When Sister Sheila Brady arrives for her weekly visit at a Kingston area prison, an inmate announces “the quiet flame has arrived.” Sister Sheila found a new direction in life after a two-month retreat at a prayer center in Arizona in 2000.
The sabbatical came after a five-year term on the Leadership Council of the Sisters of Providence. Not knowing what life held, she reached out to God for inspiration. Sister Sheila thought a great deal about her gifts in those two months of quiet refection and prayer. She narrowed it down to three—hope, joy and peace. Building on these gifts, she carved out a future in prison ministry.
Sister Sheila embarked on her new mission with a renewed sense of life. What does she say to her detractors? “I’m happy doing God’s work, and carrying on the mission the Sisters of Providence first began in 1861.”
Spending her time at three federal institutions, including Bath, Frontenac and Pittsburgh, Sister Sheila provides a listening heart to murderers, sex offenders and others. She first got involved at the medium security Bath Institution after an invitation by the Chaplain and encouragement from Providence Associates Carol and Bill Groten. She admits to feeling nervous initially. Five years in, the fear was replaced with a sense of belonging. “It’s where God wants me to be.”
Sister Sheila’s weekly involvement with the inmates consists of an initial greeting, Mass and socializing. “I have never felt so comfortable. It’s just like meeting with my brothers,” says Sister Sheila. Bible sharing among inmates at Bath, in addition to shared homilies, have emerged as Sister’s favourite experiences. It draws out deep sharing of pain and alienation and ultimately healing.
This quiet woman cares deeply about the men she assists. For years, she drove a big blue van on Sunday mornings escorting inmates from Pittsburgh Institution to Mass in the Chapel at Providence Motherhouse.
In ten years, Sister Sheila has witnessed stories of hope and desperation. She recalls the story of Peter (not real name) who asked her for guidance. Sister escorted Peter weekly to St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital meeting with a man suffering from Parkinson’s disease. An avid philatelist, Peter helped the patient organize his stamp collection. The two men continue to correspond.
Another man, who resides in an apartment in Kingston, turned his life around. Walter loved to cook and each week, prepares delicious homemade soup for In From the Cold, a Kingston homeless shelter.
Sister Sheila shares a sad story about an aging inmate in poor health who was released from prison but whose past crimes made it difficult to find an apartment because the community discovered he was living in their area. He eventually ended up in hospital, dying of pneumonia. Sister Sheila and another Circle of Support member were at his side.
Sister Sheila is well qualified. She attends and facilitates workshops, helped train volunteers eager to enter the prisons, and participates in support groups for ex inmates adjusting to life in Kingston.
A humanitarian, Sister Sheila draws on her vast experience as a nurse and hospital administrator. She brings compassion and hope to men living behind the imposing prison gates, and to those beginning a new life in society.
- 2001 attended Prison Volunteer Course facilitated by Prison Chaplains and volunteers at Archdiocese of Kingston
- attended workshop Alternatives to Violence at Bath Institution with prisoners and volunteer facilitators
- attended workshop Listening Heart at Loyola House in Guelph
- initially, Sister Sheila spent her time at 3 federal corrections institutions
- weekly involvement with inmates involved socializing and celebrating Mass
- acted as citizen escort for inmates approved from Frontenac and Pittsburgh to attend weekly mass at Providence Motherhouse. Christmas and Holy Week escorts to services and socials afterwards
- one-on-one visits with inmates when requested
- Elizabeth Fry Society elected member, assisting with revision of Policies, Procedures and Constitution. Granted life time membership upon resignation. Decision by Society to buy our Gabriel Home made at that time
- facilitated meetings with inmates and a Queens University Theological student for three months, twice in 2 years
- attends volunteer Appreciation meals at three prisons yearly
- involved in Circles of support and Accountability for ex inmates sponsored by the Salvation Army. Belonged to several Circles during the 2000’s. Assisted an inmate on his deathbed, went to Court with several inmates on discharge
- wrote Reference letters to Parole Board on behalf of inmates
- maintained relationships and support with inmates through letters especially those put in solitary confinement
- escorted inmates to local hospital for volunteer services in the gift shop
- Member of unofficial circle of Support for pedophile, securing an apartment and acting as caretaker while individual was under house arrest
- assisted an elderly ex-con with limited education to prepare his court Case in family court for four months meeting with Legal Aid lawyers
- drove released inmates to bus, train and airport and continued to correspond with them after release
- escorted inmates to Providence Spirituality Centre for one day Lenten retreats. Inmates were most appreciative of this “day in silence”
- appointed to the Project Reconciliation Baptist Board in Kingston in 2005 assisting the Community Chaplain in establishing an interfaith separate incorporation with By-Laws for this ministry
- escorted inmate weekly to St. Vincent de Paul Society kitchen for homeless to help with serving meals and dishwashing
- escorted inmate to our Motherhouse to entertain our Sisters with music concerts
- assisted elderly ex-offender to write his will and perform the duties of Power of Attorney for health decisions