LOVES PARK—The Catholic Life in Christ jail ministry group hosted several families of inmates at a Christmas Party at St. Bridget Parish hall on Dec. 17.
St. Bridget Parish member Laura Padron has arranged for the party to be held at her parish for the past three years. For the 13 years prior to the annual parties, Padron organized a collection of gifts for inmates’ children with an Angel Tree Ministry that recruited nurses from the three area hospitals to donate gifts. Again this year those nurses came through — 65 of them purchased gifts for the 65 children at the party.
Other donations, including a beautifully-illustrated cake from By the Dozen Bakery, helped make the party a joyful event again this year. Volunteers included St. Bridget School students and men and women who minister in the Winnebago County Jail with Life in Christ, which is part of the larger, ecumenical Rockford Reachout Jail Ministry. The Catholic ministry includes a monthly Mass for male inmates and weekly studies for men and women at the jail.
St. Rita Church, Rockford, parishioner Laura Ortiz has served at the jail for a number of years. She describes the current work of Life in Christ as both building a strong Christian foundation for inmates as well as encouraging them toward discipleship. The studies are a combination of teaching, reflection and discussion, she says, adding that the women’s weekly class helps address the deep hurt and trauma that many of the female inmates have experienced in their lives.
Regarding the Christmas party, Ortiz notes that, “incarceration affects the whole family. We want it to be a fun time, to show them they are cared about, and to let the children be children.”
Her own St. Rita Parish, as well as St. Anthony of Padua Parish and the Knights of Columbus, contributed to the festivities, she says, adding that the colorful placemats on the tables were made by St. Rita School students and the parish’s sewing group made hats and scarves for the families. Donations, she said, were making it possible for them to provide boxes of food for 18 families as well as the chicken luncheon served at the party by volunteers.
A few of the families at the party included past inmates served by Life in Christ, but most of the families were referred by their still-incarcerated family member.
“We know these families by name,” Ortiz says. “We want them to feel a part of the larger community.”
Those whom they serve in jail, she adds, referred their loved ones because they worry about their families and “want to know that they are attended to for Christmas.”