Prison Ministry at St. Bernardette’s, Australia

The Parish is part of the Sunshine Deanery which consists of 8 parishes. We organise activities together and support and help each other in our ministries. Five of the priests are involved in Prison Ministry. Every Thursday one of us five celebrates Mass for the women prisoners. I have been going there for the last 13 years and I find it very rewarding and enriching. Most of the women are young and have children on the outside. Celebrating mass for them on Mother’s Day is sad. I could feel their pain. I am very impressed with their reverence towards the Eucharist. They take active part in the Mass. After a short homily, I invite them to share a prayer. Often the prayer reflects where they are at. I look around and some of the women have tears in their eyes. Even non-catholic come to Mass. There is a “tradition” that before one leaves the prison, the woman asks for a blessing. I invite her to come to the centre of the Multi-Faith Chapel and the others to gather around her and lay our hands on her as a sign of God’s blessing. It is God’s Grace touching her. The eyes are not dry.

The Prison has two Religious Sisters and a Lay person as Chaplains. This year during Lent we organised a Penitential Service which was well attended. It was a powerful experience for the women who probably for the first time heard that their sins were forgiven. I invited them to kneel during the prayers of forgiveness and then I helped everyone to get on their feet as a sign that now they were free and that God who picks them up and invites them to walk again. The feedback given to the Chaplains was very positive.

There is a tradition that when one of the women is due to leave or go on parole, she asks the priest for a blessing and a prayer. I ask them whether it is ok for me to put my hands on her head. The answer has been always Yes. Again tears in their eyes.

Fr. Denis goes and celebrate Mass and he is referred to “The Singing Priest” because he sings for them the song “Alabare”.

The Prison is called Dame Phyllis Frost Centre after Dame Phyllis who worked hard for the rights and conditions of women prisoners.

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