Friars Offer Liturgy, Arts, Life Skills for Prisoners

HNP Communications Friar News

WILTON, N.Y. — Friars throughout the Province, largely from Siena College in nearby Loudonville, have been leading courses and programs at Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility here, encouraging inmates to explore learning as part of their rehabilitation.

Coordinated by prison chaplain Matthew Conlin, OFM, former Siena president, the educational program has included a variety of topics, from current events to history. Programs such as this are an important factor, Matt said, in an inmate’s rehabilitation.

Nine inmates have even been encouraged to pursue college degrees in a distance learning program through Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. The Franciscan Benevolence Trust of Holy Name Province offers financial aid for tuition and books. Two inmates have already earned degrees.

History and Other Programs
Matthew, who has served as chaplain for the past seven years, said a recent program exploring history, presented by Daniel Dwyer, OFM, attracted almost 70 inmates.

Dan’s Sept. 28 talk was titled “What Can We Learn From History?”.

“Matt has done an amazing job of interesting the inmates in the life of the mind and the spirit,” said Dan.
“It was a very enthusiastic discussion.”

Dan will return on Dec. 7 to moderate a program called “History Comes Alive.” Several inmates will recite from memory speeches from famous Americans from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr.

In addition to Dan, other HNP friars are volunteering their time. Walter Liss, OFM, will give a workshop called “Computers in the Marketplace” on Nov. 25 as part of the Success Outside After Prison (SOAP) program.

Other HNP friars who have contributed their time include Brian Belanger, OFM, who presented a seminar on Latin American art; Larry Anderson, OFM, a weekly seminar on current events; Julian Davies, OFM, liturgy and confirmation; Mathias Doyle, OFM, moderator for the “Debate on Conflict Resolution”; Capistran Hanlon, OFM, seminar on “Marriage and the Family”; Kevin Mullen, OFM, liturgy; Dennis Tamburello, OFM, musical group and liturgy; and Gonzalo Torres, OFM, counseling sessions and a weekly class on Hispanic culture.

In addition, five Siena lay professors have offered programs.

Value of Creative Arts
One aspect of the program that is close to Matt’s heart, from his early days teaching literature at Siena, is the arts program. “It introduces interested inmates to various aspects of the arts, understood in the broadest sense,” said Matt. “It seeks, in general, to expose these inmates to another world of creativity and, by doing so, to enrich the opportunities offered by the prison programs.”

The program includes volunteers leading classes in poetry and creative writing.

“Creativity allows us to use our minds in a useful way,” said Matt, “plan for the future, help others and ourselves in the process.”

An especially popular program is Speak-Out which encourages inmates to read original pieces.

As he approaches his 89th birthday in December, Matt shows no signs of slowing down, and he continues to plan additions to the program.  At this moment, Matt said he is seeking a public-speaking teacher.

Be a Volunteer
Matt encourages both friars and lay leaders to consider volunteering their time either at Mt. McGregor or a correctional facility near their homes.

“We’re always looking for volunteers,” he said. One way to volunteer is to get involved with the Residents Encounter Christ (REC), a ministry to prisoners sponsored nationally by Catholic men and women.

To read more about Matt’s prison ministry, see the September 2006 issue of The Anthonian.

— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.