By Gordon Nary
Gordon: You are the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Louisiana, Missouri and Mary Queen of Peace in Clarksville, and also serve as Director of Prison Ministry for the Diocese of Jefferson City. You have been doing prison ministry for 30+ years. What initially interested you in prison ministry?
Father Lou: I was the pastor in a parish where the state built a new prison and in January of 1987 when it opened I got a call one day from the Bishop and he said, “Congratulations.” I asked for what and he said, “I hear you are the new Volunteer Catholic Chaplain at the prison that just opened there.” I asked, “Where did you hear that?” He answered, “I volunteered you.” I answered, “Gee, thanks,” never dreaming of how much I would come to mean that ‘thanks’.
Gordon: You are currently providing ministry in nine prisons within the 38 counties of your diocese for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. How often are you able to visit these prisons and approximately how many people do you serve weekly?
Father Lou: Personally I visit one of them weekly where I minister to about 20 inmates each week. Other priests and one deacon go to the other prisons and I am not sure how many people they see each week. We also have a program called REC (Residents Encounter Christ) based on Cursillo which is active in five of our prisons with a monthly Fellowship and either one or two three day weekends annually. Through this we minister to many more men and women averaging 60 to 90 on each of the weekends and 40 to 60 at the monthly fellowship meetings.
Gordon: Have you ever had the opportunity to convert inmates to Catholicism, and, if so, how has that conversion enhanced their lives?
Father Lou: I have either baptized or received and confirmed many in my years of prison ministry. We average two or three a year at the one I serve weekly. It has always enriched their lives and put them on a road that is opened to a better way of thinking and living with God.
Gordon: What changes have occurred in prison challenges in the past 30 years?
Father Lou: There is a great deal more difficulty in getting people approved for ministry in the prisons. While Central Office always speaks of how much volunteers are appreciated the staff at the individual prisons are not always as welcoming. They watch carefully and look for violations to exclude and the limits on what we can bring in have increased.
Gordon: If you had the opportunity to influence state and/or federal prison policy, what recommendations would you make?
Father Lou: We need to limit mandatory sentences, reduce sentences for minor offenses without violence, provide better medical service and much more counseling service, community re-habilitation service as alternative to incarceration would greatly reduce prison populations, and other criteria for probation and parole would be a positive for the people we incarcerate, providing hope and a light at the end of the tunnel for them and their families. Hope and a sense of proportion in the sentences given would improve the lives and outlook of the men and women in our prisons greatly.
Gordon: How important are volunteers in helping you in your ministry?
Father Lou: They are a very positive help to the inmates who see in them a support system beyond the limits of the prison setting.
Gordon: How can our readers make a contribution to your ministry?
Father Lou: I would say first of all pray for the huge number of men and women in our prisons, for their rehabilitation, and for their success in returning to the community successfully when their sentence is over. That is a great difficulty. Financial gifts to us could be sent to: Residents Encounter Christ, at Post Office Box 305, Louisiana, MO. 63353 and would be greatly appreciated since each weekend is self supporting and is a drain on the volunteers resources.
Gordon: Thank you for your extraordinary commitment to those imprisoned.