Prison Ministry: An Essential Part of Being a Parish Priest
How often do we listen to a friend’s problems and immediately try to find a solution? The instinct comes from a place of concern, and yet, is fixing really our role?
The same question might be asked of those serving in Prison Ministry. Msgr. James P. Moroney, Magistral Chaplain in the American Association and Pastor of St. Cecilia’s Parish in Leominster, MA, answers that question this way: “In Prison Ministry as in any other kind of ministry, as Mother Theresa used to say, ‘God asks us to love, not to be successful.’ So, we do the best that we can to love every person we encounter without the goal of fixing that person.”
Msgr. Moroney has been ordained for 42 years, and his experience is as varied as helping homeless teens through the court system and serving for thirteen years as Executive Director of the USCCB Secretariat for Divine Worship in Washington D.C. His service in Prison Ministry began when he was a young parish priest in Spencer, MA, where he came across families who were facing addiction and mental health problems, resulting in a population of homeless teens. Working with law enforcement as well as medical and legal professionals, he helped form the St. Timothy Guild, which serves young people who are homeless.
That was also when then Fr. Jim starting visiting the incarcerated. “On any given week in Spencer I would have just as many people in jail from the parish as I did in the hospital. So, at that point I decided, well, once a week I need to go to jail and to try to see what’s happening there.” His ministry continues after all these years as he visits the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction and works to help former inmates transition back into society.
“I see prison ministry as being one of the essential parts of being a parish priest, not an add-on,” he said. “If as a parish priest, you haven’t visited your folks in prison, then you’re not doing your job. Just as if you haven’t visited the shut ins, or you haven’t visited the people who are in the hospital, or you haven’t spoken to a poor person.”
Visiting with love, not trying to fix them. “They have to make their choices before God, but the choice that you make is that you are going to love them no matter what happens.”
If you would like to learn more about the American Association’s Prison Ministry programs, please email Craig Gibson, Chair of the Prison Ministry Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.