The men and women volunteers who enter the jails and prisons scattered throughout the Diocese of Venice serve a crucial role to a segment of society that is too commonly dismissed and forgotten.
Prison outreach volunteers were recognized for their work by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during a Mass of Appreciation on Nov. 17, 2023, at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte. The outreach provides a variety of services, including Bible study, religious education and assistance with receiving the sacraments such as Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation.
Bishop Dewane, who celebrated Mass for the volunteers, praised the group for choosing to answer a specific call from God, that of serving the incarcerated, those who are often marginalized or forgotten by society.
“The Diocese is blessed that the Lord has put you volunteers there to serve in a particular way for those men and women who need it the most,” Bishop Dewane said. “The incarcerated have value, and their inalienable dignity is always there. All of us who go into the jails and prisons find the image and likeness of God in those whom we encounter.”
Bishop Dewane, who celebrates Mass at jails and prisons within the Diocese of Venice several times each year, said the volunteers who participate in prison outreach touch the heart of the incarcerated because they talk to them about the Lord.
“Your service comes from the heart,” the Bishop said. “You have the insight and the desire to see the need and to serve those who are on the margins by taking the word of God and sharing the Good News with the men and women you encounter. God put you where you need to be, and for that, I am grateful.”
The Bishop, who admitted being nervous during his first prison visit while working in Rome, said each encounter has a personal impact on him. When celebrating the Mass for the incarcerated, Bishop Dewane said, he knows he is bringing the forgiveness, mercy, compassion, peace, love and joy of the Lord to others.
Since his appointment as Bishop of the Diocese in 2006, Bishop Dewane has conferred the Sacraments of Confirmation, First Communion and Baptism for dozens of inmates. In October the Bishop conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation on a group of seven inmates at DeSoto Correctional Institute in Arcadia.
Following the Mass for volunteers, a luncheon was held in the Parish Hall. The volunteers heard from Florida Department of Corrections State Chaplain Johnny Frambo and Father Severyn Kovalyshin, head Region 3 Chaplain (the Diocese of Venice is part of Region 3), who updated everyone on the positive impacts of their ministry.
Diocesan Prison Outreach Co-Coordinators Bob Hiniker and Joe Mallof also provided updates and the good news that programs to support the incarcerated are expanding, including a re-entry program and the expansion of digital classes and resources.
At DeSoto Correctional Institute in Arcadia, there is a weekly Mass with more than 50 in attendance. This Mass includes viewing the TV Mass for the Homebound produced by the Diocese Department of Communications, as well as reflections of the readings.
Within the Diocese, there are currently 24 priests, six deacons and 80 laity who volunteer in prison outreach in 10 county jails, five state prisons and one state work camp. The Prison Ministry of the Diocese is under the guidance of the Office of Evangelization.
There are currently more than 15,000 men and women incarcerated within the Diocese and new volunteers are needed. All volunteers participate in an orientation program before entering a correctional facility and “shadow” experienced volunteers until they feel comfortable. Times and days vary by facility.
If you are interested in volunteering or learning more about the Diocesan Prison Outreach, or perhaps becoming a volunteer, please contact Bob Hiniker at firstname.lastname@example.org or Joe Mallof at email@example.com.