Jesuit Father George Williams recently became the new Catholic chaplain of San Quentin State Prison in California and said of his new job, “God jumps out at you when you least expect it.”
Fr. Williams, who served 15 years in prison ministries in Massachusetts before being appointed to his “dream job” at California’s oldest penitentiary, sees Christ in the Hell’s Angel shouting a greeting, “Hey, from one angel to another, how’s it going?”
He sees Christ in the lifers who are studying theology and said the inmates sometimes stump him with their insightful questions and surprise him with their knowledge of church teaching.
The facility houses nearly 6,000 prisoners, and about a quarter of them are Catholic.
Williams is in charge of a full sacramental calendar: baptisms at Easter; confirmations; confessions, which are significant for their healing and forgiving; the Eucharist; and anointing of the sick.
Although taken aback by San Quentin’s harsh conditions — he wears a bulletproof vest to work — he was pleasantly surprised by the plethora of programs, beautiful Catholic chapel and hordes of volunteers who bring “a humanness here I didn’t expect.”
“You see the Gospel in a totally different light in prison,” Williams said. “The early Christians were no strangers to prison and execution, including Jesus.”
As a Jesuit priest, his mission is to go where the need is greatest, Williams said.
“Nowhere is there a greater need than in the prison system that holds more than 2 million mostly poor and often disenfranchised people,” he said. “I feel a call to respond to that need.”
Read more about Williams at Catholic San Francisco.