“For me, this very sacred journey began while Ruth and I were sitting in the Hermitage: a small shack in the woods on the property of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany in Millis, MA. With a simple, wooden likeness of St. Francis of Assisi to keep us “company” and a small potbelly stove to give warmth, we savored the quiet beauty of the eighteen acres of secluded woodlands and pasture. Ruth asked the simple question: “How would you like to live here?” A few months later, the two of us, along with two others moved in.
Bethany House Ministries, Inc., in Millis, Massachusetts, was “born” in 1989. Our dream was to make this house a home, and to create a community of men and women, religious and laity whose ministry would be to serve in prison and to form a community which would welcome ex-offenders. For several years we struggled with forming such a community…. Meanwhile, we were both volunteer chaplains at Norfolk State prison. At some point in the nineties, we began to experience the beginnings of a community spirit emerging amongst the men and volunteers participating in our services and programs. In time, it became clear that God had a better idea about the formation of a community.
By 1997, sometime after we had become employed as chaplains at Norfolk, God’s “idea” finally became clear to us. The “community” we had hoped for had been emerging in our midst in Prison! We believed that this gift of God’s goodness to all of us needed to be publicly acknowledged and celebrated. And so, our prison community was blessed and given the name “Bethany” in a special Mass, presided over by Fr. Norman Haddad, O.P.
Over the years, the idea of forming a Dominican lay group composed of volunteers and men from our Norfolk Community continued to speak to Ruth’s heart. Her love for the message of Pere Lataste, for our Dominican Sisters of Bethany in Europe, and for the spirit of St. Dominic led Ruth to begin the process of discerning the possibility. Once the decision was made to proceed, a small group from our Bethany community began their study of the teachings of St. Dominic under Ruth’s guidance.
Since I am a professed member of the Sisters of St. Francis, my role in the founding of our Dominican lay Chapter was and remains one of companionship, advocacy, support and encouragement to Ruth and to the group. I have been blessed to receive a special honorary membership and have been dubbed a “Franican” by the group. Such a singular honor! St. Francis urged his followers to “Preach the Gospel always, and sometimes use words.” Both Dominic and Francis loved the Word … and preached the Word of Love. It is an honor to be a “Franican.”
Reflecting on the past 20 years of Bethany House’s existence and ministry, I have experienced the wisdom of the poet Rilke’s encouragement to “…live the questions…and grow into the answer…”We have lived with so many questions and obstacles to the unfolding of our Bethany community in prison. We have lived these questions and have grown into some truly astonishing answers. And so, we continue to try to respond in truth and love to God’s gifts and challenges and to trust in God’s loving Providence as we walk this sacred path.
The journey continues