Category Archives: Prison Ministry

A Good Habit: A Conversion Story

St. Paul visiting St. Peter in prison
St. Paul visiting St. Peter in prison

We regularly get letters from prisoners, and some have renown as published authors, recounting their conversion stories and evangelization efforts behind bars. One man named John Ballentine recently wrote to tell us about a story of his that was published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review (available online).

In the article, entitled “The Power of the Religious Habit,” he recounts the impact that one small religious sister had on a prison simply because she was wearing the visible sign of her consecration to God. Sr. Mary Brendon Zajac, S.N.D., (or Sister Z as she is called) visited John or as he calls himself “this social leper in his Virginia prison.”

Here are John’s words describing sister’s entrance into the prison visiting room:

From the looks on people’s faces that day in the visiting room, it was evident that Sister Z’s habit conveyed to them something of the reality of the Incarnation, of the human linked to the divine, the subjective to the objective, the deeply personal to the institutional. The habit suggested that she was grafted onto the Vine, the supernatural cause of all natural beauty, natural life, and natural power.

To John, Sister Z was a light reflecting the Son, reminding us of the words of St. Francis: Preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words. In his story, John talks about a tough prison guard who was drawn to sister and experienced a conversion of heart. Not only that, after this encounter, John too had a different relationship with this guard, much to his friends’ astonishment.

Read the complete story here. And pray for prison chaplains and those they serve. Like the military, prisoners suffer from lack of presence, ie, lack of those willing to bring the light of Christ to them.

Monks in Blue

We at the IRL are thinking about getting more deeply involved in the prison ministry field. We get many letters from prisoners, mostly men, asking for donations of prayer cards, books and bibles. Some however are asking to do more for the Church. One group of men describes themselves as “monks in blue.” They live a monastic life in the confines of their cell and seek personal holiness while trying to be evangelists to others. Our main correspondent will be receiving a degree in theology this year through a correspondents course.

We got another letter today from a regular writer who relayed to us a beautiful story. He is a very active evangelist in prison with the heart of a lion. Their prison chaplain retired, so they have volunteers who come to distribute communion. Here is a story from last week:

Today there was a mixup and two groups were scheduled to be in the chapel at the same time; ours and the Buddhists. The Buddhists got there first. But, instead of going home, the volunteers asked if we could have it outside. We did and it was awesome. It is a powerful thing to have a Communion service right in the prison yard with the prison staff going on all around us and the devil couldn’t do a thing to stop us. This is my monastery and my mission field. God, is that cool!

These men ask us what they can help us do with their prayers. We sometimes give them the names of faithful communities who are struggling with vocations. These are very sacrificial men, seeking to be men of God in trying circumstances. How beautiful is their ministry.