Diocese seeks prison ministers
Training will be offered for those interested in helping offenders, victims, families
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
The Diocese of Green Bay is inviting Catholics to respond to the gospel call to "love one
another as I have loved you," by serving as companions to criminal offenders, victims of
crime, their family members and affected communities as prison ministry volunteers.
"There is probably not another ministry that is challenged as much as prison ministry,"
said Mary Sherman, diocesan consultant for Pastoral Care. "It's not about revenge. It's not
about the punishment. It's about setting people free. This is a ministry of being present to
one another. The greatest gift you can bring is yourself."
Sherman, Dcn. Bob Vincent, diocesan coordinator of prison ministry, and Tom Lukas,
who spent his career working in corrections in California, are providing volunteer
training sessions to those interested in prison ministry. Volunteers receive materials with
information on such topics as relationships with offenders, ministering to prisoners and
small group guidelines. Each volunteer must also attend an orientation program at the
facility where they will volunteer.
Prison ministry is not for everyone. Necessary characteristics to succeed in prison
--An ability to see God in all those you encounter.
--A willingness to accept and obey the rules of each facility.
--An awareness of one's own gifts and limitations.
--An open, non-judgmental attitude and spirituality.
Responsibilities for prison ministry volunteers may include leading small group sessions,
one-on-one visitation, legislative advocacy, parish and community outreach, victim
support, prayer ministry, transitional support, Bible study and scripture reflection,
administrative support and music ministry.
Wisconsin is among the leading states in prisoner growth, so the need for prison ministry
is expanding, said Dcn. Vincent. In the next two years 10,000 more beds will be needed
in the state to house prisoners.
Dcn. Vincent has worked as a placement correctional officer and parole officer. He said
that understanding the demands on the prison staff is the first key in being successful
when visiting a prison.
"They are really busy, he explained. "The staff may be overwhelmed. Be aware that an
officer may be grouchy. You may have to wait, or you may not get in at all. It's important
to be cooperative and accept the situation."
Entrance may be denied for your own safety.
"We don't know what is happening at the time we get there," said Sherman. "Security is
the most important thing."
Prison ministry volunteers often find that many of the characteristics associated with
prisoners don't hold true, said Dcn. Vincent.
"You will find some very intelligent people in prison," he said. "A lot of prisoners know
the Bible very well, which can be intimidating. You cannot establish close relationships.
It is important to see them as people and treat them with dignity and respect, but there
have to be limits."
"You are going to meet people you like," said Sherman. "It's important to be genuine
with yourself and with those you encounter. Inmates live with masks. What you see may
not be the real person."
Prisoners may ask a prison ministry volunteer for help with a problem outside the boundaries of ministry. Volunteers must resist the temptation to provide assistance in these cases, said Dcn. Vincent.
"They have to learn to help them solve their own problems and God will help them do so," he said. "All we can tell them is if you stumble get up and walk again. All we can do is pray."
Non-verbal language is also important, said Sherman.
"We are there to listen to their journey," she said. "It is a skill to be with another person
and allowing that person to express pain. Silence can be the most valuable thing. We
must also remember that everything they say is confidential. We are building trust."
"Prison ministry offers you the chance to be a disciple," said Dcn. Vincent. "It is so
rewarding and so fulfilling."
What: A meeting for those involved or interested in Prison Ministry in the Diocese of Green Bay
When: 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 25
Where: Room 39 of Bona Hall on the diocesan campus.
Information: Contact Mary Sherman at (920)437-7531, ext. 8300 or e-mail: