Bishop celebrates Mass at Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Thomas Zinkula celebrated Mass on Oct. 18 at Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility in Mount Pleasant along with members of the prison ministry team from St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant. From left are Mike Burgmeier, Ted Mountz, Father Paul Connolly and Bishop Zinkula.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Mount Pleasant — Bishop Thomas Zinkula shakes hands with Nathan and Jim, the first inmates to arrive for 6 p.m. Mass inside the library of the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility.

“Your picture is everywhere,” Ted Mountz of St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant tells the bishop. Nathan made sure of that, posting multiple flyers advertising the Mass at which Bishop Zinkula would preside. One of the flyers, bearing an image of the smiling bishop, read: “You don’t have to be a Catholic to attend. Everyone is welcome!”

As Mountz and fellow prison ministers Father Paul Connolly, Mike Burgmeier and Bishop Zinkula prepare the altar for Mass, seven more men arrive in the library and sit down on chairs arranged in rows close to the altar. Someone opens a window in the library of the minimum security facility to let in fresh air. Voices of men enjoying free time outdoors on the enclosed campus drift into the room. A brilliant orange sunset emerges in the sky.


Mountz stands in front of the gathering, holding a hardcover missalette/song book and announces the page numbers for the Order of the Mass. “You guys are doing good,” he says, as they bookmark the pages. “The last class flunked,” he jokes. “They might not have if they had a good teacher,” the bishop quips.

Before the entrance hymn, Bishop Zinkula tells the men that he used to celebrate Mass once a month at Anamosa State Penitentiary when he served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. “That’s one of the things I enjoyed most.” This is the bishop’s third visit to a state correctional facility located in the Davenport Diocese since he became bishop in June 2017. He plans to visit each one on an annual basis.
Pope Francis calls all bishops to go to the peripheries, the places outside the church walls, to encounter and reach out to people in need. That’s why the bishop is here, he tells the men.

Power and honor

Nathan reads the first reading for the Sunday Mass of Oct. 21 and Aundre, a fellow inmate, reads the second reading. Fr. Connolly proclaims the Gospel. Bishop Zinkula reflects on the Gospel passage from Mark in which James and John ask for two of the four “classic substitutes for God,” power and honor.

Power, the bishop says in his homily, can be abused for bad or used for good. Hitler’s reign of terror is one example of bad power. Men who sexually harass or sexually abuse women provide another example of power used badly. St. Teresa of Kolkata’s ministry to people sick and dying in abject poverty exemplifies the good use of power.

Honor can also be abused for bad and used for good, the bishop says. Clergy sexual abuse is an example of honor used badly. It happens when clergy are put on a pedestal. “I call it clericalism; it makes it easier to abuse,” the bishop continues. He gives an example of a good use of honor: his participation in the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). The “biker bishop” received a lot of media attention for his participation, which could have gone to his head. Well, maybe it did a little, he tells the men. But he always strived to point the way to Christ. “I was with the people, walking with them, bicycling with them … I tried to use that honor for the good, to give glory and praise to God.”

Everyone daydreams about standing out and being recognized, the bishop says. “Jesus defines glory very differently than we do. Real glory for him is being compassionate, loving and forgiving. That’s the glory that Jesus displays on the cross, when he forgives those who are mocking and killing him” — and when he forgives Dismas, the good thief, on the cross beside him.

That secret dream of glory needs to grow, mature and be purified. “It needs to become the glory of the cross … centered on compassion, forgiveness and love. It needs to focus on life-giving service to others. That’s the kind of glory to which all Christians should aspire.”

The encounters

During the exchange of the Sign of Peace, an inmate tells the bishop, “Thanks for coming.” “You guys could be my body guards,” the bishop jokes with two inmates; one is 6 feet, 8 inches tall.

Bishop Zinkula “seems to be a really, really genuine person, down to earth,” says Nathan, 42, who entered the Catholic Church in 2007 at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City. He has been incarcerated for a year and anticipates his release in March 2019.

Aundre, a Quad-Cities native, came to Mass “to be in line with the Spirit,” he says. He’s working on his integrity and “to be a man of my word.” He appreciates that Bishop Zinkula came to Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility to “show his support and talk about the problems the church has and where he stands in his faith.”

The bishop’s presence “is a blessing,” says Robert, 45, the inmate the bishop joked with earlier about being his body guard. “I’m looking forward to working for the bishop when I get out,” Robert jokes back. The Cedar Rapids man attends church services and Bible studies for self-improvement. “I feel terrible about putting myself in this situation,” the father of three says of his incarceration. “I need to be a better role model to my kids.” He looks forward to returning home in February 2019.

“Like Bishop Zinkula said, one of reasons we’re here is because Christ asks us to visit the imprisoned,” Ted Mountz said. “Our local church tries hard to walk that talk, and that includes our bishop.”

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