Ray Bastarache’s involvement in Prison Ministry began with a phone call to an old school friend who just happened to be the sheriff at the Essex County House of Correction in Middleton, Massachusetts. After the facility’s chaplain told Ray about a group that gathered weekly to pray the Scriptural Rosary, he thought, “This might be right up my alley.”
A member of the Boston Area in the American Association, Ray, and fellow Order of Malta member, Harvey Rowe, became part of the group that leads the Scriptural Rosary at Essex County House of Correction. The Scriptural Rosary is a modern version of the way the Rosary was prayed in the late Middle Ages. A passage from Scripture is read with each Hail Mary. “It’s the Rosary, but it’s more than the Rosary,” Ray said. “We’re trying to infuse in them a little bit of an understanding of Scripture.”
Despite being on temporary hold due to the pandemic, the normal process is for the group to meet in two sessions every Wednesday evening, with anywhere from 15 to almost 40 attendees participating per session. Ray acknowledged there are challenges. He said sometimes for every inmate praying the Rosary there might have been 15 inmates looking out the window. “If only one was actually focused in, and reflecting on Jesus and the Gospel, then it was worth doing,” he said.
In the last number of years that they have been part of the ministry, Ray and Harvey have seen growth, both with more participants, and a sense of ownership. Instead of the ministry leaders leading the Rosary, the inmates often will lead the sessions themselves. “It’s a tremendous feeling,” Harvey said.
Ray said he could see the presence of the Holy Spirit in the jail as the inmates would ask him, and the other volunteers, to pray for them as well as for people in their lives. He sees his own growth in the Holy Spirit through his ability to view the inmates as individuals and to be more tolerant and understanding. “I’ve enjoyed this as much as anything I’ve done in my life,” he said!