Ministries of Mercy - Visitation at 6363 9th Avenue North, Saint Petersburg, FL 33710 US - “I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt. 25:37)

“I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt. 25:37)


Volunteers from the prison ministry of Prince of Peace Catholic Church deliver reconciliation, healing, and the love of God to the women inmates of Hillsborough Correctional Institute.

In 2006, Bishop Robert N. Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg began the Ministries of Mercy initiative to support and foster parish ministries that serve the poor, suffering, and marginalized. The initiative focuses on five areas where the need is the greatest: food & clothing, shelter, life, visitation, and health. With the help of volunteers, the Ministries of Mercy are currently serving in various parishes and the following story highlights a ministry of Prince of Peace Catholic Church currently serving inmates through the visitation ministry.

Volunteers from the prison ministry of Prince of Peace Catholic Church have been visiting inmates for twenty years. During this time, parishioner Hugh Burns remembers visiting young adult men, elderly, infirm, and juvenile inmates. Today, the ministry continues to deliver reconciliation, healing, and the love of God to the women inmates of Hillsborough Correctional Institute (HCI).

HCI is a faith-based/character-building prison for 300 women, the first of its kind in the state of Florida. The inmates have undergone an application process and the ones accepted have demonstrated acceptable behavior and a commitment to rehabilitation. The prison ministry volunteers meet with the inmates bi-weekly to attend mass or for one-on-one mentoring. “We teach the catechism and hold Bible studies with those open to it,” Hugh said. “The ones that are Catholic thank us for the ability to read the bible and pray the rosary with a fellow Catholic.”

Through the prison ministry, inmates are taught art, GED courses, and house of healing classes designed to help inmates with anger, guilt reduction, forgiveness, and to teach meditation and relaxation techniques. The inmates can use the techniques in the meditation rose garden. “The meditation rose garden is a quiet haven for the inmates,” says Sharon Whiddon, chairperson of the ministry. “It was an idea of Hugh’s that with much work and patience came to fruition.”

Hugh said he has seen dramatic changes in some of the inmates and knows the ministry is making a difference. “While visiting male inmates, a father wrote to tell me I had sent home a new son, and most recently, volunteers prayed with a woman so that she would reconcile with her son and today she cares for his child.”

Throughout the year, generous donations of necessities for the indigent women are collected from parishioners. At Christmas time, volunteers dress up as Santa and elf and pass out gift bags to each inmate. In gratitude, the women put on a skit for the volunteers. Bishop Lynch is a welcome visitor when he celebrates Christmas day Mass at HCI. He spends every third year there, rotating between the other correctional facilities in the diocese.

“Visiting the inmates is very rewarding because they are grateful,” Sharon said. “Ultimately, our goal is to equip them with skills that will ease their reintegration into society while bringing the love of God to them.”

To read about other visitation ministries, the Ministries of Mercy, and to find a ministry near you in need of donations and volunteers click here.

To volunteer your time to the Prince of Peace visitation ministry contact Sharon Whiddon at 813-385-5492.




Parishioner Hugh Burns is a member of the Prison Ministry of Prince of Peace Catholic Church. His attends mass with the women inmates of Hillsborough Correctional Institute and teaches religion classes to the ones open to it.









Sharon Whiddon is the chairperson of the Prison Ministry of Prince of Peace Catholic Church. She teaches the inmates house of healing classes designed to help inmates with anger, guilt reduction, forgiveness, and to teach meditation and relaxation techniques.









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