In 2014, Brother Frank Hagerty, S.S.E., contacted Deacon Gerry Scilla, who coordinates prison ministry for Vermont Catholic Charities, about wanting to implement a family literacy program inside prison. This is something Brother Frank had been thinking about since his days ministering to the illiterate in Selma, Al. Deacon Gerry said he was in luck! There was a communion service opening. Brother Frank has served a few times a month ever since. He also leads Lectio Divina (Latin for "Divine Reading") and group discussions.
Prison ministry and Restorative Justice work are close to Brother Frank’s heart. Prison ministry is about being welcoming, accepting and non-judgmental, he said. It is the same for his work with Restorative Justice, which is about helping others to heal the hurt and harm. He says the job is not for everybody, but his life has led him to this call. “It is about embracing the mystery that God loves us so much,” he said. “I never condemn them for why they are where they are.”
Brother Frank volunteers regularly with the Essex Community Justice Center on their Restorative Justice Panel. It's all about the greatest commandment Brother Frank said. “Jesus declared, love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
With the Essex Community Justice Center, folks are referred by authorities to Restorative Justice Panels rather than going to court. The panel of volunteers represents the community, because the harm affects the whole community. An agreement is drawn up. If all of the conditions are met, the case is resolved without a record. “They have to take responsibility for their actions to qualify,” Brother Frank said. “The Criminal Justice System focuses on crime and punishment. Restorative Justice focuses on the hurt or harm that was done and finds solutions on how to heal it.”
The model is similar to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “We attempt to get the parties involved to reconcile,” Brother Frank said. “Instead of throwing blame around, we find the underlying cause of the issue and attempt to make it better. Apologies are involved, restitution, perhaps community service. It’s done on a case-by-case basis. If everything is fulfilled, they don’t get a record and don’t go to jail.”
Brother Frank has a message of hope. “God loves you, no matter what, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do about that,” he tells everyone to which he ministers. “God sends his Word to do something: to us, in us, or through us to help others. So, if God loves the folks no matter what, I must do the same; I have to be non-judgmental.”
From a career in nursing, to music ministry, and spiritual direction, Brother Frank has dedicated himself to helping his hurting neighbors find peace. He has tutored at Mercy Connections, works with new Americans, helps folks with developmental disabilities, and heads up Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing for disabled vets.
Studies have shown that prison ministry helps change the culture in prisons, and it reduces recidivism. Brother Frank brings the Sacrament of the Eucharist to the prisons. “But I am also going to meet Jesus there, present in the people,” he said. He also offers spiritual direction and faith instruction on the sacraments of baptism and confirmation.
Saint Michael’s College Alumnus, and friend to the Edmundites, Joseph Blanchette, gave a talk at Father David Cray’s Parish, St. Jude in Hinesburg, this past weekend addressing what Blanchette called a Christian Faith Crisis. The second part of this two-part series will be held on Sunday, March 8 from 10:45 a.m. to noon.
Blanchette spoke from the heart of his own plight to keep his two adult sons believing in Christ. To no avail, after being raised in the Church, they left just after high school, claiming to be atheists. And they are not alone, according to a 2016 PEW report, about 79% of Catholics leave the Church before the age of 23.
As parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we all need to understand why so many young people are abandoning their faith, Blanchette urged the crowd. He is on a campaign to find better ways to prepare teens and young adults to withstand the faith challenges they will encounter in the world around them.
As this talk was called “Doubt” and focused on the barrage of readily available anti-Christian literature and lack of a faithful culture surrounding today’s young people, his next talk called “The Resurrection” will focus on the factual truth behind The Passion and Resurrection and why it is more than theological assumption. Blanchette’s premise is on moving beyond the pure emotion so many have relied on and into the evidence behind Christianity to keep kids believing.
He offered up some literature to help folks start to develop dialog to better explain their faith to their children:
The Case for the Risen Jesus, Gary Habermas
Handbook of Christian/Catholic Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald Tacelli S.J.
The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel
Let us remember St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, who prayed with great gusto in the years he rejected Christ. Of course, he eventually came around in a big way and became one of the greatest Doctors of the Church! Never underestimate the power of prayer!
Please Pray with Us:
Dear St. Monica, exemplary mother of the Great St. Augustine,
You perseveringly pursued your wayward son not with wild threats but with prayerful cries to heaven. Please intercede for all parents in our day so that they may learn to draw their children to God. Teach them how to remain close to their children, even the prodigal sons and daughters who have sadly gone astray. May the Holy Spirit open their ears and hearts so they may hear this invitation to come home.
The heart of the Society of Saint Edmund’s mission is serving where the need is greatest, a credo that has led us to four core ministries: Social Justice, Education, Spiritual Renewal and Pastoral Ministry. It is through these core ministries that we live out a faith-based life of service and make a real difference in people’s lives by bringing them closer to God.