Why Catholic? goes to prison at Carlisle, first in the nation

By Zoe Cannon
A Personal Reflection

Monday, Oct. 22, I observed one of God's greatest desires. A room full of people launching a plan to study their faith live, prayer life and renew their love of life in God’s name. Not necessarily a new concept, parish churches all over the world work toward this goal all the time.

Like most scheduled meetings, this required a lot of organizing, many phone calls, e-mails and coordinating schedules of the busy people needed to facilitate and participate. The commitment to attend was strictly voluntary. The purpose was very spiritually motivated, but it was the place for the meeting that made this gathering so uniquely valued for its efforts. We were assembled in the chapel of the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, in Carlisle, Indiana.

Sister Honora Nolty, O.P. of RENEW International in Plainfield, N.J., Benedictine Sister Geraldine Hedinger, director of the Office of Adult Formation in the Diocese of Evansville, and Father Bob Nemergut, chaplain at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, through the direction of Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger, who is a member of the Advisory Board for the WVCF, offered this opportunity of Catholic studies to the offenders at the facility.

Many parishes throughout the Diocese of Evansville will be participating in the Why Catholic? program in the months and years ahead; teams are forming during this month in our parishes to get the adult formation teachings ready for our parishioners during the Lenten Season of 2008.

RENEW International is a Catholic, non-profit organization dedicated to the work of parish spiritual renewal. It provides extensive trainings and resources with a strong emphasis on the Sunday Mass, family life, daily prayer and reflection on the Scriptures. It has touched the lives of well over 25 million lay parishioners in over 13,000 parishes in the United States.

Offering this series of studies about Catholicism to the correctional center is an inaugural event. Never in the 30-year history of RENEW International has this been available to this type of community.

Eleven volunteers and 12 offenders met for four hours to make decisions about how to proceed with all the necessary planning. Sister Honora is excited to assist in the process, as the success of this introductory program will be interesting to track.

Bishop Gettelfinger ministers to the men at Wabash, particularly on Christmas Eve and at Easter time. The mission is important to him as the leader of the diocese, and Father Bob Nemergut’s guidance is extremely vital to the spiritual growth of the men residing there. I and other volunteers spend time with Scripture study and Communion services on a weekly basis to help fill the need for spiritual awareness.

The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy teach us valued lessons, to counsel, admonish, forgive, instruct, and pray, and to visit the imprisoned. Bringing the Word of God to those who are incarcerated is an experience like many ministries, very rewarding.

Evangelizing in a maximum-security facility with 2,200 men can be a challenge, not only for the volunteers, but for those who live there every day. It is the love of God that brings it all together. This is a privilege because we know from Christ’s teachings, that ones actions are significant to one’s salvation.

Yes, these men are in prison, but information should always be free and offering these teachings to them is a satisfying venture.

I look forward to witnessing the results of the Why Catholic? program as I participate with my fellow parishioners at Sacred Heart Church in Vincennes and with the men searching at WVCF.

Reprinted with permission of The Message, Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Evansville. October 26, 2007