Welcoming a Unique Inquirer with Mercy

There is an inquirer with the Companions group that gathers at St. Charles Center in Carthagena, Ohio, who hopes to make his first covenant later this year. There are a couple of logistical problems, one being that he does not live in the same state, and the other being that he does not live in the same world.

There is an inquirer with the Companions group that gathers at St. Charles Center in Carthagena, Ohio, who hopes to make his first covenant later this year. There are a couple of logistical problems, one being that he does not live in the same state, and the other being that he does not live in the same world.

The inquirer, whose name is Tim, is an inmate in a medium-security prison in Illinois. He knew about the Precious Blood family through his father, and he hoped to enter formation to become a Companion.

In the meantime, Pat Large, the convener of the Companions group in Carthagena, Ohio, and chairperson of the Companions Council, was at a meeting for young adults in California in 2014. “One of the things we discussed was what if someone lives in an isolated area and wanted to become a Companion? How would that work? But we never came to any resolution,” she said.

When she returned home from that trip, there was a letter waiting for her. A letter from Tim.

After conferring with Fr. Dave Matz, C.PP.S., who was then interim director of Companions, Pat began a correspondence with Tim to learn more about him and whether his calling to be a Companion might be true and valid. Through their correspondence, he told her he feels a strong connection to the C.PP.S.; when he was confirmed in prison, Fr. Paul Wohlwend, C.PP.S., was his sponsor by proxy.

Pat couldn’t go ahead without the consent of her group and its sponsor, Br. Nick Renner, C.PP.S. “I met with Br. Nick, and we talked for three hours about the pros and cons,” she said. They also informed the provincial director, Fr. Larry Hemmelgarn, C.PP.S., of what they were considering before they proceeded.

The next task was to work with the Companions group to be sure everyone was in agreement. “We had a circle and let everyone talk it out,” Pat said. “My approach to the group was that ‘you can be as involved as you want to be. Even if you feel called just to pray for him, heaven knows he needs prayers. If you want to correspond with him, we can work that out. Whatever you feel comfortable with.’”

There was a long conversation and some hesitation, but ultimately the group agreed that Pat could correspond with Tim on their behalf. And that’s what she has been doing for the past 18 months. She keeps their letters back and forth in a thick binder. She sends Precious Blood formation materials to Tim, and he sends his reflections back, which Pat shares with the group. He realizes that his life jumped the track and plunged into a ravine. He never professes to be innocent and in fact calls himself a failure in every way. And yet, through the Precious Blood, he is beginning to see that he has value, that he is a beloved child of God.

“He writes great reflections. I feel we all grow from that,” Pat said. “We see things from a place we’ve never been before, through another’s eyes. It gives us a whole new perspective.”

Of course, letters can go only so far. “I knew the time would come when we would start making visits,” Pat said. Her husband, Jim, also a Companion, volunteered to come along, and they made their first visit to Tim in April 2015. It was in many ways a difficult experience.

“The first visit, I didn’t know what to expect,” Pat said. “It freaked me out at first, going in and being locked up at every stage of the visit. I also wasn’t comfortable with the whole idea of body searches,” which were performed several times during each visit.

But that was the road that led to Tim, so they went. After a five-hour drive to the maximum-security prison where Tim was at that time, the Larges went through all the necessary procedures and finally the visit began. “There was glass between us, and we talked to him on a phone. There was a little round seat of stainless steel, bolted to the floor, and that’s where he sat, shackled. It was so noisy you couldn’t hear yourself think,” she said. “The first day we went, it was awkward. We didn’t know each other, except through letters. Probably, he was very anxious. We tried to keep it light.”

At the end of the hour-long visit, a guard asked Pat if she was feeling all right: “Your face is blood red.” The guard checked the thermostat, and it was 87 degrees in the visiting room. It was a good metaphor for how Pat felt.

Since then, the Larges have visited Tim (who gets no other visitors) every five to eight weeks. Their visits have expanded from one to four hours. Pat has learned the ins and outs of the prison system in a way she never dreamed she would. “The first thing you learn is that you have no control over anything. None. You make the trip, and the prison could be on lockdown in between the time you leave your hotel and when you arrive at the prison. And there’s nothing you can do about it,” she said.

Though she can mail paperwork to Tim, she can’t bring any materials in during their visits, not even a scrap of paper. If there are things she needs to tell him or ask him, she has to memorize both her questions and his answers.

There is a sense that they are making things up as they go. “The welcome rite, we had to ad-lib that,” she said. They hope that the covenant rite will take place later this year, and are working with Fr. Hemmelgarn to come up with a date when he can make the trip.

For her part, Pat said that guiding Tim through the formation process is a way to bring the Companions vision statement Gather, Send to life.

“That vision statement changed my life in a big way. For once, everything made sense to me: who we were (as Companions), and what we were about. The more I read it and reflected on it, the more I realized that I had to live it, that the words are pretty but don’t mean anything if I don’t live it. I had no idea how that was going to happen, but when Tim came along, I realized that it was part of going to the edges, going to the margins, and taking our cup of spirituality wherever God called us to. I had to not only talk the talk but walk the walk. And I never questioned it.

“As a Precious Blood person, you’re called to go into places you would normally never go. You’re called to work with broken, wounded, hurting people. You’re called to bring reconciliation, to bring mercy and not judgment.”

Check out Streams of Mercy for more interviews with members of the Precious Blood family.