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Dismas Ministry carries out Works of Mercy Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Pat Casucci, Catholic Herald Correspondent   
Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
Dismas Ministry Mission Statement

Dismas Ministries of Rock County shares God’s message of love and forgiveness through community-wide restorative justice.

BELOIT — A connection with people, stressing God’s goodness and love, often can help incarcerated persons on their journey back to a lawful, productive life.

Pope Francis has often invited Catholics to carry out the Works of Mercy, and in particular, to visit the imprisoned.

Parishes involved

In the Southern Rock County area, there are Dismas Prison Ministry members from several parishes actively involved in the program coordinated at Our Lady of the Assumption (OLA) Parish in Beloit. Currently, parish members include: OLA, St. Thomas, and St. Jude in Beloit; St. Stephen, Clinton; St. Mary, Milton; and St. John Vianney, Janesville. Also, there are members from Beloit College and the Knights of Columbus in Janesville and Beloit.

Dismas Ministry is based on the National Catholic Prison Ministry. It is for prison inmates and those affected by crime. The program focuses primarily on a spiritual approach with prisoners who want to understand and strengthen their relationship with God.

Named after one of the thieves executed with Jesus on Calvary, this mission is inspired by the criminal traditionally called St. Dismas, who prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom,” and Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

As this ministry was being planned in Rock County, OLA members had meetings with officials at the various local and state correctional facilities in Wisconsin. The officials approved the work and visits of the Dismas Ministry volunteers. This has resulted in prisoner visits at several county and state correctional facilities.

Pastor enjoys ministry

OLA Pastor Fr. Mike Resop shared his observation about this vital ministry.

“As disciples of Christ, we are constantly called to live out the Gospel through our words and actions, especially embracing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, which Dismas Ministry is all about — giving hope to those imprisoned and to journey with them as they re-enter into the community.”

He added that this ministry has been a new experience for him. “It’s one that’s been filled with many blessings,” he said.

What they do

Arlene McMorran, one of the OLA members who helped form this program, said the ministry offers an opportunity to visit the incarcerated or to assist in other ways, including writing letters of support to inmates and praying for them.

Also, the Dismas Prison Ministry advocates for legislation to improve the criminal justice system, which it states is broken in many ways. Dismas says that “many inmates who have addictions or mental problems are not being addressed.”

By using active listening techniques, Dismas Ministry volunteers stress goals and relationships and focus on changing an inmate’s behavior. Inmates can choose if they wish to participate. The volunteers are taught to recognize when more assistance may be required for a prisoner’s needs.

Dismas volunteers

Presently the following volunteers are members of the Rock County Dismas program: from OLA — McMorran, Les Blumreich, Deb Burns, Bill Jenkins, Bill Neufeld, Trees Tjoa, Steve Werner, and Steve Wolf; from St. Thomas — Mike Fallon; from St. John Vianney, Janesville — Sr. Lauretana Gorman; from St. Mary, Milton — Mark Warren; and from Presbyterian Minister — Carol Wickersham, Clinton, professor at Beloit College.

Several members visit Rock County Jail each Tuesday, helping inmates build a relationship with God through prayer, Scripture, and caring support. The Dismas volunteers also serve as “Circles of Support” for those released from jail or prison.

Sharing experiences

Volunteers shared their personal experiences serving with the Dismas Ministry. Each reflected empathy and their Catholic faith.

McMorran, a dedicated Dismas member since retiring as principal of OLA Grade School, said, “I feel it’s a calling for me. When I recognized the great need for this ministry, I strongly supported it. I’ve realized many times that through our ministry, someone has found God because it strengthened their resolve to forge a new or better life.”

She added, “What a joy to bring Christ to people.”

When the women visit inmates, they have an agenda to discuss with the female prisoners. “But, we discover they often want to share what has happened in their lives,” said McMorran.

The pastoral ministers may use the Gospel reading from the past weekend, a theme from a homily, as well as prayer. The Life Recovery Bible is also used, and inmates often request their own copy, said McMorran.

Blumreich, a longtime jail ministry chaplain and member of the OLA Parish maintenance crew, said, “They thirst for forgiveness and to feel God’s love. They’re so glad we come every week, and they make us feel very humble. To me, often the inmates almost become the face of Christ.”

Several years ago, former OLA pastor, Fr. Gary Krahenbuhl, encouraged Blumreich to participate in the jail ministry program. “He was instrumental to forming the jail ministry at OLA, and he encouraged people who were interested in it,” she said.

Deb Burns said, “For me, this ministry is a humbling experience. The people we visit feel so unworthy because of the poor decisions they’ve made and the things they’ve done. It’s important that we let them know God STILL loves them. We offer our support with no strings attached. We sometimes see a lot of tears, too.”

Urging involvement

There is an ongoing effort by the OLA Dismas Ministry group to meet with pastors and parish councils at all the Rock County Catholic parishes, asking them to become involved in this jail ministry and asking for financial support for materials such as Bibles for the inmates.

During a past International Day of Peace observance, OLA Parish and Dismas volunteers were awarded the Ambassadors for Peace Award presented by the Rock County International Day of Peace Committee.

On October 12 and 13, the National Catholic Prison Ministry Conference will be held in Milwaukee. The Rock County group is planning to attend the conference and assist as needed.

McMorran encouraged, “If anyone is interested in prison ministry, you might consider attending the conference. It is a moving experience.”

To learn more about how to become involved with Dismas Ministry, contact Arlene McMorran at 608-436-2619 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 
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