Ministry shows God is fully alive in prison

September 23, 2014

HOUSTON — If someone sees Father Ron Cloutier, who offices out of the fifth floor of the Harris County Jail, and the 22 deacons and 250 lay volunteers who help minister to the 18,000 incarcerated Catholics within the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, they will witness what Pope Francis describes as, “…ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”

Father Cloutier is the director of the Office of Correctional Ministries, which is supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF) and ministers to incarcerated men and women in 51 jails, prisons, immigration centers and federal jails in the Archdiocesan boundaries. 

According to Father Cloutier, the challenges facing correctional ministers can be overwhelming. He believes we have more incarcerated Catholics in our Archdiocese than any other Archdiocese in the country. In spite of these challenges, however, he said these ministers oftentimes are filled with joy because of the miracles they see, and continue to serve often, as much as 15 years.

“I’ve been serving in correctional ministries for 27 years, and I am a witness that God is totally alive in prison, in the inmates and in the ministers,” Father Cloutier said. “The inmates often take responsibility for what they’ve done, and we see God working miracles through them as they renew their Catholic faith through the Sacraments. Our ministry to them renews our own faith.”

Correctional ministers provide communion services, RCIA teaching, Stations of the Cross, and other Catholic devotions when serving. 

“We are so blessed to have the unconditional support of (Daniel) Cardinal DiNardo as well as the many permanent deacons that are assigned to this ministry,” Father Cloutier said. “They understand that correctional ministries are a vital part of what we do as Church, and is an important part of our pro-life activities. I think that if Jesus had 24 hours to visit Houston, He would come visit those in prison.”

The Office of Correctional Ministries has two halfway houses for newly released Catholic male ex-offenders. These houses provide the men with, not only a place to live, but also a place where they can receive spiritual guidance, employment opportunities, clothing, city transportation, family reunification, health care, victim mediation and tools, as well as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) programs.

“It makes very little sense for us to bring Bibles, Communion and encouragement support while these men are in jail and not help when they re-enter society,” Father Cloutier said. “Many of them have been locked up for over 20 years and during that time, all their decisions have been made for them. Part of being pro-life is being ready and willing to welcome them back into our parishes and neighborhoods, and to provide them with jobs and give them a sense of purpose in their lives.”

Father Cloutier believes Catholic tradition teaches that punishment should be constructive and redemptive. 

“St. Paul, in speaking of our mission, challenges all of us to be ambassadors of the reconciliation offered through Christ,” he said. “We seek to bring Christ’s healing to everyone affected by crime and violence. It is an enormous challenge, as well as a glorious mission.”