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Students complete joint CCI, Lewis University prison ministry leadership program

PrisonBarsSeven Catholics from across the state were honored at a commissioning Mass for completing an intensive, 15-month prison ministry leadership program co-sponsored by the Catholic Conference of Illinois and Lewis University.

Representing five of the state’s six Catholic dioceses, the students gathered on Nov. 21 at Sancta Alberta Chapel on the campus of Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois. Fr. Christian N. Reuter, O.F.M., of the Diocese of Belleville served as principal celebrant of the commissioning Mass.

View a short video of the Mass here.

The students participated in workshops and online classes from August 2013 through October 2014 to attain a theological and pastoral perspective toward prison ministry, and will now coordinate other prison and jail ministry volunteers in their respective dioceses.

Reuter and representatives from the other five dioceses serve on the Illinois Catholic Prison and Jail Ministry Network, and recognized the need for an advanced prison ministry program. He offered simple advice on ministering to inmates.

“They do not need to be reminded too much of their guilt,” Reuter said. “They live with it 24 hours a day.”

Dr. Christie Billups of Lewis University, along with network members and the Lewis theology department, created the curriculum for the program in collaboration with CCI Director of Social Services/Social Justice Marilou Gervacio. She said the innovative coursework was attracting regional attention.

“Other states are catching on to what’s happening here,” Billups said, noting she had received inquiries from Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin.

CCI Executive Director Robert Gilligan invoked the words of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-NY, when characterizing the students’ mission.

“You are providing a ‘ripple of hope’ for people in prison,” he said.

The Mass was followed by a dinner, where Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of the Diocese of Joliet offered a prayer of blessing and the students received a certificate of completion signed by Billups, Gilligan and their respective bishop.

The seven students, their dioceses, and their parishes are as follows:

  • J. Edgardo De La Rosa, Archdiocese of Chicago, Assumption BVM in Chicago
  • Deacon John C. Fridley, Ph.D., Diocese of Belleville, St. George in New Baden
  • Philip Louis Huber, Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois, St. Louis in Nokomis
  • Deacon Joseph P. McDonnell, Diocese of Joliet, St. Ann in Channahon
  • Laura Rios Ortiz, Diocese of Rockford, St. Rita in Rockford
  • Louis F. Slapshak, Diocese of Belleville, Our Lady Queen of Peace in Belleville
  • Terry Tuttle, Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois, Blessed Sacrament in Springfield