March 10, 2023

A mother’s prayer request for her baby helped to shape the archdiocese’s new coordinator of corrections ministry

By John Shaughnessy

Deacon John Cord will never forget the prayer request that a woman in prison made for her baby—and the impact that prayer request eventually had on a community.

It’s also the story of the impact that Deacon Cord hopes to make as the new coordinator of corrections ministry for the archdiocese. He succeeds Deacon Marc Kellams, who served in that role before he died in a traffic accident on July 29, 2022.

The story of the young woman and her baby unfolded in the Jackson County Jail in Seymour where Deacon Cord was “scared to death” when he first began his ministry there about nine years ago. But with each visit, he became more comfortable, eventually organizing Communion services where he invited the men or the women in jail to share their prayer intentions.

“It’s always eye-opening and heartbreaking at the same time to hear some of the things they ask to be prayed for,” Deacon Cord says. “They ask for prayers for their victims, prayers for their families at home, prayers for their children. One time, there was a young lady. She looked to me like she was 18 or 19. She said, ‘Can you pray for my baby?’ ”

The group did pray for the child, but Deacon Cord wanted to know more so he approached the mother after the service, asking her about the baby. What she told him stunned him.

She shared that “I just had this child while I was here in jail a couple of weeks ago.” When he asked her where the baby was now, she told him the child was with her 16-year-old brother who had dropped out of school to take care of the baby. She also said she didn’t know where her brother and the baby were living. Shocked by everything he heard, Deacon Cord vowed to himself to find the child.

“We went on a mad hunt for this child and this boy,” Deacon Cord says. “It turned out I was also helping at a hot-meal site there in Seymour. A young boy carrying a baby walked up and asked for a meal, and he wanted to know if we had any milk that he could feed to this child. The child was very lethargic.

“The brother was living in a tent in the woods with this baby. This was in the summertime. One of the people on our team happened to be a nurse. When she held the baby, she said, ‘We have to get this child to the hospital now. This child is extremely dehydrated and malnourished.’ ”

The situation was so desperate that the team arranged for the baby to be rushed to Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis.

“The child is fine now, and is now in foster care,” Deacon Cord says.

Still, that great news was just part of the story.

A reason to hope, a path to change lives

“It fueled our whole team’s fire to dive more into the poverty situation in Jackson County and Seymour and find out what’s really going on behind the scenes, especially in the lives of a lot of the people in jail,” Deacon Cord says.

“Then we started to dive into a lot of the tent cities around town. The net result was that we ended up building a really nice homeless shelter and staffing it up completely. It’s now functioning to help people get off the streets. It’s made an impact.”

Deacon Cord hopes to make that same kind of progressive impact in his leadership of the corrections ministry for the archdiocese.

His planned approach starts with a desire to learn the stories of people in prison, followed by helping them make a better life after they serve their sentence.

And he sees the key to reaching these goals being a community effort—which is why he wants to help every parish across the archdiocese create a corrections ministry.

“Our belief is that every parish should have a jail or prison ministry, an addictions recovery ministry, mental health ministries,” Deacon Cord says. “We generally don’t have those ministries in our parishes. And you just have to look at Matthew 25 to see why we need them. It wasn’t that it’d be nice if you visit me in jail or feed me if I’m poor. It was a commandment that Jesus gave us, that we must do those things.”

An important step in that direction is keeping the focus on caring about the individuals in prison, Deacon Cord says.

“One of the people on the team made a comment that one of the things we need to do is to make it OK for people of poverty and people who are incarcerated to be in our churches. To make it OK for us to want to be brothers and sisters to people who don’t have the things we have and to truly understand what their situation is.”

‘Christ always went to those in need’

Another important step in Deacon Cord’s vision is finding ways to counter two of the main factors that lead to people ending up in prison—generational poverty and generational drug use.

“We’re trying to form partnerships with people who specialize in education,” he says. “There’s a group called Bridges Out of Poverty that has a system called ‘Getting Ahead While Getting Out.’ I became a trainer for that. That course is all about what generational poverty is and how to take the first steps toward getting out of it. We want to go into the jails and prisons and start training people to not make the same decisions in their lives that keep them on the same path.”

Deacon Cord also wants to connect the archdiocese’s efforts to organizations that specialize in mentoring people as they leave prison and re-enter society.

“We start the process of making sure they have an accountability person, a mentor, who helps them with their decisions and guides them for a few years.”

It’s all part of an approach that started with a young mother’s prayer request for her baby, a prayer request that eventually led to the creation of the homeless shelter in Seymour and programs that help people leave the shelter with a job and hope for their future. Lives have been changed for the better because of that shelter and its programs. Deacon Cord is striving for similar results as he leads the archdiocese’s efforts to change the futures of people in prison.

His involvement in corrections ministry has already changed his life and his relationship with God.

“When God calls you to do stuff, you think, ‘Why me?’ But when you look back on it—and I’m still learning—you go, ‘OK, it’s starting to make some sense as to why you called me to do this.’

“Christ always went to those in need, who needed help the most. This has completely changed my thought process as to how I look at every person. We like to think we don’t judge, but we all do. It’s difficult not to judge when you see someone who is not like you. My first reaction now is, ‘I wonder what their story is? What’s really going on in their life?’ ”

(For anyone wanting to help with the corrections ministry in the archdiocese and/or create such a ministry at their parish, contact Deacon John Cord at

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