For years, StoryCorps has been dedicated to listening to and amplifying the stories of everyday people. Our stories have become a cherished part of Friday mornings on NPR’s Morning Edition, thanks in large part to the willingness of participants to share their experiences. Among these individuals, Mary Johnson’s story has profoundly resonated with StoryCorps listeners.
Mary Johnson-Roy initially recorded with StoryCorps in 2011 to have a conversation with Oshea Israel, the man who tragically took the life of her son. Her journey led her to establish From Death to Life, an organization focused on healing and reconciliation to prevent violence between families of victims and perpetrators. Her impactful narrative has become a timeless StoryCorps classic, prompting subsequent follow-ups with Mary. These significant moments were made possible through the support of Brian Mogren, a close friend of Mary’s, who assisted us in sharing this profound conversation. Brian’s involvement not only facilitated the sharing of Mary’s powerful story but also provided him with a unique vantage point to witness the transformative impact of these conversations, leading him to share his own illuminating experiences.
I first met Mary Johnson-Roy in the spring of 2006 when she shared her powerful story of forgiveness at my church. I was deeply touched by her commitment to reaching out to mothers on both sides of the tragedy of homicide to support them in their grief and healing journeys so they could in turn lead others in the community toward peace and reconciliation.
The following year, I was honored to receive an invitation from Mary to join the board of her organization, From Death To Life. In 2008, Mary began hosting her healing groups for mothers at the St. Jane House, an urban retreat center and house of hospitality on the north side of Minneapolis, which I call home.
In the spring of 2011, I received a phone call from StoryCorps of their interest in recording a conversation between Mary and Oshea Israel. As a longtime admirer of StoryCorps, I knew they would handle their sensitive story with care, and encouraged my friends to accept the invitation. They did.
It has been over 12 years since we welcomed StoryCorps producer Jasmyn Morris and facilitator Gaspar Caro to the St Jane House where that first conversation was recorded between Mary and Oshea, and much has come to pass. After the airing of their story on NPR’s Morning Edition in May of that year, the invitations began to pour in for Mary and Oshea to share their powerful story around the country and world. It has been my privilege to accompany my friends on this amazing journey.
It was an honor to welcome Jasmyn back to the house in August of 2023, along with StoryCorps facilitator Ian Gonzales, to revisit Mary’s story on the occasion of StoryCorps’ 20th anniversary. All of us in Minneapolis are beyond grateful for the love and care that our friends at StoryCorps brought to this story. The resulting pieces that aired on NPR, and now the “Mother Mary” podcast, touched us deeply, and will forever exist as powerful tributes to our remarkable sister, her husband Ed Roy, Oshea, and the power of forgiveness.
There is no telling how many lives have been and will continue to be impacted by these beautiful StoryCorps pieces. The other day, Mary received a card from a teacher in Minnesota who uses StoryCorps interviews in her classes for teaching English to adult immigrants. She wrote that her students listen to the recordings and then discuss the stories with one another as a way to practice English. She also shared how her students with their own hardships could relate to Mary’s story, and how inspired they were by her resilience and compassion. This is the power of storytelling to connect us, heal us, and remind us of our common humanity. I am forever grateful for StoryCorps’ contribution to my friends’ lives, and all who have been touched by their story. As Mary is fond of saying, it’s “beyond belief”.
Mary’s community is rallying to help cover her medical expenses through a GoFundMe, which can be found here.