Beloved longest serving prison chaplain bows out

Features Cecily McNeill29 November 2012 Convicted sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson of Blenheim may be a difficult man to deal with but the media has not helped his release from…


Cecily McNeill
29 November 2012

Beloved longest serving prison chaplain bows out Archdiocese of WellingtonConvicted sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson of Blenheim may be a difficult man to deal with but the media has not helped his release from prison into the community by labelling him ‘the beast’.

Br Kieran Garvey who has just retired as the longest serving Catholic prison chaplain in New Zealand says Mr Wilson was at times disruptive in Church services and had to be told that he was part of a group and could not dominate the service by demanding special attention.

Br Kieran says many guys in prison look at themselves and realise at some point that what they have done is so despicable that they block it out.
‘You have to understand, sometimes they commit something and it’s horrible and they deny it and for them the denial becomes real.’

There are some ‘very sad cases’ in the prison, says Br Kieran who has worked at Wellington Prison for 40 years. ‘When you hear of the lives that some of these people go through’ it is easy to understand why they end up in prison. ‘People don’t realise the background some people have [to overcome].’

New Zealand is a highly punitive society, and this is fuelled by a media that highlights the worst aspects of a guy who is being released from prison. There are only a few guys who are difficult yet the media focuses on them instead of ‘the 95 percent who are successful’.

The problem is that you have two main political parties competing to be hard on crime.

When Br Kieran started in the chaplaincy in 1972, Wellington Prison had a full-time social worker, a full-time teacher and an activities officer at the prison. Now these professional staff are provided only at a regional level.

‘We used to have activities that came under social interaction; for example, there was a good debating club, a public speaking club and other evening activities. But all that is gone, we’re told, because the prison doesn’t have the staff.’

Now there is no socialising because the prison is locked at 4.30pm and does not open until 8am.

‘The chaplain is always the first point of contact a guy has that they can trust.’

He warned the other chaplains against stepping into the role of social worker. There’s a big delineating role between a social worker and a chaplain. He is also sorry that rehabilitation does not start as soon as a person is imprisoned when such guidance has more of a chance of succeeding.

Br Kieran who has just left for his home country of Ireland says he has had a wonderful life.
‘I am totally content. If you want to pray for me, pray to God thanking him for how good he’s been to me.’

He has ‘enjoyed every minute’ of his time in the prison service including the 17 years he spent as national prison chaplain.

He said he was pleased to receive the Queens Service Medal in 2008 when he realised it was honouring the entire prison chaplaincy. And he is proud of the Catholic Church for its commitment to providing the chaplaincy, particularly today when many chaplains are lay people and need to be paid above the stipend usually paid to a religious.