Living out the Greatest Commandment with Brother Frank Hagerty, SSE
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. The job is not for everyone, but this Edmundite Brother was led 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.