I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving Day and month and year. Sometimes it is difficult to see what there is to be thankful for. But then I remember our priests in prison and I am so thankful that they are in my life. Our Lord seems to have put us together and here we are. I am the better person for knowing and loving each and every one of them.
Tears fall when as I remember family and friends who are no longer here. I just wish I could tell them now how much they meant to me. We always seem to think that our loved ones will be with us forever. We dare not think of the unthinkable. Everyone in my small family is gone. I had no siblings. My mother had 6 siblings and they are all gone. My last aunt, Aunt Bess, died six years ago at 98 yrs. of age. I used to tell her that she had to make it to 100. She tried. During her last stay in the hospital I told her that it was just the two of us left and she could not leave me. She nodded. And she tried. Two weeks later, the last time I saw her, I realized how selfish I was being. I told her that it was OK to leave me. I said, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are waiting to greet you. It’s OK to leave me. I’ll be fine.” She smiled and nodded, and within hours she was gone. She and I were the ones other family members looked to for advice. She was my support and then she was gone. But I was not alone, not without love.
The Lord blessed me with “other parents,” Mama Gladys (Mother’s best friend) and Daddy Dougie. I love those two people. They have always introduced me as their daughter and they have taken good care of me during these retirement years. They are both 86 yrs. old. I have “sisters” Bernie and Joyce who have been best friends of mine since grade school at St. Bridget’s. Bernie and I entered first grade together. They were my support system during those dark days when I felt so alone in the world.
I threw myself into volunteering: animal handler at the zoo; Crown Hill Cemetery tour guide; volunteering for everything at the Women’s Prison, teaching a weekly class there, and establishing a Prison Ministry at my church. And then because I asked a question some incredible priests responded and my life changed. I had a new ministry. Somebody needed me. We hugged each other through our letters as they poured out their hearts and souls to me.
I have become their advocate. I will never let another diocese ignore a priest’s health if I know he is sick in prison. I will beat down the doors of some bishop’s office to get medical care for him. I promise I will never let a diocese ignore their health as it did another priest who died on my watch. Dolores Crowley, another dear sister, called the diocese several times trying to get medical help, but she was ignored. When I learned of that priest’s death – due to mistreatment in prison and lack of medical care – I was shocked, hurt and outraged. I promise them by all that is holy that I will never let that happen again. Church officials tremble at the thought of SNAP or VOTF knocking at their doors. Just wait until I call upon them.
I will tolerate no mistreatment of my fallen angels and I will storm heaven and earth to see that justice is done. They are serving prison sentences as their punishment according to law. That does not include additional punishment such as mistreatment by guards or other inmates; deliberate withholding of medical treatment; food that animals won’t eat, or the lack of Catholic Masses or access to Catholic priests and/or Deacons and Catholic materials. I have only to know!
Last year one of my fallen angels had open heart surgery. I was extremely worried. I didn’t hear from him for weeks. I then began calling the prison. At first they refused to give me any information about him since I was not a family member. I only wanted to know if he had survived the surgery and was back at the prison. I had to rant and rave and threaten to contact everybody from the governor down. Finally I was connected to the medical unit and the nurse did not want to give me any information, but he realized that I was not going to go away quietly. There would be blood! He then told me that the priest was back on his pod. That meant he was out of the hospital and apparently doing well.
A few days later I received a letter from Father.
“Nurse H. told me some woman was asking about me but ... as per prison policy he was not able to tell you anything. I wondered who was so caring. I did thinkit might have been you or Dolores. I had the heart surgery..The cardiac team was so supportive – I was a patient first and not ever a prisoner to them. We all prayedbefore the surgery. They also waited for a priest to visit and give me the Sacraments before they would do the surgery!”
Yes, Dolores Crowley and I are hell on wheels (and off wheels too, truth be known!) She cares as much about priests in prison as I do. Twice we have visited a priest in prison in California. Last month we drove to Ohio to visit another priest in prison, and on her way back to CA she stopped to visit Fr. K. in Texas.
She had been told that she could not have a contact visit with him since she was not a relative or a spiritual advisor. She reluctantly accepted that. When she arrived at the prison amazingly enough she was allowed a contact visit with him for 4 hours! Methinks Dolores could talk her way out of hell! Surely she won’t have to, but she could!
And so, this Thanksgiving month I am most thankful for all the fallen angels in my life. I thank them for coming into my life. I thank them for their love and their prayers. I am humbled and honored. Yes, tears still fall, but they are tears of great humility and thankfulness.
As I always say to priests in prison - Never forget: God loves you and so do I.
The Lord’s Peace, always