Our Lady of Mercy Dominican Lay Chapter

Norfolk State Prison Norfolk, Massachusetts

On December 8th, 2015, Pope Francis ushered in a yearlong celebration dedicated to the theme of mercy. This year we are also celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Dominican Order ad 150 years anniversary of the foundation of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany.

            The Dominican priest by the name of Jean Joseph Lataste OP. In September of 1864 Lataste was sent by his superiors to preach a retreat at the women’s prison in Cadillac-sur-Garonne, France. It was there, in the darkness and chaos of the prison, that he came to the realization that “the greatest sinners have within themselves the makings of the greatest saints.” Born from this transforming experience with the women prisoners, where he himself was first to be converted, Lataste went on to found the Dominican Sisters of Bethany along with his co-founder Mother Henri Dominic. The Sisters of Bethany are a unique community since it consists of women who have been in prison as well as women who never faced such challenges, living a consecrated life together. There is no difference…there is no us and them. There is only us. Fr. Lataste was beatified in Besancon, France on Sunday, June 3, 2012. He is referred to as not only the “Apostle of Prisons”, but also the “Apostle of Mercy”

            Over 40 years ago I stepped into the women’s prison at MCI Framingham in Massachusetts. It was one of the most important steps I have ever taken. A few years later SR. Kathleen Denevan OSF and I were invited to serve as Catholic Chaplains at Norfolk State Prison for men. The women and men who we have accompanied on their journey of faith, some who will live their whole life in prison, have taught me more about the meaning od mercy than any prestigious Catholic University could ever attempt to. These women and men who have truly become my sisters and brothers, my Icons of Jesus, and Mirrors of Mercy.  These past 40 years in prison, given witness to the power of God’s love, have been my greatest grace of my life.

            Timothy Radcliffe OP, former Master General of the Dominican Order once said that “Dominican Spirituality is founded on the encounter of God in all human experience… it is here, in our lives, with all their creativity and goodness, their mess and confusion that God is to be found. Our mission as preachers pushes us to enter the unrest of the street, and the inn, politics and journalism, welfare. teaching and science, in the belief that the holy, the traces of the Holy One, are to be found there. Contemplation is not the discovery of God though retreat from the world. It is opening your eyes to discover God waiting for us in the most uncompromising situations… We learn to see properly to see in the dark, and above all to see compassionately, as God sees us.” In prison we discover that Mercy is the face of God that enters into our mess, the chaos and confusion of our lives.

            On January 6, 1997, at the feast of the Epiphany, a Mass was celebrated at Norfolk State Prison in Massachusetts, to name a group of Catholic prisoners and volunteers from outside the walls of Norfolk. – The Bethany Community at Norfolk. The guiding spirit for the growth, and the development of Bethany at Norfolk was to be that of Fr. Jean Joseph Lataste.

            In 1999 guided by Fr. Lataste, several of the men of Bethany Norfolk along with volunteers, sought to form a Dominican Lay Chapter. For several years we continued to persevere, despite many obstacles, in the desire to become a recognized Lay Chapter of the Dominican Order. In 2003 Our lady of Mercy was founded at Norfolk prison, the first such chapter within a prison in the United States. As a way of celebrating this Year of Mercy. Our lady of Mercy chapter put together this book titled Mirrors of Mercy, drawn from personal experiences of not only members of our chapter, but also from the greater Bethany community,

Volunteers, family members, and women and men from other faith traditions who are and have touched by Mirrors of Mercy,

Ruth Raichle 

Our Lady of Mercy Chapter, Norfolk State prison Massachusetts

Re printed from the preface of Mirrors of Mercy copywrite 2016 Bethany House Ministries All rights reserved.