At the American Catholic Correctional Chaplains Association (ACCCA) annual summer conference this past August 3-5, 2016 in Waltham, MA, the Executive Council, together with the invited speakers and the participants who attended, conducted a 3-day discernment about the future of the ACCCA and national Catholic ministry to the imprisoned. On Friday, at the end of the convention’s “collective discernment” exercise, a decision was taken to suppress the ACCCA and start something new, arising from the embers of the old, that would be more responsive to developing trends in the national field of corrections, the diminishment of traditional Catholic prison chaplaincies around the US, and emerging alternatives to behind-the-bars jail and prison chaplaincy.
The new entity envisioned, potentially called “National Catholic Criminal Justice Ministries,” would seek to develop a “national” response (as contrasted with “local” and “regional” efforts) and set of resources and tools to engage six newer realities burgeoning in the world of correctional ministry:
(1) A national, ecclesial approach on behalf of our US Catholic Church. Undertaking a wider, “ecclesial” response by our national Church to the Catholics/people engaged in, imprisoned or otherwise supervised by the criminal justice system throughout the United States. This would mean undertaking a redoubled effort on maintaining the US Catholic Church’s awareness, presence, liturgy and sacraments, ministry, prayer and assistance to Catholics who are involved, imprisoned or under the supervision of the criminal justice system, the “Church-in-chains,”—as well as to the victims of crime and violence and the impact on the general well-being of our society and Church.

(2) An integral approach to the whole gamut of criminal justice activities, supervision and ministries. An emphasis on the whole range of ministries dealing with Catholics involved in one way or another with the criminal justice system and imprisonment in a jail or prison. This includes, in addition to traditional jail and prison ministries: prevention strategies; juvenile justice and alternative juvenile programs; immigration detention and ICE facilities; capital punishment, death row and solitary confinement advocacy and ministries; re-entry issues for returning citizens; the world of probation and parole; the families/children of the imprisoned and returning citizens; victims of crime and violence; restorative justice activities; and finally, advocacy for alternative sentencing measures and criminal justice legislative reform at the local, regional and national levels. Though the lion’s share of focus will probably always remain on traditional “behind-the-bars” ministries, we would seek to be more aware and active with Catholics and other citizens before and after imprisonment. There is a lot for our Church to undertake in the vast field of criminal justice!

(3) A redirection of resources from traditional Catholic clergy chaplains to Catholic lay volunteers. We want to shift the focus away from traditional, full-time, paid, “staff Catholic chaplains” (many of whom traditionally have been clergy--priests, nuns, brothers, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers) to the emerging host of Catholic volunteers who in recent times have been carrying the weight of criminal justice ministries on behalf of our Church, but often enough without the acknowledgement, training or support of their parish or diocese. This shift also includes a renewed effort to engage in succession-planning, so that younger generations will take up the charge as older generations retire and/or become unable to serve due to age and infirmity.

(4) Ministry to the ministers and volunteers who undertake criminal justice ministries. We hope to assemble a national resource that will provide critical and much-needed support to Catholic chaplains and volunteers over and beyond what takes place at the local level. There is a growing acknowledgement of and need for “ministry to the ministers.”

(5) A growing awareness of and ministerial service to all those “vocationally” involved as Catholics in the whole field of criminal justice. We envisage reaching out to those Catholics “vocationally” working in the field, but almost always left out or underserved by traditional chaplaincy resources, esp. Catholic correctional officers and those Catholics in the chain-of-command who manage and administer correctional facilities and programs; law enforcement, esp. police, EMT and first responders at the scene of accidents, crime, arrest or in general patrolling our streets; health care personnel in clinics and hospitals, correctional facilities and DOC state mental hospitals; and advocates, lawyers and judges.

(6) Reaching out to victims of crime and violence and offering them our Church’s ministry, support, healing and reconciliation.

