by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan — When it comes to volunteering, it’s rare to find “visit the imprisoned” at the top of someone’s list.
It takes a special person to venture into a place so solemn.
Fortunately for inmates seeking compassion, Pope Francis isn’t the only one brave enough to provide it.
This past July, with the Year of Mercy fast approaching and prison ministry in need of someone willing to both organize the archdiocese’s efforts and inspire more volunteers to participate, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann created a position for an archdiocesan prison/ jail ministry coordinator.
John Stanley of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park was eventually selected to fill the post — “the perfect fit,” according to friends and coworkers.
A permanent deacon candidate with experience as a lawyer, Stanley has been described as someone with the wisdom and talents necessary to take on the challenge.
“John is a man of integrity, heart and compassion,” said Marcy Konkader, who worked with Stanley through a program called Mentoring 4 Success (M4S).
M4S is a statewide initiative designed to pair up volunteers, or mentors, with prisoners to help the latter make a safe and successful return to their communities.
Konkader, the program’s assistant director, witnessed Stanley ourish in prison outreach.
“John is a leader and a person who will serve with dignity. He is dedicated and will give his all,” she said.
Konkader isn’t the only one who sees Stanley’s gift for this ministry.
Steve White of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood is a fellow deacon candidate, as well as a friend to Stanley. White, who served with Stanley at M4S, said, “John is absolutely the perfect man for the job. . . . I truly think God has called him specifically to this ministry.”
“He had the most relaxed, natural rapport with these inmates,” added White. “It can be very intimidating to me, and most everybody, walking into a maximum security state prison. That door shuts behind you and you’re in there, and you’re totally outnumbered. . . . John was just so relaxed.”
Stanley’s interest in prison ministry was sparked by a conversation he had five years ago with his then-spiritual director Msgr. Tom Tank. Stanley was looking to grow in his faith, and the ministry was in great need.
Stanley has come a long way since he rst said “yes” to Msgr. Tank’s suggestion.
Now, a sense of humor and a humble heart are two of the many qualities Stanley brings to the archdiocesan ministry.
The ministry’s overall mission, Stanley said, is “to bring hope to prisoners through Jesus Christ being to the prisoners a brother in Christ and letting them know that we’re all in this together and that there’s a certain solidarity of humanity.”
“I try to impart that,” said Stanley, “and that’s what I think Christ leads all volunteers to do, is to bring that hope that only Jesus can bring.”
Stanley’s main responsibility is to determine where there are needs within the ministry and the facilities it serves. But his ambitions for the program don’t end there.
“I would love to see the program involve not only visiting with prisoners, but also assisting and giving comfort, encouragement and hope to prisoners once they are released from prison,” said Stanley.
His other goals for the program include recruiting more Catholic volunteers and expanding the ministry to reach out to victims and their families.
The main challenge he’s found is opening facilities’ doors to priests who can celebrate Mass and offer confession for inmates who request it.
“We’re getting good responses from the priests to help out in those areas that haven’t been served with priests in the past, so I’m encouraged,” said Stanley.
Stanley recognizes the immeasurable value lay volunteers bring to prison ministry.
“Our laypeople are very instrumental,” he said.
The services they provide include bringing the Eucharist to Catholic inmates, reading Scripture and praying with them, and offering fellowship to inmates who seek it.
Groups like Bethany Prison Ministry, which has been around for over 20 years, are what make prison ministry successful, and Stanley is grateful for their services. He encourages readers who feel called to the ministry to reach out to him.
“I want readers to have an awareness of the least of our brothers and to maybe take a look and reflect on Matthew 25, where Jesus calls each one of us to visit prisoners,” said Stanley. “And by doing that, we’re really visiting Jesus.”
For those interested in volunteering for the prison ministry or donating to the program in any way, contact Stanley at (913) 488-8448 or send an email to: email@example.com.