Special Issue - Prayer

Prisoners serve as inspiration

by Marc and Julie Anderson

TOPEKA — Growing up Baptist, St. Matthew parishioner Ron Shirrell had no experience with either eucharistic adoration or asking the saints for their intercession. Even after becoming Catholic more than 20 years ago, he admits the two devotions took some getting used to.

In 1993, Shirrell was received into the Catholic Church at Holy Name, Topeka, by then- pastor Father Harry Schneider. Shortly thereafter, he spotted a notice in another parish’s bulletin about the need for volunteers for eucharistic adoration.

In particular, the parish had a need for people willing to take a late-night slot.

“I thought I’d give it a try,” he said. “That really was my first real deep dive into the Catholic prayer life. At the time, I had no idea what adoration was.”

What he found out was that he liked it. In fact, he loved it.

More than 20 years later, it remains one of his favorite ways to pray.

Although Shirrell does not currently maintain a regularly scheduled hour, whenever possible he stops in a chapel between 2 and 3 each afternoon to spend time praying the rosary or the chaplet of Divine Mercy.

If he’s not able to get to a chapel, he often tunes the radio or television to the Eternal Word Television Network and follows along. But the chapel visits mean more to him.

“When I can break away from my daily routine and really think about Jesus’ presence, that’s what means the most to me,” he said.

Besides adoration, Shirrell also regularly invokes the saints. Although he didn’t take much stock in their intercession at first, he found himself turning to the saints in sheer desperation not long after he became Catholic.

A retired firefighter, Shirrell said he always left his wedding ring at home while on duty. He usually left it in a safe place, but this time, he simply could not recall where that was.

After searching for days, he turned to St. Anthony for help. It wasn’t an idea he particularly relished. He was still to adjusting to life as a Catholic. But the women in his Bible study group often shared with him amazing stories of saintly intercession.

“I got on my knees in our bedroom and I prayed to St. Anthony,” Shirrell said, adding he wasn’t sure what to expect, if anything.

After he finished, he got up and walked right to the ring. From then on, he was hooked on the saints.

But Shirrell said that one of the most touching ways he regularly experiences God’s love is through the prisoners he visits as part of his prison ministry.

Shirrell sometimes leads a Communion service as part of his visit, during which prisoners are encouraged to share prayer requests aloud.

“What gets me the most is how they always pray for someone else and not themselves,” he said.

“Something is happening to them spiritually for them to break away from the me-me-me attitude,” said Shirrell. “The inmates are always praying for the others who are incarcerated with them, as well as their families.

“That, to me, just seems so genuine.”

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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