From Annual Masses and dinners, to meals served to those in need, to the Lourdes Pilgrimage, the work that stems from the Order of Malta’s charism is well known. An important part of that charism is to bear witness to the faith. We do that in many ways, but one way that may not be as commonly understood is how we bring the Word of God to people living their lives in prison.
History of Prison Ministry
Prison Ministry began in 2007 when Bob Fredericks, pictured above, a member of the Order, founded the American Association Prison Ministry program. Several years later, the Federal Association of the Order adopted a Prison Ministry program similar to that of the American Association’s. From there, the Canadian and Western Associations working in Prison Ministry joined in. The four groups then formed a committee that was formalized as the North American Prison Ministry Apostolate.
History of Bible and Prayer Book Program
In 2007, the then Prison Ministry Committee of the American Association initiated a program of distributing Bibles, then later Prayer Books, to prisoners. That year, Bob Fredericks reached out to Catholic Book Publishing Corp. and purchased about 100 Bibles. “Prison ministry is evangelization,” Bob said. “People tend to forget that Jesus was a prisoner. Part of our work is to reclaim souls for Jesus Christ.”
American Association Funding
Each year, the American Association funds the purchase of several-thousand Bibles and Prayer Books, in English and Spanish, and distributes them to prisoners throughout the American Association’s areas. Often the requests for Bibles and Prayer Books are made by chaplains, however requests are also accepted from members involved in Prison Ministry, other individuals and the inmates themselves. The American Association always verifies that the books are going to inmates.
What began with a small number of books in 2007 has grown significantly. Today, the lots are purchased by the thousands and sent to many facilities within the American Association. The Bibles are customized with special covers in the Order of Malta’s colors and with its logo. “It’s grown significantly through the years,” Bob said. The books are stored in a local warehouse. When we receive a request, the order is processed, and fulfilled. The warehouse space and the shipping of the Bibles and Prayer Books are generously donated by a member of the Order.
The feedback Bob gets from inmates demonstrates their appreciation for the program. “We receive so many comments telling us how much the books mean to them,” Bob said. “Most people don’t understand the life of the incarcerated. Some prisoners don’t have a single visitor in the course of the year. It means a lot to them to know that someone on the outside cares about them.”
Although Bob stepped down as Chair of the Prison Ministry Committee in 2019, he will continue to manage the Bible and Prayer Book program through the end of 2020. Moving forward, Bob hopes the reach of the Bible and Prayer Book program will extend to additional prison locations. He also hopes more members will become involved in Prison Ministry, which he sees as central to the Order’s mission. “We as members of the Order of Malta make a commitment at our investiture for the remainder of our lives to help the sick, the poor and the marginalized and to give witness to the Catholic faith. Our work with prisoners is doing just that.”
If you would like more information about the topics in this article, contact Craig Gibson, Chair, Prison Ministry Committee.