Fr. Zach Presutti, S.J., Thrive for Life founder and Executive Director, meets with supporters in Milwaukee in January to present plans to create a house of studies for adults recently released from prison. (Submitted photo)

A New York-based Catholic ministry to prisoners is establishing a Milwaukee residence for those planning to pursue higher education once they are released.

Up to 12 adults will reside in a building most recently owned by the Capuchin Franciscan Friars that is being transformed by Thrive for Life — a nonprofit that works with incarcerated people as well as people recently released from prison — into its third house of studies in the United States.

“We are so excited to make the Archdiocese of Milwaukee the first place for a house of studies in the state of Wisconsin,” said Fr. Zach Presutti, S.J., Thrive for Life founder and Executive Director. The building purchased by Thrive for Life was constructed in the Halyard Park neighborhood as a convent in the early 1900s by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

In addition to the planned house of studies, Thrive for Life has offered ministry at the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center in Milwaukee and the Racine Correctional Institution, based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded Presutti’s religious order, the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits.

The Milwaukee House of Studies will include therapy and wellness support, food pantry community service, education and trade school preparation, and spiritual support and guidance. Resident scholars continue to live in a supportive community of like-minded individuals and receive education and career mentoring, as well as continued spiritual support and community service participation.

Thrive for Life was founded in 2016 with the mission “to transform lives behind and beyond the prison walls,” Fr. Presutti said.

“Why? Because each and every individual is created in the likeness and image of God. Many of the brothers and sisters that I have met behind the prison walls never received a first chance at life due to poor access to education, healthcare, housing, family issues. They found themselves in prison, there became highly motivated and committed to carry on with their lives,” Fr. Pressuti said.

“We as a Church want to be there for them so we can ensure a permanent and successful reentry back into society through our holistic suite of services as they continue their education in our house of studies,” he added.

Why will the house be established in Milwaukee? Fr. Presutti became a frequent visitor in the seven years that his brother, Jake Presutti, was part of the Marquette University basketball programs staff from 2014-21.

“I met lots of great people in this wonderful city and decided this would be the next best stop in the U.S.A. to found Wisconsin’s first house of studies for returning citizens,” Fr. Presutti said. “We are grateful to continue the work of the Church in this beautiful building as we repurpose it to respond to the work of the Church in our own times.”

Thrive for Life supporters who met with Fr. Presutti in Milwaukee in January received a Case for Support booklet that included a $1 million Milwaukee fundraising campaign that would cover the cost of the building, renovations and furnishings, as well as operating costs for the first two years.

Thrive for Life received a recent boost from New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who served as archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002-09. Cardinal Dolan facilitated the merger last year of Thrive for Life with Abraham House, a nonprofit founded by a group of former Catholic chaplains at Rikers Island to serve released prisoners.

Since 2016 in New York City, Thrive for Life has served more than 3,000 incarcerated individuals throughout the state, federal and local correctional systems through retreat experiences while in prison.

“We currently host up to 35 residents across two transitional housing sites in New York City. One hundred percent of our resident scholars have avoided recidivism and 100 percent are on track to complete their chosen course of study in both university and vocational trade school programs. Many now live in their own homes and work in fields including social services, community outreach, marketing and technology,” the Thrive for Life 2023 annual report said.

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