Light of Christ shines through Jail and Prison Ministry
October 15, 2021
Scott McColery’s life was heading in a bad direction.
From a broken home, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, an abuser and dealer of drugs, he was eventually convicted of assault and wound up incarcerated in the Omaha Correctional Center.
But despite his dark past, he found the light of Christ while in prison through the compassion, companionship and guidance of volunteers and clergy who serve with the archdiocese’s Catholic Jail and Prison Ministry.
Released from prison Aug. 2, 2018, McColery now works for an Omaha construction company, regularly attends Mass at Holy Ghost Church and St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, and savors the freedom and joy of being forgiven by God for his past and the hurt he had caused.
And he still remembers what the judge who sentenced him said: “Just because you’re hurting, doesn’t give you the right to hurt others.” And not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about that, he said.
A NEW DIRECTION
McColery’s life began to take a new direction while in Nebraska’s Diagnostic and Evaluation Center awaiting his prison assignment. He accepted an invitation from another inmate to attend Mass at the center.
Though baptized Catholic as an infant, McColery didn’t have a religious upbringing. But those Masses and conversations with his fellow inmate about the faith began to open a door through which he would eventually pass once he got to the Omaha Correctional Center.
While there, he continued to attend Mass. “There was something that was drawing me to it, but I wasn’t sure what it was,” he said.
And that’s when he met Deacon Al Aulner, coordinator of the Jail and Prison Ministry.
“Deacon Al and whoever was the volunteer priest that weekend made me feel welcomed and accepted – not just welcomed, but welcomed with open arms,” he said.
And that welcome helped McColery begin to feel the love and acceptance that Jesus offered him – and he wanted more.
“All the pain I’d been holding onto my whole life and not dealing with … I could no longer hold onto it,” he said.
He eventually began attending the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes led by Deacon Aulner, and entered full communion with the Catholic Church at the correctional center in 2017.
McColery’s story is an example of the healing that can take place, and one reason Deacon Aulner is inspired to continue a ministry that at first was not his “cup of tea,” but has now become his calling card.
Since 2013, Deacon Aulner has coordinated the Jail and Prison Ministry for the Omaha archdiocese, a ministry that brings Christ’s message of love and hope to an often forgotten population. With more than 50 volunteers, it serves inmates at eight county jails and three state prisons.
COMMITMENT TO SERVICE
Deacon Aulner’s commitment to service began as a new husband and father at age 25 when stricken with a serious illness.
“Out of that experience came a realization about how everything we have is a gift from God,” he said, “and I started to reflect on what my response to those gifts should be, and I just had a real calling to service.”
Over the next several years, he and his wife, Terri, served their parish, Holy Ghost, in numerous capacities. “It felt good to share the gifts God gives you with the community,” he said.
Then, in 1999, he heard a new calling.
While attending a Christians Encounter Christ retreat, “things just deepened,” he said. “I just felt there was another kind of service that might be out there.”
For the next few years he considered the diaconate. Encouraged by his pastor and a deacon from his parish, he began the formation process in 2002.
Diaconate formation gave him a greater understanding of the work and mission of the Church “to seek out those who need to be found,” Deacon Aulner said.
Part of his formation included serving at the Washington County Jail in Blair. He thought, “I can see the importance of that, but I don’t think I’ll be pursuing that. I think my interests and what I have will be better spent elsewhere.”
After his ordination in 2005, Deacon Aulner served at the former Holy Family Parish as pastoral coordinator and in the parish’s food ministry to the poor. But God had some additional plans for how he should share the Lord’s mercy with those who needed it.
In 2013 he accepted an invitation to coordinate the Jail and Prison Ministry, which includes scheduling volunteers, priests and deacons, and the training and credentialing of volunteers for entry into the jails and prisons.
But it’s the personal interactions with inmates and witnessing God at work in their lives that’s most rewarding, he said.
“It gives me a greater, deep appreciation of God’s ability to call people back – reclamation,” Deacon Aulner said.
“There’s a lot of guys that sit in front of me that were just deprived of so many things for so long in their lives. But God can turn everything around for them,” he said. “They’re not lost causes.”
Despite their pasts, their dignity as children of God is intact, Deacon Aulner said.
“They know they’ve done bad things … and they’re working not to be that person anymore. The renewal is right in front of your eyes.”
SENSE OF GRATITUDE
McColery is thankful for Deacon Aulner’s guidance as a spiritual mentor. Both men still talk regularly and catch up when they see each other at Mass.
Most of all, McColery is thankful for the Lord’s forgiveness and grace that led him to the Church.
“Looking back, it still amazes me how fast everything happened. It was a miracle to have so much suffering just wiped away. It changed my life, and I am the man I am today because of all that.”
The Jail and Prison Ministry has “meant the world to me,” he said. “I don’t know that I would be where I am today without their guidance and help. Life used to be miserable and now it’s anything but miserable. It’s a really great life that I live today.”
Deacon Aulner said he feels blessed to minister to people such as McColery who are working to turn their lives around, to begin or renew their walk with the Lord.
“When I leave these places, it’s always a sense of gratefulness for how much I’ve had in my life,” he said. “I just never had an appreciation for how precious that was until I was around people who never had that opportunity. I’m humbled to be part of it, to be able to watch that and be in there and actually watch God working like that. It’s incredibly humbling.
Archbishop’s Annual Appeal helps form deacons for ministry
Men such as Deacon Al Aulner were helped to develop in their ministries of mercy, such as the archdiocese’s Jail and Prison Ministry, through an in-depth diaconal formation process, a process that relies on the generosity of people who give to the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.
The appeal also supports many other ministries and programs throughout the archdiocese, including Catholic Charities, professional development for faculty and tuition assistance for students in Catholic schools; assistance for individuals and families in crisis; training for lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion; marriage preparation and family enrichment programs; support for priests; religious education; and adult and youth faith formation.