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A priest for our prisoners: Through the eyes of a prison chaplain

SPONSORED BY CATHOLIC FOUNDATION (ARCHDIOCESE OF BRISBANE)

Fr Tony Girvan

Sharing the gospel: Fr Tony Girvan

FORMER parish priest at St Bernardine’s, Regents Park, Fr Tony Girvan, has always strived to be proactive about helping the poorest of the poor. 

“I didn’t just want to talk about it and preach about it. I wanted to go out and do it,” he said.

In the seminary and throughout his priesthood, Fr Tony has helped out on the streets with the St Vincent de Paul Society and Rosies, and served the homeless for some 20 years, most recently at Blind Eye Ministries – a Brisbane-based grassroots Catholic ministry. 

In the past three months, his vocation opened another lens into a world of poverty and disadvantage when he embarked upon the life-altering work of prison chaplaincy. Working alongside 25 volunteer lay chaplains in Centacare’s Prisoners’ Services, Fr Tony became the first full-time priest to work in prison ministry for five years. This meant leaving his beloved parish community.

“I had a great parish at Regents Park, I loved it, and the community was fantastic. Leaving that particular parish was one of the hardest things I had to do. But once you’re in the prison, and you’re sitting with the fellas and talking with them you realise it’s an awesome vocation. It’s a privilege and I’m grateful to the Archbishop for choosing me to do this full-time,” he said.

Fr Tony shares the Gospel, takes Communion to some prisoners, but most of the time he sits and talks with people and he hears confessions. 

“I have heard stuff that curls my toes. It tests my Christianity to the nth degree because it’s not for me to judge, I’ve only got to love,” Fr Tony said, “that’s hard to do, when you hear very confronting things but you have to look past all that you hear and see that this is a child of God sitting before me. When people are incarcerated it is easy for society to forget about them as having intrinsic worth and value. I talk to some of the most broken people in the world, the most rejected. There is a real sadness there; lives of brokenness, lives that have been surrounded by drugs and violence pretty much from the cradle. It’s heart-wrenching.”

The valuable work of prison chaplaincy comes under Centacare Prisoners’ Services and ministers pastorally and spiritually to those affected by the criminal justice system, and comes under the direction of Centacare Pastoral Ministries. Centacare Prisoners Services also provides Court Support volunteers and assistance to prisoners and their families both during incarceration and on release. 

 “One big problem prisoners face, especially the young ones is repeat-offending. So it’s good to see the Church working hard to offer those rehabilitative support services,” Fr Tony said. 

Centacare’s Pastoral Ministries rely on donations, especially the funds raised through the Archdiocese of Brisbane’s Annual Catholic Campaign held each September. The Annual Catholic Campaign trains seminarians, cares for priests in retirement, provides Catholic school bursaries to the impoverished and seeks to expand Centacare’s Pastoral Ministries in hospitals, prisons, psychiatric care and Aboriginal communities. 

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