FORMER PARISH PRIEST AT ST BERNADINE’S, 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 St Vincent de Paul, Rosies, and served the homeless for some twenty years, most recently at Blind Eye Ministries – a Brisbane-based grassroots Catholic ministry.

In the last 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,” he said.

In a recent address to a group of prison chaplains Pope Francis asked them to let prisoners know that he prays for them. The Holy Father went on to remind chaplains that they “are a sign of Christ’s nearness to these brothers who are in need of hope.”

Your prayers for incarcerated men and women are deeply appreciated by Fr Tony. Please consider giving to the Annual Catholic Campaign to help bring hope to prisoners through the challenging work undertaken by Fr Tony Girvan and prison ministry staff.

Feature image Fr Tony Girvan, prison chaplain

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