Jud, enrolled at UB in the combined Law and Policy Studies program after receiving his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and teaching high school. He received his law degree in 1985 and his doctorate in public policy from the School of Management in 1988, a year after joining the Franciscans.

“My original plan was to use my education to help the poor and those considered least important in society,” Father Jud says. “Maybe it was meant to be that I ended up in Camden—the poorest and, until recently, most dangerous city in the U.S.”

According to 2006 census data, Camden has the highest poverty rate in the U.S., with 44%  of its residents living in poverty. It was also named the nation’s most dangerous city in 2004 and 2005 in an annual ranking based on crime statistics.

Father Jud credits his former professors John M. Thomas, now School of Management dean, and Tom Headrick, former Law School dean, with influencing his current work. “They helped me understand that real people, especially the poor, suffer when there is bad public policy,” he says. “They helped instill in me the desire to try to effect positive changes in difficult and often complicated situations.

“I am now living in the midst of the scenarios they would describe in their policy studies classes,” Father Jud says, calling Camden a “case study” of all that can go wrong with urban policy.

“Poor implementation of well-intentioned policy has such a big effect on cities like Camden,” Father Jud says. “For example, the city received $175 million in state redevelopment aid, but almost none of it went to the neighborhoods. Instead, it went to the ‘big players’ in town, such as the hospital, university and waterfront.”

Father Jud became involved with a group called Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP) which led the fight to allocate $7.5 million of that aid directly to Camden’s poorest neighborhoods. Although not directly involved in that battle, Father Jud serves on the CCOP board and works on other issues, such as convening a meeting between residents and the new police chief to discuss moving from an emergency-response model of policing to a “Problem-Solving Community Policing” model.

“I’ve also been involved with discussions where we are trying to change the response of the wealthy suburbs to Camden’s plight,” he says. “We are trying to move from a charity model to one that stresses building relationships and examining the underlying social factors that cause Camden to be so poor and so violent.”

Father Jud’s parish remains at the heart of all his efforts. “I would love it if any UB alumni in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area would be interested in finding out about what we do here,” he says. Serving a largely Hispanic population, the church runs a food pantry, a free, once-a-week health clinic and a drop-in center for people infected with or affected by HIV, in addition to helping people with immigration problems.

Father Jud believes “a website is worth a thousand words,” so he invites alumni to visit for more information.

Written by Cathy Wilde