Letters offer hope, inspiration to Sisters and inmates

by Renae Bauer
published Winter 2012

While Lent is a formal time within the Church year to focus on turning our lives over to Christ, conversion experiences are being shared throughout the year between Sisters, Associates, ex-offenders, and death row inmates.

Through ministries such as visiting and writing letters to inmates, leading Bible studies and mentoring ex-offenders, the Sisters and Associates are working to bring the Gospel message of love, forgiveness and conversion to a segment of the population that is often forgotten or ostracized.

"Everybody deserves a second chance," says Sister Barbara Schmidt who has been corresponding since 2009 with a death row inmate in Arizona.

Setting aside the need to determine guilt or innocence, Sister Barbara has offered friendship to someone who, other than an occasional Bible study group, has lived in solitude since 1987.

"I occasionally send photos of our convent grounds, and he has commented that looking at the photos offers him a respite from the confines of his cell," she adds. "We also write to each other about the Packers and music and spirituality. More than that, we share a relationship. It's just so evident that he craves a personal relationship and is grateful someone writes to him."

Sisters Carlotta Ullmer and Mary Jean Gauthier have observed that same hunger in the inmates to whom they write.

"Tony has no contact with his family and it seems he doesn't feel loved, so I always sign my letters, 'with love,'" says Sister Carlotta. "I want him to know that God loves him."

Sister Mary Jean says of her pen pal of nine years: "About three years ago he asked, 'Would you be my grandma?  I never had one.' So, I usually sign my letters with 'Love, Grams.' "

Unclasping a large manila envelope, she pulls out a stack of her pen pal's letters, many of which open with the salutation, "Dear Grams."  When asked if she keeps all his letters, Sister Mary Jean says, "I can't throw the letters away. They're so spiritual and positive. Writing to him is a privilege.  I have received so much more than I could possibly give him."

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From left: Sisters Mary Jean Gauthier, Carlotta Ullmer and Barbara Schmidt have been writing to men in prison and say their pen pals hunger for friendship. These Sisters are a few of the many who minister to inmates, ex-offenders and their families. See related story: Ministries offer care to families and hope for perpetrators.