From humble beginnings, a national leader
It was 1964 and Father William Diersen, a Roman Catholic priest and Chaplain at the Kentucky State Reformatory, was frustrated by the seemingly “revolving door” of people returned to prison for violating conditions of their release. He understood — like few others at the time — that without the necessary job, life skills and a support structure, individuals tend to return to a life of crime, which leads to more victimization.
Father Diersen also knew that to effect change would not be easy. The criminal justice system itself was rife with abuse, and offenders were feared and stigmatized by the public. But Father Diersen’s character, focus, and unbending will persisted. With the help of the five Louisville Councils of the Knights of Columbus, Father Diersen opened a 15-bed re-entry facility — or “halfway house” as it was then known — staffed with volunteers. He called the facility Dismas, so named for the repentant thief who was crucified with Christ.
From this modest beginning and rich history, Dismas has grown to become one of the largest not-for-profit providers of residential re-entry services in the United States. Dismas operates as Diersen Charities in New Mexico and Tennessee. Today, the healing hand of Dismas extends to numerous areas of the country, and the scope of our work has evolved well beyond the original confines of that first Dismas facility. We are actively involved in alcohol and drug treatment, job training, domestic violence intervention, education and a vast array of support programs and services. This is how Dismas lives its motto of Healing the Human Spirit.
The Dismas logo is a representation of the beautiful rose window discovered at our very first facility in Louisville, Kentucky. To create a place of healing and restoration, Dismas renovated this former church, and in the process, moved and restored this beautiful rose window.
Moving the window to a new location and restoring it revealed beautiful highlights and gave our center a new light. Immediately, we realized how this process of moving, restoring, and seeing something from a new perspective represented what we do on a daily basis with our residents.
Since then, the concept of the window and the light it brings has been our logo and a strong symbol for what we do, including the name for our newsletter to the communities we serve, The Light.