Diocese receives generous grant for Benedictine Oblate in Prison Program

By Katie Chrisman
Thanks to a generous donation from Catholic Extension, the Diocese of Pueblo was able to breathe new life into a longtime prison ministry offering, the Benedictine Oblate in Prison Program.

The $10,000 came as a part of Catholic Extension’s “Year of Mercy” grant. This special initiative offered in this Jubilee Year of Mercy aimed to provide 10 dioceses with the opportunity to better serve the poor, displaced, and vulnerable. The Diocese of Pueblo was chosen as one of the ten for its revival of this prison ministry program.

“I think that speaks to the strength of the program and how well it fit with Pope Francis’ directive to ‘Go out the peripheries,’” said Michelle Sandoval, grant writer for the diocese. “I also continue to hear from those involved that the Benedictine Oblate community is a ‘perfect fit’ for those who are incarcerated.”

Deacon Dan Leetch, the director of pastoral services for the diocese, oversees prison ministry in all 19 prisons within the diocese’s boundaries. He put together a program, made possible by the grant funds, to bring Father Matthew Habiger, OSB, a monk from St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas to the diocese for four retreats in four of these prisons.

Father Matthew prepared eight conferences, based upon the Rule of St. Benedict, followed by a time for comments and questions after each conference. He said it appeared that the men and women appreciated the opportunity to raise some of their real concerns related to living the faith and building a sense of community among themselves.

“As the retreat progressed, there was a palpable sense of growing trust and a desire to build a relationship with God through a regular prayer life, reading Scripture, and drawing upon the principles of the Rule,” Father Matthew said. “By the end of the retreat 100 percent of the participants signed up become an oblate”

Father Matthew said the oblate program is a natural fit with prison life. “St. Benedict wrote his Rule in the 6th Century for a group of men who were dedicated to their search for God as a community. The Rule sets up regular times for prayer and work, spiritual reading, meals, recreation. It stresses obedience to legitimate authority, humility, and growth in all the virtues. Granted the many differences, there are many similarities between a monastery (monastic life) and a prison.”

Deacon Dan Leetch explained that after the initial retreat, the inmates will have monthly follow-up meetings, where the Rule of St Benedict will be discussed, the gathered group will pray the Liturgy of the Hours (Breviary), and exchange support to one another in the struggle to remain faithful in their walk with Jesus behind bars.

Father Matthew Habiger encourages parishioners to get involved with prison ministry if they feel called to do so. He encourages something as simple as a being a pen pal or for those who have more time to commit, to do something more involved like serving as a regular volunteer. “We find that oblates in prison are very appreciative of whatever you do for them.”

If you are interested in finding out more about prison ministry, please contact Deacon Dan Leetch at (719) 544-9861 ext. 1117 or dleetch@dioceseofpueblo.org.