Answering the Lord’s Call to Prison Ministry in Naples, Florida, Area
At first, Leo Stec, a long-time member of the Order of Malta, didn’t think prison ministry was for him. His father had been a corrections officer for 35 years, and Leo had visited prisons, but he was afraid he would have trouble in the confined space. However, when Dick Copeland, former Naples Area Chair, said Leo was needed, he stepped up. Leo now knows he is meant to serve in this way. “Prison ministry is a calling,” he said. “I’m glad that the Lord called me to do it.”
The Naples Area Prison Ministry has been in place since 2013. Leo visits the Collier County Jail in Naples. Components of the program include Communion distribution, one-on-one prayers, prayer services, distribution of Order of Malta Bibles and prayer books and the coordination of bringing a local parish priest to the prison once a month for confession.
Leo’s ministry takes him to some of the most challenging populations of the prison, including the behavioral health units, solitary confinement, and the high security blocks. He said he sees God in each prisoner’s face. “In many cases these are lost souls,” he said. “I pray for the lost souls every day.”
Whether the inmates are Catholic or not, all are welcome to pray with Leo and David Joyce, who is the current Area Chair for the Naples Area, and also serves in prison ministry. “I welcome everybody to come out and pray with us,” Leo said. “It’s part of reawakening their faith.” He strives to give the inmates encouraging words, to let them know that the Lord is with them every day.”
Leo said he wouldn’t be able to do this ministry without the Holy Spirit. He said one of the prayers he says every day on the way to the jail is: “Holy Spirit, load my lips. Do the talking for me.” And he can tell from the feedback he gets from the inmates, the appreciation they have, the Holy Spirit is talking through him. “We are all just vessels for the movement of the Holy Spirit,” he said.