Courtesy St. Rose School
Fr. Matt Libra visits fourth graders Abe Rooney and Nora Combe, who assist with St. Rose Church’s youth prison ministry at the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center.

Courtesy St. Rose School

Fr. Matt Libra visits fourth graders Abe Rooney and Nora Combe, who assist with St. Rose Church’s youth prison ministry at the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center.

Several months back, a Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center employee made a simple request: Let’s put God into the lives of these young people. St. Rose of Lima Church answered the call. Since then, Father Matt Libra and Deacon Brian Diehm have made bi-monthly visits to the center.

“These visits are a privilege for us,” says Father Libra. “The youth want to come and can only do so if they’ve been on good behavior. We evangelize because they want God in their lives.”  

St. Rose teacher, Jessica Hedges, also saw an opportunity for her fourth graders. “When Father Matt announced his mission, I knew it would be perfect for my class—to both support St. Rose’s ministries and reach out to children in need of God’s love.”

Inspired to make a difference, the students create prayer cards exemplifying virtues they learn at St. Rose School: love, kindness and service, to name a few.

In one meeting, a detention center youth said, “I don’t even know what forgiveness is. I feel like if I trust again, I’ll get hurt even worse.” Father Linta and Deacon Diehm shared how Jesus’s mercy is different from human mercy: to be loved without earning it…to be loved especially when we don’t deserve it.

Then they presented a package filled with the fourth graders’ prayer cards. The youth chose the one that spoke most to them, smiling at the artwork. 

“Why did they do this?” someone asked.

“Because they wanted you to know you are not alone, not beyond the reach of love,” Father Matt responded.  

After a few moments of silence, a sober voice broke, “Tell them thank you for me.” They all left with a smile, holding a prayer card and believing that love is bigger than they thought.