Bishop Hayes: the work of prison chaplains is vital but unheralded

06 Nov 2022

  • “In all my years I have never met an evil person.  People do evil things” – Sister Imelda Wickham

Statement by Bishop Martin Hayes

Today marks Prisoners’ Sunday, a significant date in the Church calendar whose purpose is to encourage us to pray for prisoners, to highlight their plight and it recognises those who pastorally support the innate dignity of prisoners in circumstances that can sometimes be devoid of humanity.

In her well-received publication, Unheard Voices, former prison chaplain Sister Imelda Wickham PBVM speaks on behalf of prisoners, “we are all on the same journey of life, with its ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses, and all in need of redemption.”

Drawing on her broad and deep working-life experience, Sister Imelda states that prison chaplaincy has had a significant impact on her life and that – which is perhaps surprising to many – she has been most changed by those who visited prisons on a weekly basis for many years: the families and friends of prisoners.

While being imprisoned is an experience most of us will never have, Sister Imelda emphasises that it not just those who are incarcerated that serve the sentence.  She rightly praises the gifts and skills of those in the prison system who help keep it operational, wisely reflecting “in all my years I have never met an evil person.  People do evil things and we are all capable of that.”

Policymakers in particular can learn from Sister Imelda who points to addiction as the greatest disease and cause to destruction in people’s lives, leading to crime and prison: “addiction is not a crime.  It is a health issue that needs to be attended to medically and psychologically.”

In ensuring that the unheard voices of prisoners are heard, Sister Imelda calls attention to the loneliness of the prisoner speaking of “an aloneness reserved for the prisoner” where some “find there a wisdom that will sustain”, while others “struggle”.

On this Prisoners’ Sunday, as we pray for all prisoners, we remember their families, all prison staff and prison chaplains, whose work is vital but unheralded within prison services throughout the world.


  • Bishop Martin Hayes is Bishop of Kilmore and the Liaison Bishop to the Irish Prison Service                                                        

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