A Time to Speak — Two views from the pew

“I was in prison, and you visited me” (Matthew 25:37).

Deacon Nash
Deacon Dennis “Denny” Nash

As a deacon, I work with a team of priests and other deacons who serve the Catholic community at the Kentucky State Reformatory. KSR is a medium-security prison for adult males located near La Grange, Ky., and is currently home to 2,000 inmates. Recently, I asked two of the Catholic inmates about their Catholic experience.

Here is the first “View from the Pew” (provided by one inmate):

I entered into the Catholic faith three years ago. It was in the church that I found my faith to be complete. It was then that I found grace, the grace that only comes through service, humility and absolute submission to Christ Jesus.

Every Saturday, inmates gather for Mass. There are no paid chaplain officiates. Instead, a small number of volunteers — priests, deacons and lay persons — come and minister to our small community. It is because of their service that the free and the imprisoned come together as one and join in the most holy Eucharist.

While we are not a parish, we are a community. We have those faithful who pray the Divine Office. We have a strong RCIA program. We will even begin our own Why Catholic? process this Advent. But each week, it is the Mass that we all look forward to. For it is then that we may partake of the sacrament that binds our souls with our Lord and Master.

When we eat of that body, we are freed; freed from our sins and ourselves. Even though we reside behind these prison walls, we are still part of the fellowship of the true church. We are not forgotten and always blessed as we rest in the hope of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And another “View from the Pew:”

Situated near the bottom of “the yard,” a small, anonymous building sits, framed by a bright blue tin roof. Formerly, the building was two Army barracks joined together, which was a donation from Fort Knox sometime in the 1940s. I was here when the transformation to brick and tin occurred. There are neither crosses nor pictures that give the casual bystander a hint of its meaning. Inside, there is a raised platform and a pulpit for service leaders; only a few use the altar. Mobile, our pews are rows of chairs placed in even lines. The line breaks in the middle to allow free movement from front to back. In the front, there is a baptistery. For most, this building is a chapel. We Catholics consider it church and home.

Over the years, it’s been a privilege to serve as sacristan, acolyte and all around boy-Friday. Sometimes I feel like Martha, overwhelmed by the many details that go into liturgical worship. It’s easy then to lose sight of what matters, and I struggle to remember that service is both blessing and offering. On better days, I take advantage of rare quiet time to engage in a lifelong passion, people watching. (I’ll be first in line for confession this Saturday!) I see the faces of my brothers, finding hope and peace reflected there. I feel connected to those faces and to God and pray that my face reflects that same joy. Humbled, I realize that service, love and connection are my life’s calling.

Deacon Dennis “Denny” Nash is currently assigned to Good Shepherd Church in Portland and serves as the program coordinator for the Catholic population at the Kentucky State Reformatory.
If you have a story you would like to submit for, “A View from the Pew”, contact Sal Della Bella at sdb@archlou.org or 502-585-3291.

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