Missouri Department of Corrections employees of the Algoa Correctional Center (ACC) and the Jefferson City Correctional Center (JCCC) were all smiles the afternoon of Aug. 22.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” stated ACC Chaplain Jeff Anderson.
“It’s what we want!” said one of the Knights of Columbus wearing an apron and holding a spatula outside the institution.
Father Joseph Corel, vicar for prison ministry and pastor of the parishes in Pettis County; former corrections employee Dominican Father Richard Litzau, pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center parish in Columbia; Chaplain Anderson and JCCC Chaplain David Tolliver; and a handful of Knights prepared and served a barbecue luncheon to 600 people who work in the prisons.
Catholic Charities paid for the food.
Threatening skies held back the rain all morning as the Knights fired up the grills and served the meals in a picnic area near ACC.
People dropped by to enjoy hamburgers and hot dogs, along with slaw, chips, cookies and drinks, or to pick up a carryout meal.
Each employee also received an invitation to the first meeting of the newly formed Adrian Group, a nondenominational support group for corrections personnel.
More than a meal
Fr. Corel said the grilled lunch was a thank-you to people who do necessary work under stressful conditions, often without a lot of notice from the general public.
“The spirit of generosity and giving was evident and tremendously appreciated,” said Chaplain Anderson.
“What the men and women do here is serious work,” said one of the Knights who prepared the meal. “So anything we can do to put a smile on their face for a couple hours or a day — I feel good about that.”
Jeff Brondel, a member of Knights of Columbus St. Martin Council 7194 in St. Martins and immediate past district deputy for the Jefferson City area councils, organized the cooking crew.
Volunteers included: Knights State Warden Dave Kiesling of Fr. Helias Council 1054 in Jefferson City; Bob Ashal and Tom Shimmens of Bishop McAuliffe Council 12992 in Jefferson City; Norb Viet of St. Thomas the Apostle Council 2149 in St. Thomas; and Rick Brondel, Jeff Brondel and Ralph Schulte of the St. Martins council.
Chaplain Anderson said the happy demeanor of those who prepared and served the meal spilled over to the employees who came to share a bite to eat.
“That was a gift in and of itself,” he said. “Plus, the food was great!”
A time to connect
Named for the patron saint of prison guards, the Adrian Group is part of the Jefferson City diocese’s and Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri’s (CCCNMO) multifaceted ministry to the incarcerated.
It operates with the understanding that prisons do a better job of rehabilitating offenders when employees feel appreciated and connected with the larger community.
Working in prisons can be satisfying but also difficult and stressful.
The Adrian Group offers corrections employees of all faith persuasions a monthly opportunity to gather for a meal, prayer, discussion and fellowship.
“There’s always going to be fellowship,” said Fr. Litzau.
He noted that the prison employees work to keep the people inside and outside safe.
“I think they need to know that they’re not forgotten and that they’re appreciated and supported in the community,” he said.
That’s exactly what the Adrian Group is trying to do.
“We want them to know that we care about them, that God loves them, and that their work is valuable,” said Fr. Litzau.
He emphasized that this is an opportunity for Catholics to minister in response to a need, not proselytize.
“The Adrian Group is for all employees of the Department of Corrections, regardless of religious affiliation, including no religious affiliation,” Fr. Corel added. “We just want to support, encourage and appreciate you.”
The group meets the first Thursday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Knights of Columbus Hall, 7128 Route M in Taos.
Call (573) 635-7719 or email email@example.com for information about the Adrian Group and upcoming gatherings.