Mercy behind prison walls

The cover art for Mirrors of Mercy, a book created by the Catholic Bethany Community in Massachusetts' Norfolk State Prison
Ministry and Mission 1 2016

On the corporal works of mercy "to do" list, the one least likely to be fulfilled by countless Catholics during the designated Year of Mercy is that of visiting those in prison.

"I don't go to jails."

"There are no prisons in my vicinity."

"Reformatories are creepy."

"Penitentiaries are scary."

"Detention centers are depressing."

"What good would it do; they deserve to be locked up."

The list for avoiding this Jesus-recommended and Pope Francis-encouraged activity is as long as some criminals' rap sheets. But "fear not," the inmates at Norfolk State Prison are reaching out to the community in their own way during the Catholic church's proclaimed Year of Mercy, which runs to Nov. 20. 

The answers she received came in the form of essays, poems, letters, litanies and drawings from 27 contributors -- most of them inmates, but including a few men and women volunteers, and a chaplain. All of the respondents are members of the Catholic Bethany Community, the first lay chapter of the Dominican Order to form inside the walls of a prison and one dedicated to God's mission of mercy. The result of their contemplation and handiwork has been the publication of the book Mirrors of Mercy. The writers use only their first names in the book.

The Bethany Community takes its name from the Dominican Sisters of Bethany, formed by Blessed Jean-Joseph Lataste, a Dominican priest who ministered to women prisoners in Cadillac-sur-Garonne, France, in the 1860s. 

Full story available in the print and Kindle editions. Subscribe now.
A version of this story appeared in the June 3-16, 2016 print issue under the headline: "Mercy behind prison walls" .

Support independent reporting on important issues.

 One family graphic_2016_250x103.jpg

Show comments

NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

Commenting is available during business hours, Central time, USA. Commenting is not available in the evenings, over weekends and on holidays. More details are available here. Comments are open on NCR's Facebook page.