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December 14, 2022

By Darcy Fargo

Bishop LaValley baptizes two men, confirms three at Clinton Correctional

DANNEMORA – The words of “Amazing Grace” rang out from the old stone church, allowing the incarcerated individuals inside St. Dismas Church a place of worship removed from their cell blocks and recreation yards.

The incarcerated individuals gathered for Mass with Bishop Terry R. LaValley at St. Dismas Church, located inside the walls of Clinton Correctional Facility, on Nov. 7, and three men received sacraments of initiation – two were baptized and three were confirmed.

Without accompaniment, the men opened the Mass singing “The Summons” as Bishop Terry R. LaValley processed into the church with prison chaplains Father Howard H. Venette and Deacon Frank Bushey, and Deacon James Crowley, diocesan chancellor.

“We’re truly blessed to not just gather to celebrate Mass and the Eucharist, but we’re also blessed to be gathering to celebrate baptisms and confirmations,” said Bishop LaValley.

Bishop LaValley noted the men spent a period of time preparing for the sacraments, “asking questions, looking for answers and really letting go of their earlier ideas of God in some cases.”

Bishop LaValley noted that baptism and confirmation are sacraments of initiation, and he urged the incarcerated individuals to go beyond the initiation and continue deepening their faith through study, prayer and worship.

“It’s the difference between snorkeling and scuba diving,” Bishop LaValley said. “Like snorkelers who can go only as far as their breathing tube allows and are limited to what they can see from the surface, we can live our faith on the surface, maybe attending Mass but not really engaging in prayer or desiring to learn more. But to experience the truly remarkable wonders of what the deep of the water has to offer, one needs to go scuba diving, you need to go deeper than the surface. Sometimes there’s risk in going to the depths… but opening ourselves up to God can also be risky. We make ourselves vulnerable. We give ourselves to love.”

At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop LaValley congratulated the men who received the sacraments of initiation and thanked everyone who helped facilitate the Mass.

“Congratulations to the newly confirmed and baptized,” he said. “We’re also very grateful to our prison chaplains, Father Venette and Deacon Bushey and the leadership and staff here at the facility. This is a special day.”

Father Venette said the three men who receive the sacraments, Jonathan, Jason and Glen, did so after the chaplains put out a notice to the prison population.

“It’s something that’s usually done annually,” said Father Venette. “The Catholic chaplaincy puts out a note asking if anyone would like to be baptized or confirmed.”

“This was the first time we’ve been able to do this since COVID,” added Deacon Bushey. “We had no services for almost two years because of COVID, so it was really nice to be doing this again.”

The chaplains noted that they met with the three men weekly.

“We were familiar with these men,” Father Venette said. “They’re men who normally come to Mass. We had a series of meetings, and they did a lot of self-study. We’d provide them with reading materials or workbooks, and we’d discuss them when we got together.”

Both prison chaplains noted that running a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in a prison poses challenges.

“Scheduling was pretty difficult,” said Father Venette. “This is a very busy place. You’re working around meals and (recreation) time, and there’s a lot of programming scheduled.”

“It can also be tough to maintain the appropriate boundaries,” Deacon Bushey added. “I mean, we have some boundaries even when working within a parish, but here, there are a lot of boundaries. We have to be on guard about how people are addressed, what relationship I can have with them.”

Because of those boundaries, it can also be harder to gain the trust of the incarcerated individuals.

“They’re guarded because of the way the relationships are defined, because of those boundaries,” said Deacon Bushey.

Despite the challenges, both Father Venette and Deacon Bushey say they enjoy the ministry.

“I retired when COVID started,” Deacon Bushey said. “I felt the need and the calling to go back for a bit. It’s been a blessing to have (Father Venette) here. He’s a really good presence.”

“The best part is ministering to directly to the incarcerated individuals,” added Father Venette. “They yearn for a connection to the Church and sacramental ministry. That’s the heart and beauty of it all. It’s a very rewarding ministry.”

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