Rundell takes over St. Dismas Ministry to the Incarcerated

By Christopher M. Riggs
Jim Rundell says he has never felt more welcome at a Mass than at a celebration in 2001 during which he was a prisoner of sorts.
Rundell was attending a Mass at the El Dorado Correctional Facility at a time when he and his wife, Sharon, were cochairs of the Social Justice Committee at St. Francis of Assisi, Wichita.
“When we took over that responsibility we looked at all the ministries that the social justice group were involved in and the ones we were not, and one they were not was prison ministry,” he said.
They contacted Mary Rubeck, director of the diocesan St. Dismas Ministry to the Incarcerated, about how they could become involved in the ministry. She invited him to that prison Mass and Rundell soon became a volunteer at the El Dorado state prison.
“In that same time frame I began pursuing my master’s degree in pastoral ministry through the Aquinas Institute of Theology,” he said. “As that program continued, I needed to do a six-week practicum in ministry.”
Rundell approached the prison chaplain and asked if he could follow the chaplain around to understand his duties. “They readily accepted having a need for a chaplain in their receiving/diagnostic unit, which is where men from all over the state of Kansas go when they are first sentenced and then are disbursed out to one of the state prisons.”
Rundell has been going to the prison weekly ever since.


“It’s just a tremendous opportunity to share the love of Christ with them. It’s been instrumental in my own faith formation – being there brings scripture alive for me.” he said.
“So from that I looked at an opportunity that came along called Seg to Society, for men in long-term segregation who would be released to either the general population (in the prison) or into society.”
The program didn’t have a spiritual component, Rundell said, so he made a proposal to add one and the prison accepted.
“I offered what time I might have, being out there once a week anyway,” he said. “For the next year and a half I’d spend an hour and a half going from cell to cell in the segregation unit. Truly it was something that was very much needed. They have no access to programs or volunteers or chaplains because of the sheer numbers of men out there. The facility chaplain just can’t handle it all.”
The Seg to Society program was the impetus for a similar program that Rundell developed and implemented for the inmates in long term segregation called “Spiritual Formation in Segregation.”
Rundell’s dedication and enthusiasm to the ministry caught Rubeck’s eye.
“Mary and I had grown close in our love for prison ministry and Mary asked me several times if I might want to take it over. I said we’ll just have to see what happens as time rolls along,” he said. “As she got closer to retirement and as I continued to work in the ministry I thought it might be something I’d like to do. So here we are.”
Rundell continues to office at the Spiritual Life Center splitting his time as administrator of the Spiritual Life Center and as program coordinator for the St. Dismas Ministry.
“We want to continue and strengthen what Mary has built up,” he said. “She’s done a tremendous job in bringing the sacraments, RCIA, and adult faith formation to the three primary institutions – Winfield, El Dorado, and Hutchinson – but also into the county jails.”
Rundell said the diocese has been very successful in serving the men and women in the Sedgwick County Jail. “In fact just now, through Mary’s efforts, it was approved that instead of Mass at the jail just twice a month – once for men and once for women, we now have approval to go every Friday and we’ll alternate men’s and women’s (Masses).”
Five priests have volunteered to celebrate the weekly jail Masses, which begin today.
“But there are other county jails throughout the diocese,” he said. “We’ve begun a presence at the Sumner County Jail in Wellington. We have volunteers going in there weekly for Bible study. At some point we’d like to provide the sacraments at that jail.”
Rundell hopes that nearby parishes, through their stewardship efforts St. Dismas can provide ministry to prisoners in more county jails.
Looking ahead Rundell said he would like to take the TOGETHER vision and the idea of stewardship of time, talent, and treasure into the prisons.
“They want to give. Giving back is a part of their healing process. The guys who are already serious about their faith are serving in whatever way they can inside. I have seen guys give checks for two or three dollars because they feel strongly about a program. They give what they can. It’s very humbling.”
He is also planning an in-prison bereavement ministry because inmates are not allowed to leave the prison for a funeral, and there is no process in place to help them grieve.

 

Want to volunteer for prison or jail ministry?
Rundell said he would like to extend a parish’s sense of community to include the men and women of nearby prisons or jails. “While they are separated from the community, they remain a part of the community. The more we can get the local community to support it, the stronger that sense is for the prisoners as well.”
Those who live near a prison or jail are invited to contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at (316) 744-0167.