September 4, 2015

Inmates received into the Church say faith will guide them

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin baptizes Frank Wederzak during an April 22 Mass at the Putnamville Correctional Facility in Putnamville. Wederzak is an inmate at the prison. He and five other inmates were baptized and received into the full communion of the Church. Father John Hollowell, left, chaplain at the facility and pastor of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, assists in the rite of baptism. Bernie Batto, right, a member of St. Paul Parish, serves as Wederzak’s sponsor. (Submitted photo)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin baptizes Frank Wederzak during an April 22 Mass at the Putnamville Correctional Facility in Putnamville. Wederzak is an inmate at the prison. He and five other inmates were baptized and received into the full communion of the Church. Father John Hollowell, left, chaplain at the facility and pastor of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, assists in the rite of baptism. Bernie Batto, right, a member of St. Paul Parish, serves as Wederzak’s sponsor. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin has identified ministry to people incarcerated in correctional facilities across the archdiocese as one of six doors through which Catholics in central and southern Indiana can pass through to be missionaries of Christ to people on the margins of society and the Church.

On April 22, he witnessed to the importance of this priority by celebrating a Mass at the Putnamville Correctional Facility in Putnamville. During the liturgy, he received six inmates into the full communion of the Church.

Father John Hollowell, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle and Annunciation Parish in Brazil and the Catholic chaplain at the prison, was a concelebrant at the Mass.

“Archbishop Tobin is a person who does what he says,” Father Hollowell said. “It’s one thing to talk about the need to respect the dignity of people in prison. But to go there and show people that this is actually a priority of the whole archdiocese is a huge statement. He genuinely wanted to be there, and was excited to be there. He told them that, and you knew that he meant it.”

For their part, the inmates who participated in the Mass, especially those who were received into the Church, were excited that Archbishop Tobin took time to worship with them.

“To me, it showed that the Church cares about me just as Christ does,” said inmate Frank Wederzak, who was received into the Church during the Mass. “Archbishop Tobin coming shows that God is just not where things are good, but everywhere, good or bad.”

Many members of St. Paul Parish are involved in ministry at the prison throughout the year, and helped form the inmates to be received into the Church.

St. Paul parishioner Teresa Batto helps lead the faith community’s prison ministry and organized the April 22 Mass and has seen its effects, noting that more Catholic inmates are bringing friends in the prison to Bible study sessions, Masses and other liturgies.

“It energized the men to invite others to come,” said Batto of the Mass.

Batto, who has ministered at Putnamville for 20 years, said the ministry has affected her life of faith in many ways.

“They have been told by the courts and by society that they have to change,” she said. “I see them moving from this life that they had before [being incarcerated] to what they want to do when they get out. Seeing how they grow are beautiful moments.”

Wederzak said coming to know and embrace the Catholic faith has helped him rediscover peace in his life.

“I think in coming home [in the Church], I have found that peace that I had as a child,” he said. “And in reclaiming that peace, I can pass it on to others, not only here, but everywhere.”

Inmate Donald Foncannon, who was also received into the Church during the Mass, sees the faith formation he has received as a means to live a good life when his time in prison is over.

“I think developing a closer relationship with God is what is going to help me successfully transition and adjust into society, and help me with structuring a life once I’m released,” he said. “I believe these studies are pieces of the foundation for my faith and religion.”

Batto said seeing the men that she and other members of St. Paul Parish helped form in the faith being received into the Church was “a wonderful moment, a very triumphant moment.”

“But it was also very touching to see that they were so excited about entering the faith,” she said. “And they’ve continued to come. To see them continue to come is a very satisfying thing for me.” †

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