May 22, 2015

Archbishop speaks of source of ‘freedom and joy’ during Mother’s Day Mass at Indiana Women’s Prison

Inmates at the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis line up to meet Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin as he greets Alicia Brown after a Mother’s Day Mass he celebrated at the prison on May 10. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Inmates at the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis line up to meet Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin as he greets Alicia Brown after a Mother’s Day Mass he celebrated at the prison on May 10. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Alicia Brown was grateful for two things this past Mother’s Day: that she got to spend time with her 2-year-old son, and that Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin celebrated her Catholic community’s Mother’s Day Mass.

“That was the first I got to see my son in a long time,” she said. And the Mass “was very peaceful and uplifting. We don’t get a lot of love brought through the fence.”

The fence Brown referred to is the one topped by barbed wire that encompasses her current residence—the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis, where Archbishop Tobin celebrated Mass on May 10.

Having the archbishop celebrate the liturgy allowed Brown and other Catholic and non-Catholic women at the prison to “celebrate with each other and what we are as mothers, and that God intended us to be the mothers of our children, even if we’re not there right now,” she said.

The Mass was part of the volunteer-run Catholic ministry at the women’s prison on the west side of the city. The ministry provides weekly Mass and three Bible study series a year.

While the Masses are primarily celebrated by priests of the Indianapolis West Deanery, the Mother’s Day Mass was special.

“This is the third prison I’ve visited during the Easter season,” Archbishop Tobin said. “One of the great joys for me during the Easter season is to be here with our volunteers and reaching out to bring the presence of Christ to this place.”

That presence was felt by Brown.

“The fact that he could come here on Mother’s Day brings a sense of peace and joy to us,” she said. “He is so peaceful and so great.

“And it means so much to us when volunteers come. When they come here and bring nothing but love and joy—it’s a great sense of relief and a sense of celebrating instead of being pushed down.”

The archbishop said his efforts built “on the incredible work of the volunteers to fulfill Jesus’ command, ‘I was in prison and you visited me’ ” (Mt 25:36).

That very passage was what drew Deacon Daniel Collier of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg to serve as the Catholic chaplain of the Indiana Women’s Prison in 2008.

“When I first started here as chaplain, my goal was just to get Mass [celebrated] here on Sunday nights,” he said. “Then the [Bible study program] grew out of that,” as well as offering the sacrament of reconciliation and an annual prison-wide ice cream social.

“I get to give each one of those ladies a ticket [for the ice cream],” he said. “And I get to give them a little blessing or a ‘God bless you’ or ‘Have a nice day.’ To be able to interact with them once a year, person-to-person, is awesome.”

According to Deacon Collier, there are nine Catholic women involved in the Bible study, and about 15 women who come to weekly Mass.

More than double that number turned out for the Mother’s Day Mass celebrated by Archbishop Tobin.

“The first word I got to say to you after the sign of the cross was the words that Jesus said after his Resurrection: ‘Peace,’ ” he said at the beginning of the Mass. “That’s what Jesus wants for us—to be at peace.”

Archbishop Tobin focused his homily on a topic the women may not experience much in their current situation—love.

“We have to listen carefully to what Jesus talks about [in the Gospel],” he instructed. “He doesn’t just say ‘love one another,’ but rather, he says twice, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 13:34; Jn 15:12).

“The freedom and joy that Jesus intends for us is the joy that comes from loving one another as he loves us. Not the other variety—that takes us to bad places.”

He also noted that certain kinds of prayer are better as well.

“Jesus said, ‘If you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you’ ” (Jn 16:23), the archbishop said. “We have to be careful not to address the Lord as a magician. He loves us too much to just give us what we want.

“If you say, ‘Lord, I trust you with my life, my life is in your hands’—then we can ask for whatever we want, and we’ll get what we need.”

Constance Tomich, an inmate who converted to Catholicism before being transferred to the Indiana Women’s Prison, said the homily “was just wonderful.

“I could listen to him all day,” she admitted. “He’s so down to earth, so loving.

“That he would choose to be with us in prison on Mother’s Day—we are so blessed to have him as our archbishop.” †

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