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Changing a life can be life changing

Sister Joann Quinkert outside the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind.

For Sister Joann Quinkert, helping someone make a change is a life and death issue as she ministers to a Death Row inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

Sister Joann quickly tells you she is not the only Sister of Providence who ministers to inmates. And, she stresses, prison ministry and social justice have been staples in the Sisters of Providence mission early on.

Sister Joann, who entered the Congregation in 1949, has worked in the field of educa­tion, both as a teacher and an administrator; as a pastoral associate in parish ministry, and in social ministry in southeastern Kentucky. At one time, she was also the director of the Friend­ship Center, Williamsburg, Ky., which assisted below-poverty-level women to help themselves and others. For 10 years, she did social ministry in Selma, Ala., and the association and friendship in her ministry work even took her to Ghana in West Africa. Sister Joann also worked in a jail, where she substituted for six weeks, and then worked in a library taking books to prisoners.

Moving back to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2006, Sister Joann was asked by Sister Dorothy Hucksoll if she would be interested in visiting with a Death Row inmate.

“I told her to let me think about it,” Sister Joann recalls. “I prayed a lot about it because I didn’t want to accept something that eventually I could not do myself and then abandon the inmate. I really prayed about it.”

When Sister Joann made the decision to minister to a Death Row inmate, “That was the Providence of God,” she says. “I’ve always tried to be the voice of the marginalized and the voiceless. I think of this as how God has called to me.”

Of her ministerial relationship with the Death Row inmate, Sister Joann explains it is one of listening and caring. “I think of it as our gift to each other. I am an instrument of God and hope to bring God to his life by listening, caring and praying. I talk with my friend and see if there is any way I can comfort him, to help him feel that he is not alone and to reflect on his life.”

Sister Joann, upon his request, was able to make contact with his family and to be the link to what was once separation. In turn, she says, “He never fails to ask what has happened in my life and how I’ve been.

“We walk this journey together … I in my freedom and my friend in his enclosed life still longing for freedom within himself. I think my mission is to keep his spirit alive and moving in an atmosphere, which at some times, can be very depressing.”

And is there change?

“He says his life is much more peaceful and now he has hope,” Sister Joann says. “The visits have helped to reinforce his Catholic religion from which he had drifted away. Without our sharing, he says he would be without the reminders and passions about spirituality. They have been a positive aspect to his present life of hardships.”

Although beyond retirement age, Sister Joann, like so many Sisters of Providence, continues her own journey. “As long as God gives me good health, legs, mind and body, I’ll keep going as long as I can,” she said. “I never think about when I’m going to stop.”

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of HOPE.

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Becky Igo

Becky Igo worked as a marketing manager for the Office of Congregational Advancement. She was an Indiana State University grad and former newspaper reporter/editor who worked with Providence Center, Volunteer Services and the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

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