Called Unto Liberty - The Prison Apostolate of the SSPX in West Texas

January 23, 2019
By District of the USA
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An Ignatian retreat was recently conducted by the SSPX under the most unique of circumstances - behind lock and key in Lamesa, Texas.

Earlier this summer, a priest of the Society had the privilege to preach the Ignatian Exercises to 40 inmates in a West Texas Prison.

The Preston Smith Unit, part of the correctional system in Lamesa, Texas, can accommodate over 2,200 inmates, in various degrees of confinement. This prison has the tremendous grace to have a dedicated traditional Catholic catechist, Mr. Michael Banschbach who visits twice per month to instruct around 40 to 50 inmates in the faith. As you may recall from the interview in the May-June, 2016 issue of The Angelus, Mr. Michael Banschbach resides in Midland, TX with his large family. Under the auspices and with the blessing of Society priests, he has started a prison apostolate, which has borne much fruit across the State.

The prison came to host the retreat after a chance meeting of the chaplain with a Society priest who had visited to say Mass for some of the inmates. In the course of the conversation, the topic of the Ignatian Exercises came up. Some months later the prison chaplain asked Mr. Banschbach “when is that priest gonna come here to preach a retreat?”

So, after getting permission from the District Superior and making the necessary arrangements the retreat was planned for May 10th-12th. Logistically, the circumstances were understandably very difficult. The inmates were confined to a single room—in this case the gym—and the time allotted was from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. There was no ability as you would normally have on a retreat to go for walks or return to one’s room. The 12-hour days ended up being 14 . hour days thanks to the intervention of the prison chaplain with the warden who allowed us to run until 10:30 pm.

Since we had the inmates for the entire day we were responsible for feeding them which meant that every day supplies sufficient to feed 40 men, for 3 meals, had to be brought in. The atmosphere was less than conducive to meditation but the men, with the exception of a couple, were edifying in their efforts and their respect for the silence necessary to hear the voice of God.

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Since we were all locked up together with no private rooms to return to and do the meditations the solution was to set chairs around the perimeter of the basketball court with the chairs facing the wall. The men were told the chair was their “room” and when the conferences were over they should go there to make their meditation. This was a solution formulated on the spot and it actually worked quite well. It was also a source of a funny anecdote when the guard returned for the first time after the end of a conference and was alarmed and immediately on his guard. He explained: “Wow that was weird because there is never silence in prison and when there is you can bet they are up to something and you are probably about to be attacked.” What he had seen was the generous efforts of the men at meditation.

If it was a difficult retreat for the preacher, lay helpers and the inmates, it was also a retreat where the devil was most active. Time delays, hostage situations, disturbances requiring tear gassing of several cell blocks, water pouring through the ceiling of the “conference room”—even father losing his ID on the last day which could have potentially denied him access for the last day of the retreat—were all signs that the devil was not happy with what was being done and was doing his best to “muck up the works!”

With the devil so obviously at work, it was, Father believed, only the prayers of all the sisters, brothers, priests and faithful that allowed everything to work out. A lockdown would have been so easy. In all the difficulties, the only response was to see in it the action of the devil, permitted by Our Heavenly Father and then roll with the punches. Father told the men we can learn a good lesson from it in that, in our life when we want to do the right thing (when we want to follow the Will of God), the world, our poor fallen flesh and the devil will throw all kinds of obstacles in our way and hence we shouldn’t be surprised nor disheartened but peacefully maintain our good resolutions.

In your charity, please pray for these men that they may remain steadfast in their resolutions and be assured they are praying for you and all their Catholic brethren beyond the wire.