SOUTH BEND — Thirty men and 25 women were on hand to celebrate Easter Mass and a liturgy at the St. Joseph County Jail on April 8, Easter Sunday. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was celebrant at the Mass, which was reported to be one of the first Masses celebrated for inmates.
Joining Bishop Rhoades in the prison chapel were Deacon Greg Gehred and University of Notre Dame master of divinity student Matt Flynn. Jeffrey Blue and Dan Lawson were instrumental in coordinating the Easter Mass.
“During this Easter Triduum, I have a chance to say Masses in some of the finest cathedrals, the basilica at Notre Dame and preached to full churches,” said Bishop Rhoades. “The flowers and music were beautiful as well, but I am just as honored to be here with you my brothers and sisters in Christ as we celebrate this Easter Mass.”
Bishop Rhoades said it was important for him to celebrate Mass for inmates at Easter. The bishop was doing what Jesus commanded in Matthew’s Gospel, “I was in prison and you visited me.”
During his homily, Bishop Rhoades spoke of the joy of the Easter season. “Easter is the celebration of new life and Jesus’ return to the living. In baptism, we begin to live a new life — the life of the risen Jesus.
“I know that being in jail and away from your families is a challenge,” he added. “We all have challenges. So today my brothers and sisters in Christ you have a chance of new life in the Resurrection. Let us thank God for life and know Jesus’ love. He is always at your side and will never forsake you.”
Steve Coyle who has been chaplain at the St. Joseph County facility for 10 years, said having the bishop present for the Easter Mass was a special event for inmates.
“It’s a big morale booster,” he said. “It’s an uplifting experience for them. The fact that the bishop takes time off from a very busy schedule to come in and visit at Easter — they take that as a treat. It’s not an everyday occurrence.”
Coyle said that once the inmates enter prison, there is a feeling of abandonment from the outside world. To have the bishop celebrate Mass with them gives them hope.
“When I came to this diocese I wrote to the bishop and asked where he needed me,” said Deacon Gehred. “The bishop told me the jail could use my help, and for the pass few years, my team and I have been here helping the inmates with Bible studies and Masses. To have the bishop here today is a true blessing.”
The bishop not only celebrated two separate Masses, one in English and the other in Spanish, but also took the time to shake each inmate’s hand and offer him his blessing.
“I been here for a while,” said one inmate. “But it makes life a little easier to bear when holy people come to visit us because most of us don’t know how to pray.”
Following Mass, the inmates received Divine Mercy holy cards that were given to them directly by the bishop.
“I think it is wonderful that the bishop came the jail to say Mass,” said Matt Flynn. “I am living at the Catholic Worker House here in South Bend for a while and I know the stigma attached to people who have been in or are in jail. The bishop’s presence here reminded the inmates that life’s a wonderful thing. It’s a great gift. Today we thank God for life.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.