The biggest challenge for a senior prison chaplain is finding people who would take up this ministry.
Sr Veronica Casey, PBVM, has retired after more than 10 years as senior prison chaplain. She had been a prison chaplain at the Otago Corrections Facility for six years before leading the Catholic chaplaincy.
Sr Veronica described prison chaplaincy, or chaplaincy of other kinds, as “a calling and a ministry, not a career”.
“It was a calling. The position was open, and I decided it was somewhere that I thought I would like to be,” she said.
Sr Veronica said that she applied for role of senior prison chaplain in 2013 because she thought “it was an opportunity and a challenge to try [to] improve our prison chaplaincy services to the men and women in prison”.
“I guess I’ve been part of a journey to prison chaplaincy becoming much more professional, achieving a much higher standard, raising the profile of prison chaplaincy,” she said.
Sr Veronica said that the Church should promote chaplaincies more in order to attract prison chaplains.
“The biggest issue that they need to overcome is finding people who are prepared to train and prepare for prison chaplaincy,” she said.
“It needs promotion, as well as the fact of calling people forward. I think people need to be shoulder-tapped and asked to consider it.”
Sr Veronica stressed that theological and pastoral formation are prerequisites for the ministry.
“The recommendation is at least five years pastoral experience prior to being appointed as a prison chaplain. I don’t think people are being called to do the formation. I’m not sure that they realise that it is required. You are dealing with some of the most broken people in society and, therefore, you require special skills and experience and formation,” she said.
She said that she had had a broad range of experiences during her time as prison chaplain, and that most of this involved “listening to the brokenness of the people that you are sitting with and hearing their stories”.
“I think there is also a considerable amount of fear about the role, which is promulgated by media, portraying an image of prisons that is not necessarily accurate,” she added.
Sr Veronica said that the Church, both at the diocesan and parish levels, has a responsibility to call people forward.
When asked if it was possible that there are people who feel they are being called, but do not know to respond, she said “yes”.
She suggested that those people should “pray about it, to seek advice with their spiritual director, and then to find out more about the role and what formation and preparation they would need to do to be successful”.
Asked what is next for her after retiring, Sr Veronica said that she would be going on a sabbatical “with a very open mind”.
“It’s a time of refreshment and renewal, and I’ll see where I’m called to at the end of it.”