The archbishop lifted the peace pipe to his lips from his spot in the circle he and the Native American inmates formed on a hill near the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution’s chapel. Following in the footsteps of the inmates before him, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki puffed the white smoke down, to the left, up and to the right, which an inmate later explained was to pray for everything – people, animals, ancestors and the “little ones” coming after – and then the smoke carried the prayers to the Creator. Archbishop Listecki passed the pipe to Fr. James Lobacz, the archbishop’s MC and logistics coordinator and part-time director of the office for vocations for the archdiocese.
The pipe made its way around the circle and when the knickinick, a tobacco substitute, was gone, a feather was passed around the circle, giving each man a chance to share a few words. The inmates thanked the archbishop and Fr. Lobacz for coming and smoking the peace pipe with them.
“That’s very sacred to us,” one inmate said. “You bring blessings for us.”
Before passing the feather to his left, each man stated his name and tribe followed by the group’s collective, “Ho.”
Douglas, who leaned on a wooden cane at the archbishop’s right, compared the archbishop to a medicine man.
“These people are the same,” he said, describing that what the archbishop does is no different from that of a medicine man in that he is a “doctor of healing.”
The archbishop, thanking all of the men, said that his prayer was that they would all experience “internal healing of the Great Spirit.”
A healing visit
That’s the kind of healing that Archbishop Listecki hoped to bring to the correctional institution during his July 29 visit when he participated for his first time in a pipe ceremony, watched and listened to the men play the drum afterward and celebrated Mass with the Catholic inmates.
The inmates carried a red drum to the center of the circle at the conclusion of the pipe ceremony, and placed it on a stand, surrounding it with plastic chairs where three men sat down holding drumsticks with fuzzy, white tips. A few more followed. Together, the men, wearing the same faded, evergreen pants, beat on the drum, with one man beginning the sing-song chant, “Ho-o hey ya.”
Archbishop Listecki watched until the inmates finished several songs to the loud and soft beats of the drum. Shaking their hands, Archbishop Listecki smiled.
“Thank you for praying with us,” an inmate said.
Sue Ewerdt-Joseph, social service director, said that if the men select “religious preference designations,” upon entry to the correctional institution, they may possess certain religious property like a Bible and attend various religious services, like the Native American pipe and drum ceremony or Mass.
Douglas, who stood next to the archbishop during the ceremony, said that Archbishop Listecki is someone who can heal people and give them good things.
“It’s been a blessing that these gentlemen came,” he told your Catholic Herald as he left the ceremony, referring to the archbishop and Fr. Lobacz.
As the men walked back to their units, Archbishop Listecki made the short walk down the hill to the chapel.
“Interesting chapel,” he said as he looked at the architecture of the building that was built in 1961, with a copper roof and small, stained-glass windows in different shades of blue that created a triangular wall behind the altar. “Beautiful design,” he added as he looked up toward the peak of the building.
“Our unit workers have worked very hard to wash the windows and get rid of fingerprints,” Ewerdt-Joseph said.
Inmates gather for Mass
Making his way inside, Archbishop Listecki stepped off to the left where a small sculpture of the Ten Commandments sat on a ledge next to a table. To his right, a few inmates sat with a packet of papers, Hi-Liters and a sign-in sheet. Gregory, 29, who highlighted the names of men from a typed list as they signed in for Mass, spoke to the archbishop about beautiful areas in Wisconsin – like the landscape and scenery surrounding the Plymouth location of the correctional institution.
“I’m happy to see him here,” Gregory told your Catholic Herald. He said he’s happy that the archbishop is now overseeing all of Wisconsin Catholics and not just La Crosse.
Priests are regular presence
Fr. James Connell, vice chancellor of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, canon lawyer and pastor of St. Clement and Holy Name of Jesus Parishes, Sheboygan, and Fr. Joseph Coerber, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Marytown, who take turns celebrating Mass Thursday afternoons with the inmates, came to concelebrate with the archbishop.
Frs. Connell and Coerber also offer religion classes to the inmates, three times a year for about 10 weeks at a time to help them learn more about their faith and prepare them for sacraments they have yet to receive, Fr. Connell said in a follow-up e-mail to your Catholic Herald.
About 25-40 Catholic inmates regularly attend the Masses, according to Fr. Connell, a small number compared to the 205 inmates whose religious preference is Catholic.
“At least for these men (who attend), the Mass and the practice of their faith are important to them as they try to get their lives headed in the right direction,” he said, explaining that most of them have a strong interest in reading the Bible and many of them have a devotion to the rosary – both of which are available through the chaplain’s office.
Fr. Connell, who has been celebrating Mass on a volunteer basis since November 2006, said the ministry is important to the inmates who provide the music, are the readers and perform the sacristy functions, because their lives need change – both in prison and when they’re released.
“We provide a link to the church and the sacraments that we hope helps these inmates to accept Christ who should govern our lives as he gives us life,” he said.
“Are you ready?” Fr. Lobacz asked Archbishop Listecki, but the archbishop was too busy talking to Gregory again to hear him.
Chaplain Jim Cieszynski, a Baptist minister, walked to the front of the chapel and asked the men to move up toward the front because it was a “special day.”
“You don’t all have to move into the same pew,” he said to the inmates who began to chuckle as they spread out beyond the first two pews.
Visit creates ‘unity’
Archbishop Listecki began by explaining that when the archbishop visits, it creates a “kind of unity,” one that unites them with the whole archdiocese and the pope, making them one in the Body of Christ.
Fans circulated the humid air in the chapel as sweat beaded on some of the men’s faces. They bowed their heads and prayed, sang songs from the missalettes and appeared to listen intently to the archbishop’s homily.
“Jesus reminds us of what really is important in the world,” Archbishop Listecki said, adding that there are “all sorts of temptations that will take us away from him, but we know it always comes back to God.”
The archbishop said that God will open the men up to understand his presence in their lives and that he is going to, like an anchor, “keep you strong. That anchor’s going to keep you in place.”
He also reminded the inmates that God knows them even when they don’t necessarily know themselves.
“There’s only one thing that’s important – being close to God,” Archbishop Listecki said, reminding the men that they may not be successful in the way the world values them. “If you don’t have (God), you have nothing.”
After they received Communion from the archbishop, the inmates quietly returned to their pews. Many bowed their heads in prayer, the plastic white beads of their nametags hanging from their necks, before sitting back in the pews.
During the closing song, “How Great Thou Art,” as Archbishop Listecki and the concelebrating priests made their way down the aisle to leave the chapel, the archbishop stopped at the pianist and thanked him for playing.
“Take care now,” Archbishop Listecki said to one inmate as he shook his hand outside the chapel doors.
“God bless,” he said, smiling at another.
One inmate replied, “Thank you for coming, Father.”
For Ryan, 20, the archbishop’s presence at Mass “meant a lot.”
“It makes me know that people care,” he said, “that we’re not any different than anyone else.”
That’s the message that Archbishop Listecki wanted the men to understand.
“It’s (visiting the prisons) always important because we, in my mind, what we’re called to do in this ministry is to reach out, especially to the most marginalized in society,” Archbishop Listecki told your Catholic Herald on his way out of the prison. “I came here to bring the message of Jesus.”