Submitted by Fr. Richard A. Deshaies, SJ
December 9. 2016
Memorial of Blessed Juan Diego

OBK Returning Citizens HOME - July Progress Report

 OBK has been working since 2014 on developing a Christian faith-based organization that is dedicated to founding a "returning citizens home" that is dedicated to the full integration of formerly incarcerated persons into St. Clair County and the East St. Louis community.
 Over the last year our focus was to find suitable housing that would meet our requirements to house 5-6 men in East St. Louis since there is a real need. Many of the 30+ structures reviewed would not meet our requirements for a home (not a half-way or flop house). Since rehab cost in most cases was excessive we are planning to possibly build in the area working with the East St. Louis Planning commission.

OBK has met with the City Manager Courtney Logan to explain our Mission and Vision for a returning citizens home in the East St. Louis community. Mr. Logan was very receptive about the meeting and was able to make many suggestions about how OBK would fit with their new vision for the city. (We would recommend that if you have not read the recent book by Mr. Logan "Shaped by Fire" that you get a copy and learn about his life growing up in East St. Louis public housing and would go on to receive his law degree from St. Louis University School of Law. His story traces his roots which will eventually lead him back to work with his own community as the City Manager). City Manager Logan indicated that the next step was to meet with a representative of the East St. Louis Planning Commission and that was done July. The Planning Commission has outlined what they would like to see about moving forward with the OBK Home for Returning Citizens.

We are currently working to prepare a presentation to the East St. Louis Planning Commission on September 21 and will outline our plans that include reentry services, including supportive housing, life and career skills, and counseling services. This will include bringing in social and human services, faith communities and government agencies, to assist the men in the process of integration.
OBK is currently asking for the support in writing of prison corrections personnel, charitable & church organizations, judicial persons, political leaders and many other supportive organizations that know the need for assisting returning citizens to reduce recidivism.
The OBK returning citizens home will augment an already outstanding group of Catholic organizations that have provided assistance to the needs of the East St. Louis community. Several of these organizations would include the following: Catholic Urban Programs, St. Vincent de Paul, Griffin Centers, Holy Angels Shelter, Sr. Thea Bowman School, Catholic Day Care, East Side Heart & Family Center, Vincent Gray High School, Neighborhood Law Office, Cosgrove's Kitchen & SVDP Thrift Store and Catholic Cemeteries.
Our Brothers' Keepers of Southern Illinois will add to this outstanding group of organizations that will continue to provide the citizens of East St. Louis with resources to meet their needs while providing a need to assist the returning citizens that will come back to their home family and community.

We ask you to continue to pray for the OBK Home as we continue to build community support and monetary resources to complete the OBK Mission and Vision.

Father Christian Reuter, OFM, - Celebrates 50th Priesthood Anniversary

Fr. Christian Reuter celebrated Eucharist at his 50th Priesthood Anniversary on Sunday, June 26, 2016, at 11:00 AM, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (411 Palmer Road, Columbia, IL.). Co-celebrants were Bishop Stanley Schlarman (Diocese of Belleville Bishop in Residence), Fr. William Spencer, OFM Provincial Minister (Sacred Heart Province, St. Louis, MO) and Fr. Carl Scherrer (Immaculate Conception Pastor). Fr. Chris was especially grateful to all who participated in the liturgy and in particular Otto & Mildred Reuter and the many family members, fellow clergy & religious, parishioners, students, and colleagues who spanned 50 years of priestly service, especially those who can only be with us today in spirit. After the Eucharist all gathered for a luncheon in the Fellowship Hall.

Fr. Chris was ordained as a Franciscan priest in 1966 and served for 35 years in the Archdiocese of Chicago as a teacher and later as principal of Hales Franciscan High School. He also served as pastor of Corpus Christi parish in the inner city of Chicago that provided Fr. Chris a unique glimpse into the criminal justice system. Fr. Chris had chosen for his Ordination Prayer Card (June 24, 1966) the Hebrew 5:2 Scripture: "He is able to have compassion on the ignorant and erring because he himself also is beset with weakness." This was most appropriate as he recalls his years as a teacher, principal and now the Coordinator of Prison Ministry for the Diocese of Belleville.

