Father Yebra looks forward to expanding Catholic prison ministry

Father Bernardino S. Yebra, fresh from military duty in Afghanistan, is now taking Catholicism to the prison system.

The priest was appointed to serve as vicar for prison ministry by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, effective as of July 1.

Before that, Father Yebra was on active duty as a chaplain with the U.S. Army, where he provided religious support to soldiers.

“In any place I’m called to … the only thing I want to do is just serve as a priest,” he said. “The prisoners are my brothers and sisters, just like my soldiers. I will serve them as my own.”

Msgr. Richard D. Harris, vicar general, said the bishop has always wanted to create a strong, organized Catholic presence in the prisons, and when Father Yebra became available to fill the vicar role, it was a perfect opportunity.

Sister Christina Murphy, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, serves as coordinator of prison ministry and pastoral associate at Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia. Father Yebra, Sister Christina and Father David R. Whitman, pastor of Our Lady of the Hills, were scheduled to meet with prison chaplains on July 25 to discuss how the Catholic Church can help meet their needs.

South Carolina has 26 correctional facilities, plus two federal prisons, Sister Christina said, and it is their goal to have a Catholic presence in each. Father Yebra’s No. 1 priority is to bring the Eucharist to prisoners through Mass. He also wants to offer the other sacraments, especially confession. The new vicar would also like to provide counseling, which may eventually extend to the families of the incarcerated.

“It’s going to be an exciting ministry,” he said.