Finding beauty and grace in prisons

Sr O

Good Samaritan Sister, Mary O’Shannassy, has worked in prison chaplaincy for 19 years. 'The men tell me I’ve got life without parole,' she laughs.

- The Good Oil

Prisons are not normally associated with beauty or grace, but prison chaplain Good Samaritan Sister Mary O’Shannassy, says she often experiences both those things in the people with whom she ministers – the same people that society shuns and would sooner forget.

'It’s very much the God in them meeting the God in me,' Mary says. 'And there are some precious moments in that.” Mary has worked in prison chaplaincy for 19 years. “The men tell me I’ve got life without parole,” she laughs.

She was born in Colac in country Victoria and grew up in a close, Irish, farming community with her parents, Agnes Ryan and Vincent O’Shannassy, younger brother John and younger sister Monica. 'One of the significant things for me in my childhood was the open house we had; a place of great welcome and hospitality,' she says. 'There were always people at our place, so from a young age I was exposed to this sense of openness, welcome and hospitality.'

After leaving school, Mary worked in the office of a Colac business, before entering the Good Samaritan novitiate at Pennant Hills and undertaking teacher training at Glebe. Her first teaching appointment was in Townsville, where she says she “loved the people and their children”. She then worked for five years at St Magdalen’s, Arncliffe, which was a home for disadvantaged women and girls, referred by the courts.

'I found this to be physically, emotionally and mentally challenging, but also at the same time, very rewarding,' she says. 'It was really this work that had attracted me to the Good Sams – to be with the people that society shuns.” A period followed teaching in primary schools in the ACT, New South Wales and Victoria before Mary was appointed to Holy Name Parish, East Preston in Melbourne, to work in parish ministry.

'I was very blessed there,' she says. 'Father Anthony Cleary opened all the doors of parish ministry to me. He encouraged me to learn all I could, especially in areas of liturgy and ecumenism.' It was in the parish setting that Mary first met the partners and children of people in prison.

FULL STORY Finding beauty and grace in prisons

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