Card ministry allows inmates to share Christmas joy

An envelope with a Vatican stamp postmarked from Vatican City Aug. 13, 1943, is depicted in this photograph. The envelope carried correspondence from an Italian World War II prisoner of war held in Missoula, Montana, to his family in Italy. (CNS photo/courtesy Greg Pirozzi)
An envelope with a Vatican stamp postmarked from Vatican City Aug. 13, 1943, is depicted in this photograph. The envelope carried correspondence from an Italian World War II prisoner of war held in Missoula, Montana, to his family in Italy. (CNS photo/courtesy Greg Pirozzi)

By Rachele Smith
Catholic News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) — Shortly before Thanksgiving, a package arrived for volunteers and staff working with the prison ministry in the Diocese of Baton Rouge that contained, as anticipated, unused Christmas cards for the ministry’s annual collection.

This wasn’t just a simple donation of cards though. According to Laverne Klier, a Joseph Homes case manager who assists with the program through Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s prison ministry, the package represented the impact this ministry has had in the community.

The package, from the town of Napoleonville, cost $7 to mail — more than what the cards inside cost — “but it shows how much the sender wanted to make sure we received them,” Klier told The Catholic Commentator, Baton Rouge’s diocesan newspaper.

She said the Christmas card collection, which has been going on for about 15 years, allows an inmate to send holiday greetings through the mail to family and friends.

“Often family members do not live near the facility where an inmate is assigned or the family doesn’t have the funds to visit often, so when you receive a card from someone incarcerated, just imagine how uplifting that must be,” she said.

Linda Fjeldsjo, the diocese’s coordinator of prison ministry and Joseph Homes, added that some prisoners, especially those without a family, may elect to send Christmas cards to other inmates, prison volunteers or guards, helping to spread the true meaning of the holiday within the prison itself.

Deacon Nat Garofalo at Mater Dolorosa Church in Independence said the Christmas card ministry is well received by the prisoners. Deacon Garofalo, who has helped extensively during the past eight years with card collection in his deanery, called it an “attitude of gratitude.”

“The inmates look forward to this every year and are very grateful they can send cards,” he said, adding each prisoner typically receives about three to five cards each year to send to others.

Depending on donations and what each jail allows, some cards may already have a stamp affixed, but if not, an inmate only has to purchase one from the prison commissary.

“All they have to do is sign it and address it. Of course, prison officials do check all of their correspondence, but this program makes it easy,” Deacon Garofalo said.

Inmates watch as Pope Francis visits Cereso prison in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Inmates watch as Pope Francis visits Cereso prison in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Working closely with local sheriffs, Deacon Garofalo said he is mindful about following protocols for bringing items into a prison. Typically, he and his wife, Jeanette, along with students from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond, have a workday where all donated cards are reviewed and properly prepared for distribution to inmates.

He said he receives from 5,000 to 6,000 cards annually, mostly from local parishioners.

“Never less than 4,000,” he said, adding that through the years, he has become known throughout the parish for working with the card collection

“To receive such a high number of cards tells you that people support this program, and it means a lot to the general Catholic population in this area,” he said.