Deacon Martin also preaches the Gospel, and the men have a chance to think about it and ask questions.
However, they miss a priest, he said. “The men are yearning for confessions,” he noted.
Prison can be a spiritually transforming time for offenders, said Rush City Correctional Facility chaplain Gail Nord. In the seven months she’s been working there, she’s seen the role faith plays in the lives of some of the men.
“It can give them hope, it can give them meaning, it can give them a foundation to deal with all the challenges of day-to-day life in a place like this,” she said.
The archbishop’s visit was significant to the men because it was a sign that they are remembered, “particularly at this season, which is very difficult,” she said, as men are away from family and friends during the holidays.
Being at the correctional facility has deepened the faith of 51-year-old inmate Jeff Bauer, he said.
“I’m very strong in my Catholic beliefs,” he added. Bauer encourages men to join him for Mass and talks about the Scriptures with them. He also prays the rosary every night, he said.
‘Joy and happiness’ possible
Although this is the first time Archbishop Nienstedt has visited a prison in the archdiocese, he visited prisons while he was bishop of New Ulm and auxiliary bishop of Detroit.
While living at the North American College in Rome, he also visited English-speaking offenders every Saturday at Regina Coeli, a prison named after the convent whose building it repurposed.
“They literally turned the [monastic] cells into cells,” he said. “There was no central heating, no central bathrooms. . . . It was overcrowded,” he recalled.
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“So early on, I knew this was a very valuable ministry,” he said.
During Mass, Archbishop Nienstedt prayed for the men and their families. “There were looks of concern on their faces, and skepticism, I suppose; unhappiness,” he said. “What a wonderful Sunday to come to preach joy and happiness.”
Archbishop Nienstedt said he would be “very willing” to visit other correctional facilities within the archdiocese. “I think that’s an important thing for a bishop to do on a regular basis,” he said.
A rewarding ministry
On this particular Sunday, Deacon Martin was accompanied by three volunteers, including Jim Noon, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Rush City who has been visiting prisons for 10 years, he said.
Dan Chippendale, a parishioner at St. Gregory in North Branch, has also been helping with Mass or Communion services once per month.