Volunteer Spotlight – Meet Paul

A seminarian at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, Paul has been a Dismas Ministry volunteer since August of 2018.  He comes in weekly to package bibles, prayer books, and other materials for chaplains and prisoners.  Previously, Paul had been working at another non profit organization.  Then he met Dismas Ministry founder Ron Zeilinger, and learned about the organization.  Paul decided that he wanted to do something different with his ministry.  The founder of the SCJs didn’t restrict their members’ apostolate, but wanted them to be open to all the needs of the world. So Paul started volunteering at Dismas Ministry in the fall semester.  He feels that it is an easy job – “the hardest part is choosing the right sized box!” – and he likes that packaging is product-oriented.  More importantly, he finds that this ministry gets him out of his comfort zone, and feels like he is doing something useful.

As part of his ministry, Paul has had the opportunity to read letters from prisoners.  In doing so, he can feel the people behind the letters and hear their desperation.  They truly need bibles and prayer books as they struggle to turn their lives around.  They don’t have anything and can’t afford the materials we provide. So he feels good that he can assist them and be part of something that makes a difference.

You can give them hope, help restore their dignity, and remind them they are not forgotten.

Inspired by his volunteer experience, Paul chose to minister directly to the incarcerated during the second semester of the school year.  He visited the juvenile jail once a month, and was able to actually see how they used Dismas materials.  The most popular resources were the study courses and prayer books – all unique to Dismas Ministry.  He discovered that the prisoners using these materials experienced a personal sense of accomplishment and found purpose and meaning to keep them going.

Paul – Working hard at the Dismas Ministry office, packing bibles to send to inmates

When asked what he would say to someone interested in volunteering with Dismas Ministry, Paul said he would encourage them to get involved because it is a great ministry.  He said we need to reach out to the incarcerated because they can’t reach out to us.  By volunteering, you can help prisoners experience God’s love, and that can help them let go of the shame and guilt.  You can give them hope, help restore their dignity, and remind them they are not forgotten.

 

If you would like to get involved, please contact Dismas Ministry at 414-486-2383 or email at dismas@dismasministry.org.

 

Franciscan Friar Receives Award Posthumously for Service to the Incarcerated

The St. Dismas Award is given annually, by Dismas Ministry, to persons in recognition of their outstanding service to the incarcerated. The very first award was presented posthumously in honor of Rev. Christian Reuter, OFM.

Although in a hospital bed, Fr. Chris was doing what he did for many years – ministering to the incarcerated and their families. He died on June 30, 2018, following complications from back surgery. He was 79.

During the award ceremony on February 14, 2019, at the St. Anthony Friary in St. Louis, MO, Provincial Minister Rev. Thomas Nairn, OFM, told the family, friends, friars and representatives of Dismas Ministry gathered for the award ceremony: “When I went to see him in the hospital, he was still carrying on with the ministry. As I entered his room, I found him in bed talking on the phone with a woman whose son was in prison. He waved me in as he finished telling her: ‘I can’t visit him – I doubt they will let me out of the hospital. But I will find someone who can see him.’ He spent the next several minutes making calls until he found someone who would fulfill his promise.”

After being ordained as a priest in 1966, Fr. Chris served for 35 years in the Archdiocese of Chicago as a teacher and then, as principal of Hales Franciscan High School. Serving a predominantly African American Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Chicago, he was also the pastor of Corpus Christi Parish. This experience in the city of Chicago gave him a unique glimpse into the criminal justice system. “Church ministry in that environment often took me into police stations, courtrooms, prisons, and parole hearings,” he recalled.

Eventually, Fr. Chris decided to become involved in prison ministry, and in 2002 he arrived in East St. Louis, Illinois, to start his new work. When he first began in prison ministry, he was challenged by the grim prison setting, as well as bare prison chapels. Nevertheless, as he performed his ministry in the seven prisons of southern Illinois, he discovered that caring and respecting for prisoners brought light into an otherwise dreary environment.

He always kept in mind Luke 10:5, where Jesus teaches his disciples to say, “Peace to this house,” when they visit a home. Fr. Chris once shared, “I say it every time I pass through the bars and razor wire of a prison gatehouse.”

A few years ago, Fr. Chris and a number of lay and ordained prison ministers created Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois, a reentry project to assist returning citizens when they leave prisons in the Diocese of Belleville.

“During my time as director of Dismas Ministry, he was a great mentor. I could always turn to him for help. He had a huge heart and that is where we found our common ground and our friendship. He listened to the heart of Jesus and truly cared for the outcast, marginalized and imprisoned,” said Ron Zeilinger, founder of Dismas Ministry.

According to Sr. Rose Rita Huelsmann, SSND, board member, he truly was a presence and an advocate for those in prison. He did his research and knew the justice issues.

Fr. Chris was beloved by many people, especially the friars, family and friends who gathered to celebrate his life and ministry to the poor.

