Note: During a chat on June 1, Brs. Leland, Brenden and I talked about the school year. It was interesting what everyone shared. Here is the third part of my highlights and struggles during my first year in theology.
Last fall, Br. Leland and I were assigned to the women’s prison for our apostolate work. Talk about trepidation. The state-run orientation warned about getting too close and falling into manipulative traps. I didn’t know what to expect. But the chaplain, Sister Maureen, put us at ease. She recommended that we encounter Jesus at the facility and be present to the women. The regular Mass participants wanted to be there. They were very friendly. We didn’t encounter any problems.
We organized the Advent and Lenten one-day retreats for the women. Here was the Oblate charism in action. Our founder Venerable Lanteri and early Oblates had visited and given retreats at prisons. Br. Leland and I would listen to Sister Maureen’s suggestions. An idea would form, grow and have a life of its own. The women praised the retreats afterward. We were tapping into spiritual graces.
My favorite moments were the small classes before or after the Sunday Mass. We used artwork to teach Mary and the faith. We jumped in on January to prepare two women to be confirmed on Easter. Toward the end of the spring semester, we showed a few episodes of The Wild Goose. There were graced moments throughout. My faith was growing as I was teaching and sharing it. After being confirmed, a woman looked up to see her son visit her for the first time in prison. She shed tears.
Sometimes, a small thing meant a lot. For Palm Sunday, I was making my usual palm crosses. The women were asking me to make one.
Throughout the year, Br. Leland and I would take turns picking the hymns and creating the liturgy programs. The music had to be happy to counter the gloomy atmosphere of the prison. I had to coordinate with Sister Maureen and Laura the music volunteer. Sometimes, there were a few changes. Other times, there were plenty. Some were early. Others were last minute. I had my share of frustrations.
We were sad that our assignment ended on May 6. I learned a lot. Our time of service was tiny to the sentences the women were serving. But maybe we were meant to provide a small steppingstone of faith for the women. A friend of the Oblates saw us at the prison and he said, “God must have loved you a lot to bring you here.”