Legion of Mary ministers to Stillwater inmates in aftermath of officer’s death

| Susan Klemond | October 16, 2018 | 0 Comments

Nancy Kiolbasa stands near the entrance of the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater. She and other members of the Legion of Mary visit the prison regularly to pray the rosary with inmates. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

On a Sunday afternoon in October, 14 inmates in the chapel of the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater listened as Jeanne McDonald, 60, read a prayer by Blessed Solanus Casey and highlighted two lines she thought they’d especially relate to:“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger.”

As a consequence of the July 18 murder of Correctional Officer Joseph Gomm, the men remain mostly confined to their cells. An inmate has been charged with the crime. Through a weekly rosary led by Legion of Mary members and other volunteers including McDonald, the inmates have an opportunity to pray for strength for themselves and fellow inmates.

“It’s a subdued atmosphere,” said Nancy Kiolbasa, 57. Like McDonald, she is a parishioner and member of the Legion of Mary chapter at St. Michael and St. Mary in Stillwater, which began praying with prisoners four years ago.

“We all feel bad about what happened,” Kiolbasa said. “It’s sad that everybody’s on this modified lockdown. It’s different now.”

Representing both spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the prison prayer service is one of many apostolates through which Legion of Mary groups called “praesidia” (Latin for “garrison of troops”) honor the dignity of human life under the direction of Mary.

Inspired by the teaching of their international lay apostolate, Legion members seek to uplift the spirits of some of the 1,600 inmates at the 104-year old prison in Bayport and help them build their sense of purpose.

Since they’ve resumed the prayer service following a more than month-long full lockdown after Gomm’s death from hammer blows and stabbing, Legion members say the chapel has been rearranged for their safety.

Legion members “leave their comfort zone” to help inmates grow in prayer, find Christ’s peace and love, and be examples for other inmates, said Legion member Stephen McAlpine, 50, also a parishioner of St. Michael and St. Mary.

The Legion’s purpose is to collaborate with Mary in bringing souls to Christ, and the prison ministry fruitfully presents Jesus to people, including inmates, said Father Randal Kasel, 45, the Legion’s archdiocesan spiritual director. Father Kasel is pastor of St. Michael, Pine Island; St. Paul, Zumbrota; as well as Holy Trinity, which includes Holy Trinity, Goodhue; St. Mary, Bellechester; and St. Columbkill, Belle Creek Township.

Visiting prisoners is one of many opportunities Legion members have to show mercy and foster hope, Ryan said. “To show that their life does matter, that God has a purpose for them,” he said. “Behind the prison walls, God still has work for them to do.”

The Legion of Mary was founded in Dublin, Ireland, in 1921. Inspired by St. Louis de Montfort’s writings on Mary, the Legion has roughly 10 million active and auxiliary members in 170 countries.

Established in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1941, the Legion has about 100 active members. They meet weekly and dedicate two hours to apostolic work. Its 400 auxiliary members focus on daily prayer, including the rosary, for Mary’s intentions and success of the apostolates. Members, many in their 50s, belong to one of 10 groups at local parishes.

With a focus on the spiritual works of mercy, Legion members help their pastors serve isolated or non-active parishioners with faith formation and prayer. Others serve in nursing homes, hospitals and pro-life organizations. Serving with the Legion is a means to sainthood, said Tom Ryan, 41, president of the St. Paul assembly, known by its Latin name, “comitium,” which is the Legion’s archdiocesan-level organization. Mary fosters Trinitarian devotion among Legion members, he said.

— Susan Klemond

“There is a need to help people find redemption, forgiveness and healing for prisoners,” he said.

Inmates attending the Legion’s prayer service range in age from their 30s to 60s. Catholic, Protestant or non-Christian, most bring a prayerful disposition and seek something meaningful, said fellow St. Michael and St. Mary parishioner and Legion member Tom Ryan.

They pray for each other, loved ones and other intentions, Kiolbasa said.

“They’re always praying for the people serving in the armed services overseas, for their safety,” she said. “It’s very touching. They’re keeping up on current events and have prayers for various disasters throughout the world. It’s surprising how their prayers are so global.”

The Legion’s prison ministry enhances the dignity of human life, said Father Kasel adding that prisoners have dignity despite bad decisions they’ve made, and need to find forgiveness and healing.

Visiting prisoners is one of many opportunities Legion members have to show mercy and foster hope, Ryan said. “To show that their life does matter, that God has a purpose for them,” he said. “Behind the prison walls, God still has work for them to do.”

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