Incarceration Ministry in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati
The effort to spend time with our incarcerated brothers and sisters reaches back decades and beyond the current Catholic Cincinnati Prison Mission. Individual parishes and priests have volunteered their time and talent throughout the diocese in an effort to meet the spiritual needs of the men and women in detention. Our overview of those efforts are not comprehensive. Instead, we present notable contributors to the effort to walk with the incarcerated in Cincinnati and remain grateful to the many laborers who contributed to the harvest over the years.
Father George Klein
For nearly two decades, Fr. George Klein visited Lebanon Correctional, faithfully each week, to teach the nuts and bolts of the Catholic faith. He taught his students through catechesis, discussion and a long, hard look at the choices each man had as a follower of God. As pastor of Holy Name parish in Trenton, Ohio, Fr. Klein considered LeCI his addendum parish and, until he died in 2010, made Friday afternoons a priority in the prison, even if only a single student arrived to learn.
A former student remembers Fr. Klein this way, “I learned about being Catholic from Fr. Klein. He taught us the history of the Church and what we were supposed to do with it in prison. I miss him.”
Father Mark Schmieder
Particularly drawn to the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, Fr. Mark Schmieder served as Chaplain
of the Lebanon Correctional Institution for over 20 years. Following that assignment, he oversaw the jail ministry in Cincinnati for nearly a decade. He was recognized as a “priest of integrity” by Cincinnati’s Voice of the Faithful.
While working as a prison chaplain, he implemented the Kairos Prison Ministry, an ecumenical spiritual retreat that encourages men to examine and take responsibility for their lives. Since that time, Kairos has expanded to more than a dozen prisons in Ohio. Fr. Mark was the former president of the American Catholic Correctional Chaplains Association and died in 2009 after a battle with cancer.
A man formerly incarcerated at Lebanon Correctional said, “I met Fr. Mark in County. He was the first person to look at me and tell me I meant something. When I got to Lebanon, I thought I had won the lottery since (Fr. Mark) was the Chaplain there. He’s one of the best men I’ve even known.”
Father Terry Meehan
Fr. Terry Meehan was instrumental in creating the foundation for the Catholic Cincinnati Prison Mission. In his own words:
“In 2002, I arrived at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Monroe, Ohio after serving as a chaplain at the Hamilton County Justice Center in Cincinnati for 12 years. I wanted to continue the ministry that I found personally so rewarding during my years in Cincinnati.
“I began by having a Saturday evening Mass for the men at Lebanon Correctional. In this way, I wanted to sustain the work of Fr. Mark Schmieder, my predecessor, who had been a full-time prison chaplain at LeCI for over 20 years. However, it became obvious early on that this minimal contact with the men there was not enough. So I began by inviting some of the men and women from Our Lady of Sorrows parish to come along with me for the Saturday evening Mass. Soon I had a number of parishioners who began to see prison ministry as a valuable service to those incarcerated as well as a rewarding experience for themselves.
“Still, there was much more to be done. There was a need to have Bible study with the men in addition to weekly Mass. There was the need for religious instruction for those who were interested in becoming Catholic and those wanting to become more active in their faith. With the addition of serving the men next door at Warren Correctional and those in the lower-security Honor Camp at LeCI, there was the need to train volunteer ministers to provide weekly Communion Services. So, we gathered a small group of Our Lady of Sorrow Church parishioners and others from St. Susanna Church in Mason and Holy Family Church in Middletown to work out a monthly schedule to cover the weekly communion services and talk about prison ministry issues.
“Also at that time we were discussing how we, as a Catholic parish, could enter into a contract with the Ohio Department of Corrections to hire one or two persons to provide a greater Catholic presence in the two prisons. Together with some financial assistance from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, we were able to hire the staff that we needed for both LeCI and WCI. For many years, Corby Harris served as volunteer chaplain/catechist to those at WCI and Dick Burdick delivered catechesis at LeCI from 2003-2005. In 2005, Christine Shimrock began serving as catechist and has admirably served along with Fr. Gene Carmichael S.J. since that time.
“Thankfully, all this good work continues up to the present time through the support and administration of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, in particular Shelly Strand and Fr. Ed Pratt. May it continue many years to come with God’s blessing. My role in all this? …simply let the Spirit of the Risen Lord do its thing in the hearts of those who embrace this ministry and in the hearts of those who benefit from it. “
Father Eugene Carmichael
Fr. Gene Carmichael walked the halls of Lebanon Correctional from 2004-2015; WCI from 2009-2015. He presided at Mass, provided Reconciliation and pastoral counseling and celebrated the initiation of dozens of incarcerated men into the Catholic Church.
At Xavier University in Cincinnati since 1979, Fr. Carmichael held numerous positions, including University Campus Ministry’s Director of Residence Hall Ministry; Associate Dean for Student Development; Associate Vice President for the Division of Mission and Ministry; and Acting Vice President for the Division of Student Development. Before his retirement, Father Carmichael served as the Spiritual Counselor in the Office of Human Resources.
“Ministry at the prisons is an opportunity to live out Jesus’ words: “When I was in prison, you visited me.” We meet Jesus in the prisoners as we experience His gentle personal presence in them. To minister in prison is to encourage the inmates to recognize God’s love for them as well as His invitation/challenge for them to share their God-given gifts with fellow-inmates who are in need.
It is Jesus who gifts the men with what they need in ways that only he is able to do. Prison ministers just show up, let go of our expectations, accompany the men, and give thanks to God for God’s eternal love for all.”
Father Carmichael retired in 2015 and dozens of men continue to write to him for inspiration and fellowship.