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A look into our prison ministry

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot speaking to the crowd during the Gathering of Solidarity at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, there have been 1,480 persons executed in our country. At the 1976 General Chapter of the Sisters of Providence, Sister Jody O’Neil proposed that we as a Congregation take a stand against the death penalty. This resolution was passed in that Chapter.

The Sisters of Providence have been involved in prison ministry since Mother Theodore’s time. Many of our sisters, Providence Associates and friends are actively engaged with prisoners through visiting, educating, letter writing and praying. Each month, I post the scheduled executions on bulletin boards. This information also goes out to the entire Congregation through monthly newsletters. Those scheduled for execution as well as their victim(s) are remembered at our liturgies and the prayers of the sisters.

Many Sisters of Providence have been actively involved in trying to abolish the death penalty in Indiana and at the federal level. In the newer prison in Terre Haute, there is the federal death row section, which houses inmates convicted of federal crimes. Sisters have been visiting prisoners on death row for many years. I visited with David Hammer for 15 years until he was moved to another state. I still keep in touch with weekly letters or emails.

There are many myths surrounding the death penalty. I’ll cite several. “Innocent people are not executed.” Professionals in the United States Justice System know that innocent persons have been executed. The wrongful execution of an innocent person is an injustice that can never be rectified. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 140 innocent persons have been released from Death Row nationally; some only minutes away from execution.

Another myth is: “The death penalty saves money.” No, death penalties cost taxpayers millions more than a sentence of life without parole. This money could be used more effectively for crime prevention programs.

A third myth: “Executions help victims’ families to heal.” No, most families do not feel “healed” by an execution. Rather, the death penalty creates more victims and brutality.

I share with you a prayer that I say daily:

Jesus, united with the Father and the Holy Spirit, give us your compassion for those in prison. Mend in mercy the broken in mind and memory. Soften the hard of heart, the captives of anger. Free the innocent; parole the trustworthy; awaken the repentance that restores hope. May prisoners’ families persevere in their love. Jesus, heal the victims of crime. They live with the scars. Lift to eternal peace those who die. Grant victims’ families the forgiveness that heals. Give wisdom to lawmakers and to those who judge. Instill prudence and patience in those who guard. Make those in prison ministry bearers of your light, for all of us are in need of your mercy.

Note: Beginning in 2019, our Congregation will post a list of executions set to take place for each month on our Facebook page. Please join us in standing for all life.


One state has executions scheduled this month. Contact them and tell them we stand for all life, not death:

Contact Texas Governor Greg Abbott: https://gov.texas.gov/contact

January 15 – Blaine Keith Milam, sentenced to death in 2008 for the slaying of his girlfriend’s toddler

January 30 – Robert Mitchell Jennings, sentenced to death in 1988 for the slaying of Houston police officer Elston Howard

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Sister Rita Clare Gerardot

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot

Sister Rita Clare has been a Sister of Providence since 1944. She ministered for 30 years in teaching and administration at the elementary school level, as well as 12 years in pastoral care (in parishes and Sisters of Providence health care). Sister Rita Clare currently volunteers at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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  1. Avatar S. Denise Wilkinson on December 27, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    Rita, thank you for your fidelity in living out this particular call for justice. Thank you for facts, stories and gospel based insights.

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