Catholic Free Press

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Deacon and wife propose inter-faith chapel at jail

Posted By August 18, 2017 | 4:36 pm | Lead Story #2
Deacon Gary Miller and his wife, Elizabeth, who have been ministering at the jail for years, brought  the first donation – $500 from the stewardship account of St. Mary Parish in Jefferson – to the Chancery. Photo by Tanya Connor
Deacon Gary Miller and his wife, Elizabeth, who have been ministering at the jail for years, brought the first donation – $500 from the stewardship account of St. Mary Parish in Jefferson – to the Chancery. Photo by Tanya Connor

By Tanya Connor  | The Catholic Free Press

A retired deacon and his wife are trying to raise money to build a free-standing, interfaith chapel at Worcester County Jail and House of Correction.
Deacon Gary Miller and his wife, Elizabeth, who have been ministering at the jail for years, brought  the first donation – $500 from the stewardship account of St. Mary Parish in Jefferson – to the Chancery last week.
“They asked my blessing for it,” Bishop McManus said of the Millers and their project. He said this is not a diocesan project, but he gave them his blessing, and had an account opened for it in the Diocesan Expansion Fund, the diocesan bank.
Mrs. Miller said she felt it significant that she received the second donation on the Marian feast of the Assumption this week, given that she wants to dedicate the chapel to Our Lady of Guadalupe. She said a woman she’d told about the project gave her almost $100 at Mass.
While the chapel would be for people of any faith, Mrs. Miller said the Catholics can call it what they choose to, even if unofficially. She said she thought of Our Lady of Guadalupe because many of the prisoners are Hispanic and there is no church in diocese with that title. When many churches are closing or being torn down, it would be hopeful for the diocese to have a chapel built, she said.
David Tuttle, superintendent for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, who oversees the jail and house of correction, said he would love to see this project happen. But he said he has no resources to devote to it.
The amount of money the Millers can raise will dictate what they can build on the property which is owned by the state, Mr. Tuttle said. The Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which is responsible for construction for the commonwealth, would oversee the project, he said. IMG_2209
He said any free-standing chapel would be placed on the modular side of the jail grounds. The prisoners there are not allowed to mingle with prisoners on the main side. There is already a chapel on the main side.
The superintendent said there are also plans to include a chapel in renovations of the warehouse the Millers now use for their religious events. He said he wants to incorporate ideas from all denominations and hopes renovations will be completed in two and a half years.
Given this, why do the Millers want to raise money for another chapel?
Jail officials have “had a lot of plans that have not happened,” Mrs. Miller said. “We’ve been wanting this for years, praying for this.… If we get this done, it sets an example that this is important.”
On Tuesday she showed The Catholic Free Press the site where she’d like to see the chapel, a grassy spot which is more visible than the warehouse.
Eric P. Collette, one of the prisoners who participated in the rosary Mrs. Miller led that night, agreed. He thought more people would come to religious services in a chapel there, which would be bigger than the hot, windowless warehouse room they’re using now.
But Mrs. Miller said limits are placed on how many prisoners can come to a program at any one time, no matter what size space they’re using.
Mr. Collette said people would come to see the new place.
“I think the men will see that God provides beautiful things even in …,” he started, “… tough situations,” finished Brian Thorin, another Catholic prisoner who came to pray the rosary that IMG_2219night. He said they look at the same colors all day.
“I just think it would be a great help for us to get in touch with our spiritual side,” Mr. Collette said.
Mrs. Miller said she’s pushing for a chapel that would be used exclusively for religious programs. Currently their programs are not given priority because of the limited space available.
The Millers said that years ago they ministered in a chapel in a building on the spot they’re now eyeing for a chapel. When that building was condemned, they were moved to a cafeteria. Several weeks ago the cafeteria was condemned and they were moved to the warehouse.
Mrs. Miller said they don’t yet know how much it will cost to bring in a pre-fabricated building or to build a simple building with a multi-purpose gathering space, office space, restrooms and air conditioning.
Mrs. Miller said she, her husband, and/or other volunteers conduct five Communion services a weekend, unless a priest comes to celebrate Mass. She also leads a Sunday Scripture study and the Tuesday rosary. Volunteers help them conduct Residents Encounter Christ retreat-like weekends and followup programs. Other Catholic volunteers hold their own programs in English or Spanish.
The Millers said all these and any other religious programs could use the free-standing chapel.
Mrs. Miller said her husband emailed a couple Protestants who have done ministry there, informing them of the project, but he has not heard back from them yet. They don’t know that anyone regularly ministers to Muslims or Jews at the prison, she said.
Looking back – and forward – Deacon Miller said, “We have a saying, ‘GWP: God will provide.’”

– Those seeking more information can contact the Millers at dcnmiller@gmail.com or 978-365-3544. Checks made out to RCB of Worcester, with “Prison Chapel” written in the memo space, can be mailed to Finance Dept., 49 Elm St., Worcester MA 01609.