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Prison-Ministry

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					Ministry to Prisoners
As the founding ministry of our Australian mission, our ministry to
prisoners holds a special place. From January 1839, within weeks
of their arrival in Sydney, until the present time, the Sisters of
Charity have maintained an apostolate of ministry to prisoners.

In this, sisters have followed the example of Mary Aikenhead who
first began this work in Dublin in 1821. Like her, the pioneer sisters
were accustomed to seeing suffering in their visitation of the poor,
the sick and prisoners. In Sydney however, they went on their
mission of love in a very different environment - in midsummer. In
the heat of January they set out for Parramatta and the legendary
horrors of the Female Factory (or Penitentiary). Their inspiration is
expressed in words echoed by grateful prisoners:

             "I was in prison and you visited me" (Matt
                               25:36)


Though there was growing public demand in Britain for an end to
convict transportation, and a Committee of the House of Commons
in 1837-38 had reported that it had been ineffective in deterring
crime but remarkably effective in still further corrupting those who
underwent the punishment, the practice was not officially abolished
in New South Wales until 1840. The first task of the Sisters was to
bring Christian love into one of the worst remnants of an evil
system - a prison in which up to eight hundred women lived in
degradation and misery. The work of the Sisters seemed to bring
instant acceptance and improvement. In a letter to Archbishop
Murray in Ireland on March 5, 1839, Dr Polding said that, within
only three weeks, an almost miraculous change had taken place in
a gaol that had seemed full of hopeless misery, resentment and
despair.

Meanwhile, the sisters were also visiting the gaol at Darlinghurst,
and, when the three pioneers moved to Hobart, they continued this
valuable work there. In 1920, the Darlinghurst prison was replaced
by Long Bay Gaol where the sisters have ministered ever since.
An article in The Catholic Weekly in 1967 offered a moving
testimony to the work of the sisters at Long Bay:

            The Sisters of Charity do a mighty work at
               Long Bay. There are men who have
               returned to their families and found
            acceptable places in society as a result of
            their work. Indeed for many of us the only
                 friends we had were the Sisters.


In 1967, as Sister of Charity was appointed to the staff of the Gaol
Chaplaincy and, in 1987, another became Assistant Director of
Nursing at the Long Bay Gaol Hospital. In 1985, Sister Germanus,
worthy descendent of the pioneer sisters praised by the early
Governors of NSW, was presented with a citation by the Minister
for Corrective Services in recognition of her outstanding work for
prisoners over a period of thirty years.

The Sisters of Charity have continued their ministry to those in
prison. During this period we have been able to adapt to the
changing administration of prisons and the consequent change in
the needs of prisoners and their families. We have played a
significant role in the formation of both the State and National
Catholic Prison Ministry and have been very much involved in
advocacy and prison reform.
 In order to assist in meeting the
needs of an expanding and more professional Chaplaincy Service
in New South Wales a Sister of Charity was appointed as its first
Administrator in January 1988. She provides a wide range of
administrative, secretarial and pastoral services, and liaises with
the Department of Corrective Services and the Chaplaincy
Coordinator at many levels. She is able to minister to staff,
prisoners and families in the absence of Chaplains or in
emergencies.

The present Sister Administrator was very much involved in
establishing Catholic Prison Ministry in 1990. She is also the
appointee of the NSW Bishops Conference on the Civil
Chaplaincies Advisory Committee. This Committee has a
negotiating role with Government Departments for Chaplaincy
needs of the Churches and is the official channel through which
recommendations for the appointment of Chaplains are
made.
 The growing importance of this has not blinded us to the
continuing need for face-to-face ministry. During this period we
have provided Chaplaincy at Emu Plains and Parramatta, at both
the Mullawa Women's Prison and the Metropolitan Remand and
Reception Centre at Silverwater. This latter is a 900 bed facility
situated in Silverwater a suburb in Sydney (next door to the
Olympic site).

In Victoria, ministry to those in prison has not had quite the long
tradition of New South Wales and Tasmania. However, over the
years we provided a chaplain at Pentridge for prisoners with
psychiatric illness or who had an intellectual disability. With the
growth of Catholic Prison Ministry there was a dedicated group of
people who would come to the prison each weekend to be part of
the official Liturgy for mainstream prisoners and the Service
provided by this Sister of Charity for those in G Division. The
Service was well attended by men of many or no religious
affiliation. At Christmas, a group of young people would come to
sing carols and special permission was given for a family
celebration.
 We reached out to meet the educational needs of
prisoners, particularly young men, Aboriginal prisoners and those
with intellectual disability and where possible, kept contact with
some of the more vulnerable prisoners when they were released.

The Sisters were active in preparing submissions and educating
the community about prisons, prisoners and the justice system.
We ran seminars, spoke to adult groups and Secondary classes
and published Justice Resource Kits for adults and schools.

As in New South Wales, Sisters in Tasmania have been visiting
prisoners from the very early days. A Sister took over this role in
1969 and with various companions had been a Prison Visitor at
Risdon until during a visit there in 1997 she had the stroke, which
signalled the beginning of the end of her life. She was ninety years
of age!
 Our ministry in Prisons has also continued through our
Health Services. In 1979 St Augustine’s Ward in St Vincent's
Hospital Melbourne was opened through the initiation of the then
Sister Administrator. The Ward afforded a degree of human dignity
to the patients who had in the past been accommodated,
sometimes handcuffed and with two Prison Officers, in the general
wards.

In 1999 St Vincent's at Port Phillip Prison was opened. This was
the first time we were involved in administrating and managing a
hospital within a prison. Sisters and staff from St Vincent's Hospital
would visit the hospital, particularly in the areas of mission
education of staff and critical risk management. For a brief period
another Sister offered psychology services there. At the same time
St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne also commenced the
management of the Health Service in the Darwin prison. This work
concluded in 2001, but this work continues to be a focus of the
mission of St. Vincent’s Health, Melbourne.

In an effort to prevent the rise of homelessness amongst those
released from prison, Blake Cottage was established in 2003 to
provide hospitality to the families visiting prisoners in two Victorian
Regional prisons. This creative approach has been supported by
the local community and well received by these families.

				
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posted:11/24/2012
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