By Deacon Dan Leetch
Director of Institutional Ministry
There are four groups of Benedictine Oblates meeting in prison facilities here in the Diocese of Pueblo. Our diocese is home to 19 Prison facilities; four federal prisons, two private for profit prisons run by Community Corrections of America, and 13 Department of Correction facilities. Most are grouped in the Pueblo/Canon City area and account for 14 of this total.
The four Prisons with active Benedictine Oblate groups are La Vista (the female prison in Pueblo), Fremont (medium restricted), Crowley County Correctional Facility (a CCA medium level facility), and Delta Correctional Center (a minimum level facility). These four active groups meet at least monthly for a follow-up to the retreat held in these facilities directed by Fr. Matthew Habiger, OSB and Deacon Dan Leetch, OblSB in June of 2016.
Fremont, Delta and Crowley are the largest continually-meeting groups, meeting once a month to study the Rule of St Benedict, pray the Liturgy of the Hours in common, and listen and discuss a very interesting set of CDs from “Now You Know” media recorded by Thomas Merton from the time that he was the Novice Master at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. His 16 lessons focus on Chapter 7 of the Rule of St Benedict, the chapter on humility. These recordings are from Merton's actual sessions with his novices, recorded on reel to reel tape machines. It is a great joy to listen to Thomas Merton as he shares his insights on REAL humility in the midst of daily life in a monastery, even if the sound quality is a bit scratchy. In the best sense, Merton becomes our novice master as he leads us through an in-depth study of chapter 7. In addition, the oblate novices at these two facilities are also working their way through Michael Casey’s excellent book 74 Tools for Good Living which is an in-depth reflection on chapter 4. These two tools are providing excellent material for prayer and reflection for the "oblates in training," as well as excellent continuing formation for the existing oblates at these facilities. Deacon Price Hatcher is very involved at Delta, and Deacon Dan is involved with the group at Crowley. At the moment the group in Fremont is self directed.
The women at La Vista are taking a different path. It was decided to affiliate the women with the Monastery of St. Scholastica in Chicago, a group of Benedictine female monastics. They work with Deacon Dan and Rose Higgs, two members of the oblate community of St. Scholastica that meet in Pueblo. These women are studying the book, The Rule of St Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB. Sr Joan leads these novices through the traditional thrice reading of the Rule of St Benedict during novitiate. Each day a portion of the Rule is read, with a lengthy spiritual reflection from Sr. Joan. The women are finding this very informative and helpful in their daily walk with Jesus. The monthly discussion is lively and practical.
Please continue to pray for these four Benedictine communities in their formative stages. We in Colorado continue to be so grateful for the help and inspiration from Fr. Matthew during the retreats last summer. We look forward to growing the Benedictine Oblate in Prison program to rival what it was under the direction of Fr. Louis Kirby, OSB when he was director of this program from Holy Cross Abbey in Canon City. May he rest in peace, and inspire and aid us with his prayers!