Prison ministry gets new chaplain

Father Robert Wachter is racking up the miles on his car as the new chaplain for the diocesan St. Dismas Ministry to the Incarcerated. (Advance photo)

Fr. Robert Wachter’s ‘parishioners’ are behind locked doors, fences

Self-driving cars can’t come soon enough for Father Robert Wachter. In January his odometer rolled up an additional 1,000 miles in his service as the new chaplain for the diocesan St. Dismas Ministry to the Incarcerated.
He’s quickly learning highway landmarks as he drives between the Diocese of Wichita’s 10 correctional facilities in Wichita, Hutchinson, Winfield, Oswego, and El Dorado. In addition to the state prisons, he visits the Sedgwick and Butler county jails and the Sedgwick County Juvenile Detention Facility to bring Jesus in the Word and Jesus in the Eucharist to those behind locked doors and razor-wire-topped fences.
Father’s car is not only blazing a trail, he is, too.
“This is new in the sense that no other priest has been given this assignment,” Fr. Wachter said late last month during a visit to the Chancery.
Part of his job as a chaplain is to supplement the work of the priests near those prisons or jails who regularly celebrate Mass – usually once a month.
One of Fr. Wachter’s first goals was to become a certified volunteer chaplain serving the Kansas Department of Corrections facilities. With that complete, he said he was eager to begin his ministry to serve the prisoners in the less and more restricted areas where he can administer Anointing of the Sick, the Eucharist, and Confession.
The 68-year-old priest has pastored 10 parishes since his ordination in 1976 and said his new assignment is what the Holy Spirit wants him to do.
“I’m sure I won’t have as many weddings and I won’t have as many baptisms,” he said with a chuckle. “Saying Mass and hearing confessions will be the main thing.”
Father Wachter said his duties are similar to the bishop’s confirmation schedule – every other day you’re in a different place at a different time.
Jennifer Bugner, coordinator of the St. Dismas Ministry, said she is blessed and excited to have Fr. Wachter as chaplain.
“What a wonderful gift Bishop Kemme has given our ministry and the incarcerated of our diocese,” she said. Fr. Wachter is a wonderful priest and he will touch many lives as our chaplain.”
She added that the ministry is already fortunate to have many wonderful priests and volunteers who serve side-by-side.
“But to have Fr. Wachter as our designated chaplain we are immensely blessed!”