Being the Face of God in Minnesota’s Prisons
Fay Connors remembers the assignment for a college sociology class. She had volunteered to tutor in a woman’s prison, and the sound of the door clanging behind her made a lasting impression. “I knew I was getting out, and I was still afraid,” she said.
Later, as she and her husband, Kevin, were making plans for how they would spend their retirement, the idea of serving in prison ministry surfaced. But she thinks God had planted the seed all those years ago. “You know how God works. He puts these little biscuits or crackers along the way and starts leading you down a path that looks pretty disjointed at the time,” she said.
Fay and Kevin have been Auxiliary members of the Order of Malta Minnesota Area for six years and are involved in the Order’s American Association Prison Ministry Pen Pal Program. Before joining the Order, they participated on Charis weekend retreats in Shakopee Women’s Prison. Fay said the training was invaluable, and she uses the organization’s philosophy of “listen, listen, love, love” as she journeys with individuals affected by incarceration. “The whole point is that we’re just supposed to be the face of Jesus, to let people know that they’re not forgotten. Our primary goal is to listen, not to try to change people or tell them what to do. We let God take care of that.”
Before the pandemic, Fay also participated in Residents Encounter Christ (REC), a Catholic weekend retreat, in three other Minnesotan facilities and witnessed the good it did. “You think that a weekend isn’t enough time for someone to come to God, but you can actually see physical change in people,” she said.
Even a worldwide pandemic hasn’t kept Fay from her ministry. When volunteers were no longer allowed in the prisons, she and Kevin, with the help of others, put together 30-minute Ignatian meditation videos. They feature writings by a variety of people, including current inmates, and meditations by Fr. Miguel Kennedy, SJ. Young musicians are writing music to incorporate into the videos.
Fay sees the Holy Spirit at work both in her own life and the lives of the people she has engaged with, leading her to accomplish things she never thought she would and also witnessing the return of people she has engaged with who are looking for ways they can serve.
But the biggest way her ministry has brought her closer to God? “I know that miracle is not just a word. That it’s happening all the time, every day.”