By Sarah Mac Donald - 18 June, 2019
An Irish-born Mercy Sister who has been working with Irish prisoners through the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain is this year’s winner of the Irish in Britain’s Individual Volunteer Award.
Sr Moira Keane is originally from Co. Galway and is one of the Irish Chaplaincy’s Prison Outreach volunteers.
Explaining how she first started working with prisoners she recalled, “While studying at All Hallows Dublin, I was privileged to do a ‘pastoral placement’ at Mountjoy’s womens prison. Whilst there I accompanied some of the female prisoners on family home visits.”
That was followed by 12 years working as a prison chaplain in the north-east of England. “I loved this ministry,” she admitted.
When she retired from full-time work in Acklington and Castington prisons, she went to live in Essex.
“Aware that I had time to spare, and knowing some of the chaplains at the London office, I was invited to help with their heavy workload. I was made very welcome and I enjoy my time here,” Sr Moira explained.
The Irish Chaplaincy offers advice, support and friendship to Irish prisoners in England and Wales, older Irish people, Irish Travellers and Gypsies and younger people with an Irish background.
It is the only charity in the UK offering help to Irish prisoners, who are the second largest ethnic minority in the British prison system today, totalling over 1,000 people, almost half of whom are Travellers.
Speaking about her voluntary work at the Irish Chaplaincy Sr Moira explained, “The prisoners have a direct line to the Prison Outreach Office and sometimes that is the only contact they have with the outside world. I answer the telephone and direct their calls to the appropriate person if I am unable to address their issues. I also help with whatever administration needs to be done and I go on prison visits occasionally.”
She said the staff in the chaplaincy are doing admirable work but more staff and volunteers are needed, especially people with experience of prison visiting and computer skills.
“There are hundreds of Irish prisoners on our books: some are doing life sentences, others who are unable to cope die by suicide. The staff deal with issues of discrimination, bullying, advice, finance appeals; and their families also need support.”
Asked what she liked most about her voluntary work, the Mercy nun said, “I like the contact with the prisoners and their families. It is good to be able to trace and support the father, mother, son or daughter incarcerated in this dreadful prison system and their distraught families. I also like being able to support the staff with their heavy workload.”
She added, “It is good to have the opportunity to help and to respond to the Lord. He said ‘I was in prison and you visited Me …’”