Church’s new jail ministry looks to restore

Caitlyn Frecker, Dawn Frecker and Meghan Mendenhall (from left), members of the SS. Peter and Paul jail ministry, gather with the rest of the group for a time of prayer and member reports during their Aug. 11 meeting. The group focuses on merciful and compassionate restorative ministry for the incarcerated as well as their families.
Caitlyn Frecker, Dawn Frecker and Meghan Mendenhall (from left), members of the SS. Peter and Paul jail ministry, gather with the rest of the group for a time of prayer and member reports during their Aug. 11 meeting. The group focuses on merciful and compassionate restorative ministry for the incarcerated as well as their families. Photo by Lauren Frischman.

Originally published Aug. 20, 2015.

The fledgling jail ministry at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church can be described as a group driven by God with the purpose of merciful and compassionate restorative ministry.

The idea for the ministry came about when Dawn Frecker and her daughter, Caitlyn Frecker, attended an all-day seminar on prison ministry in November of 2014. Both are ministry students at the University of Saint Francis, in Fort Wayne, and Dawn also is employed as the marketing coordinator at John XXIII Retreat Center in Hartford City.

“For Caitlyn, prison ministry has always nudged her,” says Dawn. “We like the concept of restorative ministry. We look at everyone affected by crime.”

Dawn and Caitlyn, parishioners at SS. Peter and Paul, and another parishioner from St. Mary Catholic Church put a plea in the church bulletin in January 2015 for anyone who was interested in joining the group.

Dawn says she looked to Rev. Ron Rieder, the pastor at SS. Peter and Paul who has been involved in prison ministry over his lifetime, for inspiration and support. The first meeting was held on March 3.

“We had 10 people here,” remembers Dawn. “The Holy Spirit was definitely a big part of that, because we didn’t know what it was going to look like.”

The ministry consists mainly of parishioners from SS. Peter and Paul, but a member of St. Mary’s also joins in. The group, which fluctuates around 10 members of all ages, is hoping to gain more membership from both parishes.

The group started out by researching county needs and conducting a pastoral assessment of the Huntington County Jail to send to the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

“It helped us learn more about the jail itself, the type of jail it is and what they do for the inmates there,” explains Dawn.

Still in the development stages, group members want to collaborate with local organizations to fill in any empty gaps with manpower or connections.

“When you start a ministry like this, you want the do something concrete,” says Dawn. “We wanted an opportunity to fill a need.”

The group found its opportunity when Jail Commander Jeff Kyle informed members of the need for books to fill a new book cart in the jail. Mystery, drama and western genres of books were especially needed.

The jail ministry kicked off its book drive about six weeks ago by making announcements in the pulpits and putting signs on the church doors.

The group collected 123 books to donate.

The drive also provided a way for the public to become more aware of the group and see what it was doing, and the Freckers say the positive response encouraged members.

The initial hope of the ministry was to interact with inmates at the jail, but that is easier said than done. Visitation is limited to only names inmates provide upfront, which they cannot change for 30 days. In addition, all contact would have to be made behind glass.

“We didn’t look at that as a roadblock,” says Dawn.

The group then brainstormed other ways to get in touch with inmates. Writing letters was another possible form of communication. Members decided to put an additional focus on family members who have a loved one in jail.

“We’re looking at it more as a care ministry and looking at the big picture of restorative justice,” says Dawn.

The group meets on the second Tuesday each month at 6:30 p.m. at SS. Peter and Paul. Meetings open and close with prayer. Introductions are made, notes from the previous meeting are read and team members report on their assignments for the month.

Members say they hope to spread a message of mercy and compassion to both inmates and their families in Huntington County.

Those interested in learning more about the jail ministry can email hcjailministry@gmail.com.