Prison ministry leads to baptism of inmates by bishop

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrates the sacrament of baptism for an inmate at Perry Correctional Institution near Pelzer on Dec. 10. (Provided)

PELZER—It was a Christmas gift for the Church and the five men working to turn their lives around as they received sacraments during a Mass led by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone Dec. 10 at Perry Correctional Institution near Pelzer.

Father Rhett Williams, parochial vicar at St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville, with sacramental responsibilities at Perry, said three of the inmates were baptized and all five received confirmation.

Joining Father Williams and Bishop Guglielmone were Father Dan McClellan, pastor at St. Andrew in Clemson; Father Michael Koncik, vicar for prison ministry at Corpus Christi in Lexington; and Deacon John Leininger from St. Andrew.

Each of the five men receiving the sacraments were allowed to invite a couple of fellow prisoners and family members, Father Williams said.

 “Overall, it was a great Mass that involved many inmates, staff, and even guards who were present,” he said.

 “So many loving, caring people attended to watch me being welcomed into the Church. I truly felt the spirit of God throughout the Mass,” said Timmy, one of the men receiving confirmation.

James, another inmate, described his confirmation as “the most important day of my adult life. The understanding of the role Christ plays in my life has taken new shape. I have come to love the Catholic faith, and the more I learn, the better my life becomes.”

Bishop Guglielmone makes the sign of the cross on an inmate’s forehead as he is welcomed into the Church. (Provided)

A reception was held after the Mass, and the men were treated to Subway sandwiches and soft drinks provided by the prison ministry. 

Mass is held at Perry every Thursday, with weekly Catechism classes led by Deacon Leininger or a lay volunteer.

“It is a time where the guys come together to ask questions, share, and study a certain topic,” Father Williams said.

The ministry has lay volunteers that rotate in and out from the local parishes, he said. Mass is celebrated each week by either Father McClellan, Father Patrick Tuttle from St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville, Father Dwight Longenecker from Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, and Father Williams.

 “Each week for Mass we have anywhere from eight to 12 guys, and about the same for classes,” Father Williams said. 

During Advent, parishioners from the four Upstate parishes prepared and served a home-cooked Christmas meal to around 125 of the inmates, Father Williams said. It included Christmas carols by parishioners from St. Anthony of Padua.

Located 10 miles west of Fountain Inn, Perry is a maximum-security prison with around 1,000 inmates.

Sister Christina Murphy, prison ministry coordinator for the diocese, said lay people want to volunteer, but the state’s application process is so slow people tire from waiting and often abandon the effort. 

She said her office is trying to change that trend by keeping applicants regularly informed of the status of their application and staying in touch with the state agency.

For more information on the diocesan prison ministry, call 803-772-7400.