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Loyola's Institute for Ministry receives grant to train inmates as prison missionaries

June 7, 2013

The Loyola University New Orleans Institute for Ministry is helping to transform prisoners housed in one of the nation’s largest maximum security prisons into missionaries. Funded by a recently announced $26,650 grant from the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, the Loyola Institute for Ministry, in partnership with the Diocese of Baton Rouge, offers graduate ministry education to inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

“In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25, Jesus says that one of the privileged places we can encounter him is in prisons. With the help of this grant, the Loyola Institute for Ministry educates inmates in theology and ministry and forms them in Ignatian spirituality so that their fellow inmates and visitors to Angola can encounter Jesus through them,” said Tom Ryan, Ph.D., director of the Loyola Institute for Ministry.

The Loyola Institute for Ministry has enrolled 15 inmates at Angola since it began offering the graduate ministry courses through its extension program known as LIMEX more than two years ago. Eight inmates are expected to graduate from the three-year program and earn their 36-credit certificates in pastoral studies or religious education in 2015.

Inmates who graduate from the program can be moved to other prisons around the state to serve as missionaries, evangelizing and ministering to their peers. Within the prison system, these men teach about the Catholic faith, conduct Bible studies and services, give spiritual support and assist chaplains.

“Most of the men in our learning group have been at Angola for decades and they know they’re going to die at Angola,” said LIMEX facilitator Rick Beben ’81. “Our program helps them find meaning and significance as to where they are in life.”

Many of the men have turned their lives around and serve as powerful witnesses in the ministry, sharing their faith with fellow inmates and others, including high school students who visit the prison, according to Beben. “They have a powerful outreach in ministry … it blows me away sometimes,” he said.

For example, one inmate who participated in the LIMEX program was transferred to another prison to help jumpstart a new peer ministry there.

In addition to the prison ministry at Angola, Loyola’s LIMEX program has been teaching students worldwide for the last 30 years in places such as Belize, Nigeria and Scotland.

Please contact Mikel Pak, associate director of public affairs, for more information at 504-861-5448.

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