In 2002, Fr. Chris switched gears and got involved in prison ministry in the Diocese of Belleville, IL at the invitation of the then-bishop of Belleville, Wilton Gregory (now archbishop of Atlanta). This calling fit the description of the ideal Franciscan ministry that is focused on -poor, crime-ridden, overlooked, and abandoned areas by both Church and society. Over the next 13 years he has served to bring a Catholic presence to the federal-state-local correctional centers spread over 28 counties in the Diocese of Belleville. He established a statewide network for prison ministries that comprises the Illinois six Catholic dioceses and serves as the Coordinator of Prison Ministry for the Diocese of Belleville. He continues to serve as a prison chaplain at several prisons and coordinates the clergy, deacons and lay volunteers to provide a Catholic presence at these prisons and jails. He speaks very often at national prison ministry gatherings on reconciliation, spirituality and restorative justice issues.

We are continually blessed by the presence and leadership of Fr. Chris both inside and outside the prison walls as he continually offers the call to serve with compassion and mercy the marginalized men and women in our prisons and jails.
God Bless Fr. Chris as he continues to bring "Peace To This House." (Luke 10:5)

2016 Illinois Prison Volunteer of the Year Awards

We want to recognize the 2016 Prison Volunteer of the Year awards that were presented to James Gibson and Fr. Mark Stec who serve at Lawrence Corrections and to Fr. David Uribe, OMI who serves at Pinckneyville Correctional Center. The awards were presented at the Illinois DOC awards and banquet in Springfield, IL on April 12 where the Illinois Program Wardens and Prison Chaplains representing the 28 state prisons gather each year to honor the 2016 Volunteers of the Year. During the assembly the 2016 Illinois State Volunteer of the Year is recognized for their outstanding service to the men and women of the state prisons.

We extend our congratulations to Fr. Mark Stec and Fr. Ron Weber who offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Eucharist on a weekly basis and James Gibson who conducts Scripture studies twice a month at Lawrence. Fr. Uribe offers Reconciliation and Eucharist twice a month and Lou Slapshak conducts a Scripture/RCIA group at Pinckneyville.

We appreciate all the faithful service of the clergy, deacons and lay persons to the men in prison and jails in the Belleville Diocese. There faithful service to those often overlooked has not gone unnoticed.

Prayerful thanks from Fr. Christian Reuter, Coordinator of Prison Ministry, Belleville Diocese.

How Can I Help Returning Citizens? Where Do I Start?

 There are many ways that we can all help "returning citizens" who are being released from prisons and jails.    One example is that on release they will not have the basic necessities to travel as they try to get home to      their communities.

 The students from Newman Center of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIUC) found a way and    traveled about 130 miles to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows to assemble thirty "St. Eugene Care Packs."

 The "St. Eugene Care Packs" are given to inmates at Southwestern Illinois Correction Center (SWICC) so that  when they leave and travel by bus, train or car to reach their destination they would have the basic  necessities (hygiene products, soap, towels, socks, shaving items etc.) as they begin a life as a "returning  citizen."

The Newman Center students wanted to help those that were under-served and searched for an appropriate project for the "Year of Mercy." The leader of the group, Jennifer Kramper, a campus ministry intern at the Newman Center contacted Fr. Chris Reuter (Coordinator of Prison Ministry for the Diocese of Belleville) and he suggested to contact Geri Furmanek (National Director of Mission Enrichment). Geri has an ongoing project in prison ministry to prepare adult care packs for men who are exiting SWICC in East St. Louis, IL.

The connection worked and a nine member group of students from the Newman Center worked all day to assemble thirty "St. Eugene Care Packs" that would be given to the men during the coming month when they leave SWICC as they travel back to their home community.
Prison ministry is an Oblate tradition going back to St. Eugene de Mazenod. The items that go into the care packs are all donations from friends, family, co-workers, Oblates and Oblates Associates. The various items have been cleared by Internal Affairs of SWICC and the total cost of each care pack is estimated at $50.
This is just another example of how needs communicated will surface many men and women who want to serve in prison ministry and many times do not know what and how to go about this service. We always welcome inquiries from clergy, deacons and lay volunteers and are always able to make connections with the many needs of the incarcerated men and women and those who are "returning citizens."

Reference: Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate - United States Province
"University Students Spend Service Day with Oblate Prison Ministry"