St. Peter parishioners give rosary presentation for inmates
by William J. Dagendesh
Photo: St. Peter parishioners Theresa Knapp (left) and Peggy Ocken (right) are pictured in Limon on Sept. 30. The two women traveled to the Limon Correctional Facility to teach inmates about praying the rosary. (Photo by Deacon Cliff Donnelly)
LIMON. Two local women are being lauded by their parish for presenting the rosary to correctional facility prisoners in what they hope will result in a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
Theresa Knapp and Peggy Ocken, parishioners at St. Peter Parish in Monument, presented the rosary to Limon Correctional Facility (LCF) inmates on Sept. 30. Both women participate in the “To Jesus Through Mary” Rosary Ministry at St. Peter, which promotes consecration to Jesus through Mary with focus on the Holy Rosary.
A retired registered nurse, Knapp is lead for the Divine Mercy Cenacle and Blood Drive coordinator at St. Peter. Ocken is a retired special education teacher at Palmer Lake Elementary School.
Located in Limon, about 75 miles northeast of Colorado Springs, LCF is a mixed custody facility that houses more than 900 inmates. LCF is a Level IV mixed-custody facility with a capacity of about 930 prisoners. Inmates are housed in one of six general population living units that hold between 154 and 160 inmates.
The facility encourages inmates to take part in adult basic education and General Education Development courses, and participate in spiritual activities.
According to Ocken, Deacon Cliff Donnelly, director of the diocese’s Prison and Jail Ministry, invited both women to attend the presentation. It is the first time both women conducted such a presentation, which lasted about an hour and included a communion service. About 21 inmates were in attendance.
“The men were incredibly gracious and showed a lot of interest and respect. They even contributed to saying the rosary with us. I don’t feel we had any obstacles, except the confines of the requirements of the facility,” Ocken said.
Knapp added, “The reverence I saw regarding the Eucharist was beautiful. Peggy talked about how to pray the Rosary and went through the mysteries. I talked about the history of the rosary and many miracles of the rosary.”
Knapp said she was inspired to present the rosary to inmates when the church’s rosary ministry lead approached the group about conducting a presentation to LCF prisoners. The rosary expresses the principle of solidarity because it transcends the boundaries of culture and language and it reflects the spirit of Mary “and her intention to do the work of Jesus Christ,” she said.
The word “rosary” means “crown of roses” and originates from presenting a group of prayers to Mary like a spiritual bouquet of roses, in veneration for her role as Jesus’ earthly mother. If a person chooses to gift a rosary to someone, it indicates that the rosary will be his or her guidance in everyday life.
Many Catholic inmates, particularly those of Hispanic heritage, have carried rosary beads and have used the rosary for prayer. However, prison officials once banned multi-colored beads for security reasons, believing that such beads could be used by gang members to identify each other. Inmates could have rosaries as long as the beads were one color, Deacon Donnelly said.
“Prison ministry has always intrigued me and now we were given the opportunity. We had scheduled this just prior to COVID and now had this chance to go with Deacon Cliff,” Knapp said.
Deacon Donnelly said that he is more surprised by the reaction of the presenters than that of the inmates.
“There is a great apprehension from those who have never entered a prison before. But, when you walk away, there’s a great satisfaction for having brought inmates closer to Christ,” Deacon Donnelly said.
Knapp and Ocken agreed that their initial worries were unfounded, as the inmates responded favorably to their presentation.
“I was a bit anxious the evening before we were to present. Once we were with the men, I felt completely at ease. I immediately was interested in sharing the rosary with these inmates,” Knapp said.
“We were told how helpful this was so that they (especially the new Catholics in the group) could learn how to pray the rosary,” she said. “They loved hearing about the interesting rosary miracles of Fatima, Rwanda, Nigeria, the Chilian Miners and more.”
“We had been aware that Deacon Cliff had been ministering to the inmates,” Ocken said. “This is the first time I have been involved in such a presentation, and I thoroughly enjoyed being with inmates and sharing our Catholic faith.”
The women said they didn’t encounter any obstacles, and that being in the company of “these respectful men who truly were interested in their faith and learning about the rosary” was the best part of the presentation.
“My greatest reward is sharing our Holy Rosary with others. They expressed profound gratitude to us,” Ocken said.
Knapp and Ocken aren’t sure if the experience will become a popular spiritual vehicle but welcome the opportunity to help bring other inmates closer to Christ.
“We will be working with Deacon Cliff on more presentations. We certainly hope more inmates become familiar with the Holy Rosary and will share their interest with others,” Ocken said.
Deacon Donnelly said he hopes other correctional facilities express an interest in the program.
“I believe it is a program that could get some legs,” he said.
To learn more or to join the ministry, contact Elaine Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org.