But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.’ […] Thus, faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. NRSV Romans 10:14-15,17
This past year Sarah Hansman helped run the men’s Rosary prayer group at Massachusetts Correctional Institution through Boston College’s PULSE program for Service Learning. As a second year B.C. graduate divinity student, Sarah assisted in recruiting undergraduate students into prison ministry who were earning theology or philosophy credits. Sarah shepherded seven students into MCI-Concord as they volunteered and fulfilled elective requirements, meeting with the incarcerated in faith-sharing dialogue. Praying the Rosary formed the basis of their weekly evenings followed by watching “The Chosen,” an American Christian historical drama series.
Sarah, the students and the prison’s regular PM volunteers, including Knights Dick Howley and Bob Nephew, felt welcomed at MCI-Concord. The Tuesday night student group was often the only visitors these men received. She asks herself “What do I have to offer?,” because her life experience is in stark contrast to that of those she met in prison. She doesn’t believe she will ever stop serving in prison ministry and feels called to practice it. With this passion she is formidable also in her ability to attract others to follow her lead.
Today Sarah is heading Boston College’s ‘prison ministry initiative,’ connecting with student organizations and non profit community partners, offering a not-for-credit service commitment at MCI.
This program involves a once a week, one and a half hour commitment of unstructured time for ‘reading and conversation’ inside MCI-Concord’s free-standing, Catholic chapel once visited by Mother Teresa.
Sarah will select a Biblical verse and/or text from a spiritual writer from which to base their discussion. The men inside call it ‘family time’ and their ‘sacred circle.’ Sarah herself has never felt unsafe and has not once had to call for assistance from correctional officers.
“There is such a need for prison ministry volunteers and the only requirement we need to share Christ’s message to the imprisoned is an open mind and heart,” Sarah says. She recognizes a high demand for 1) speakers to educate future volunteers on campus about prison ministry, 2) post service discussion group leaders who encourage active volunteers to share amongst themselves learning opportunities, building a sense of community, and 3) for active service volunteers to work inside of prison.
Recently twenty-five B.C. undergraduate students signed up for one of Sarah’s informational sessions to learn how they could serve at MCI-Concord.
She lists the following guidance for recruiting PM volunteers:
• Reassure that no particular skills or experience are necessary,
• Emphasize that it is a unique and often inexplicable way to give back, and
• Stress that flexibility in commitment is a part of PM work and know that a certain amount turnover in volunteers is natural.
When Sarah’s program with PULSE ended with the semester, the men inside organized a going away party, saving up their pretzels and whatever else they could offer. Long time regular volunteers appeared shocked and amazed by this gesture, seeing how the students’ youth, vitality and commitment must have impressed upon them something lasting, mysterious and wonderful.