We presented the 9th Conrad Key of Recognition, our highest award, to Br. Regis Scanlon, recognizing his devoted ministry to those incarcerated within the Denver archdiocese.The award, begun in 1991, is currently given at three-year intervals to a friar who excels in promoting justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. It is named for our patron, St. Conrad of Parzham, a 19th-century Capuchin noted for his 40-year ministry to the poor who came daily to the friary door at a major German pilgrimage center.
Assisted by six deacons and three priests, and 70 trained lay volunteers, Regis directs the ministry of the Church to the more than 9,500 inmates of 17 prisons and jails in the Denver area. About 850 prisoners attend Catholic services weekly.
Early on Regis concentrated on obtaining co-workers and providing for their instruction. Much of this work is now done by two deacons.
Rege personally visits 11 of the facilities every month, often for several days at a time.
He celebrates Mass monthly in three state prisons and the federal immigration detention center, but intensified security measures involving frequent searches have forced him to stop saying Mass in the various county jails.
Regis' numerous coworkers enable communion services to be offered weekly in each of the many sections of the various jails, but his own main focus is the sacrament of reconciliation. His ability to access the prisoners often depends on many conditions beyond his control. He prays regularly that the authorities will see that his work is eventually making their own job easier. The ministry is filled with many frustrations, but Regis remains enthusiastic about the need to keep trying.
Prison ministry was not something Regis wanted to do when asked in 1999. He was riding high in the preaching and writing ministries, which had made him well-known throughout the country to viewers of the EWTN and to readers of various Catholic magazines.
"Prison ministry was not my choice," he told his fellow Capuchins in accepting the award April 16 at Victoria. "I was certain it was not God's choice, and I asked God to send me a sign."
Rege soon had his sign. He lost his voice, and since then has been unable to preach with a full voice to a large congregation.
"I'm certain now the assignment was God's will," Rege conceded. "God works in wonderful way. His sign actually saved my life." Investigating the loss of voice, doctors discovered that Rege's vocal cords were being crushed by a life-threatening aortic aneurysm that had developed at the site of a 1960 operation on his aorta. Surgery soon corrected this condition, but his voice has remained impaired.
In addition to ministry in the Denver prisons, Regis is also active as an instructor and spiritual director with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity both on the local and national levels, as a spiritual director to the men with AIDS at Seton House and the homeless women sheltered there, as a confessor to the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Littleton, and as a spiritual assistant to Secular Franciscan Order fraternities in Littleton and Sterling.