Merry Christmas

Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16-14)

Love your neighbor. It’s what Jesus calls us to do. Just as we are part of one Church family, we are part of one human family.

Each time we pray for another person, each time we offer food or clothing to someone in need, each time we offer encouragement, each time we smile at a stranger – when we show kindness to our neighbor, we are connected in faith and love.

Jan Gilberto knows this. She is a woman of faith. And, like you, she is a friend of Dismas Ministry. For more than five years, Jan’s prayerful and financial support has helped sustain our mission.

When asked why she supports this outreach to prisoners – providing Catholic bibles, prayer books, study courses, and rosaries to the incarcerated – Jan is reminded of the story of St. Dismas, and she shared this:

Jesus turned to him. Dismas – a thief – responded to the tremendous grace from being next to Jesus on Calvary. He was the first to go home to heaven. What happened to Dismas is still relevant. By giving someone a bible or other spiritual materials they need, it is providing them with a way to change their life. Don’t let them languish in their incarceration, but, instead, offer them hope. Jesus, in His own agony, reached out to Dismas. It is an example for all of us.

We, at Dismas Ministry, cannot do this work without support from our friends and benefactors…like Jan and you. Together, we give the gift of hope to women and men behind bars who are in need of God’s love and mercy.

For your loving and prayerful support of Dismas Ministry, and those we serve, throughout the year, please be assured of our gratitude and prayers for you and your loved ones throughout this Christmas season.

 

 

 

May peace and joy be yours now and in the New Year!

Ms. Tyler Curtis

Executive Director

Notes of Gratitude

On this Thanksgiving day we share notes of gratitude from those we serve!

 

At Dismas Ministry we are grateful for your generosity, and the impact of your giving – to help others find a path to God.

In 2018, Dismas Ministry will send more than 31,000 Catholic bibles (in both English and Spanish) to prisoners. Besides Catholic bibles, Dismas Ministry provides other spiritual materials for prisoners including recovery bibles.

This Giving Tuesday (November 27), Dismas Ministry is hoping to raise $3,750 to purchase 300 special recovery bibles for inmates.
To learn more about Giving Tuesday and how you can help. Click here to learn more about the services offered by Dismas Ministry and how you can help.

Rachel’s Story

While Dismas Ministry provides over 37,000 Catholic bibles to inmates each year, we do, on occasion, receive requests for the Life Recovery Bible. This year we have received requests for approximately 300 Life Recovery Bibles. The cost for these bibles is considerably more expensive than the Catholic bibles we provide. For that reason, we are featuring the Life Recovery Bible as a focus of our Giving Tuesday campaign.

Recently, we received a letter of thanks from a woman prisoner who is very grateful for the gift of her Life Recovery Bible. We want to share her story, in her voice, to help you understand the need for these bibles.

Here is Rachel’s Story.

My name is Rachel, I am 34 years old and a single mother of five beautiful children. On April 6, 2018, I was arrested and began my incarceration. I have struggled with a drug addiction throughout most of my adult life and have had to endure some serious struggles and trauma. I’ve tried very hard to rely heavily on my belief in God for strength and guidance through the difficult times, but my addictions have won out.

When I was arrested, my addiction was at its peak. Satan had his claws in me and, if I hadn’t been detained, my death was imminent. During the first weeks I was in the jail, I struggled with my demons. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was a shell of the person I used to be. I knew I was experiencing a spiritual death. I felt guilty and ashamed of who I was, what I had done, and that I had let my children down. I hated myself and I didn’t want to live.

When the volunteers came to jail for church, I knew I needed to attend. I felt empty inside, but I knew that even at my lowest the Holy Spirit was still at work. I felt God’s love surrounding me at church. We were asked if we would like to receive a Bible, a Life Recovery Bible at that, and I knew that God had made this happen.

I am not my disease. God is working on my heart, my character, and my soul every single day.

I received my bible on April 15, 2018. Every day since then I have started my day with a prayer, a 12-step devotional from my Bible, and meditation. There have been days that I feel like nothing good resides in me. During these low days, I’m able to open my Life Recovery Bible and remind myself that I am not my disease. God is working on my heart, my character, and my soul every single day. As long as I keep my eyes on him, I cannot fail. I know that without my Bible, my daily walk with God would have fallen apart.

I was since sentenced to two years in prison. The only possessions I was able to take with me were my Life Recovery Bible and an envelope of pictures. When I arrived at prison, I never felt so lost and alone in my entire life. But, the easy-to-read devotionals, serenity prayer, and reader’s guide on every page of my Bible has made it easy to find comfort and connect with my heavenly Father.

I just want everyone who is involved in funding and distributing these bibles to know what a huge blessing mine has been in my life. When I had nothing, when I was nothing, I learned that my Father is a King. I learned to hold my head high because I am loved — despite my sins, nothing can come between God’s love for me!

Thank you — a million times over.
Rachel, an inmate

Please consider a gift to Dismas Ministry to help inmates like Rachel.
#GivingTuesday (November 27, 2018)