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Prison, jail ministry led to the diaconate

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By Marnie McAllister

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Dennis A. May, who was ordained a deacon Feb. 19 at St. Augustine Church, felt called to the diaconate after he started ministering to prisoners in Marion County.
His ministry in local jails and prisons began about nine years ago when someone he knew was arrested. He discovered that Catholic inmates weren’t receiving the Eucharist or any other form of Catholic ministry.
He and a group of friends from St. Augustine had recently been trained to lead Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest. So, they began ministering at local jails and prisons, taking turns each Sunday celebrating the Liturgy of the Word and leading a communion service for Catholic inmates.
Their ministry has a name now, the St. Dismas Jail Ministry, and it has expanded to serve neighboring Nelson County, too. Among those serving in the ministry are Mike Luescher, Sid Osbourne, the late Terry Ward, John Mattingly, Tom Simms and Marvin Boone.
May said that he and his wife Cheryl entered the diaconate formation program for a couple of reasons.
First, he was committed to praying for an increase in vocations to the church, and one day during Mass he realized he could help by becoming a deacon.
“I wanted some more training, and I wanted the guys (in jail) to feel like someone from the church with some official title was there to see them,” he said during a telephone interview.
He added that his experience with the prisoners “has increased my faith and made me more appreciative of the values my parents taught me.”
“We all make mistakes,” May said. “And sometimes the only thing that separates us is that they [inmates] got caught.”
The ministry is rewarding, too, he said, especially “when someone calls you or sees you when they’re getting out of jail and they tell you, ‘You saved my life.’
“I always tell them, ‘If I said something that helped, it was the Holy Spirit,’” May said. “I do it because God asked me to do it. The call was pretty clear, and it’s rewarding to do what God wants you to do.”
May also said that more people are needed to help minister in area jails and prisons.
After his ordination, May plans to continue serving in prison ministry. He will be assigned to St. Augustine and to Holy Name of Mary Church in Calvary. He is employed as an engineering manager at Curtis Maruyasu America, Inc., in Lebanon.
He and his wife Cheryl have three sons and live on part of the May family farm in Marion County. The couple have served the Catholic Church in a variety of ways, serving in religious education and as confirmation sponsors, lectors and eucharistic ministers. They have also helped to raise money for the school at St. Augustine and have ministered to people who were inactive or disillusioned with the church.
In addition, May is a Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus Monsignor Gettlefinger Council and served as a financial secretary and warden. He also is a Fourth Degree member of the Father McGee Council.
Editor’s note: This article was reprinted with permission from The Record. McAllister is the assistant editor of The Record, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville.