BEAUFORT—Deacon James Hyland is leaving his position as coordinator of prison ministries and returning to his hometown of Rock Hill.
He said several factors led to the decision, including health concerns for himself and his wife, and a desire to be close to their two daughters and other extended family.
Deacon Hyland said they lived in Rock Hill for almost 50 years before moving to Beaufort, where he served for three years at St. Peter Church and worked to reestablish the prison ministry program.
He said the goal of the church is to bring the Catholic faith to inmates across the state, and to do that, every parish needs to be involved.
One of the initiatives that Deacon Hyland undertook was to host prison ministry workshops in all five deaneries. He taught participants how to deal with offenders, manage the state prison and local jail environments, and assist with worship services and the sacraments. During his tenure, the number of correctional institutions visited on a regular basis increased from about 20 to 48, he said.
Deacon Hyland added that it was a great boon to the program to have the support of Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, who has visited Catholic inmates on death row and celebrated Mass on Christmas Eve at Lieber Correctional Facility in Ridgeville.
As a former lieutenant with the Rock Hill police department, the deacon is uniquely qualified to understand the prison system. He said ministering to inmates is a hard job, but Christians have a biblical mandate to take the Gospel message to the incarcerated.
While working as a police officer, he spent many years investigating crimes against children, and has a desire to help them.
One of the programs he helped create at St. Peter is “Guiding Children of Promise,” a mentor group for children whose parents are in jail.
Deacon Hyland said two other parishes in the diocese have expressed interest in the program.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” he said. “These children are used to living in the shadows. It’s hard to get them to come forward.”
He said the rewards of prison ministry are well worth the struggles. The deacon said they receive many letters of thanks from prisoners, and added that it is an uplifting experience when an inmate is received into the church.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I do here,” he said.
The diocese is currently searching for a new coordinator, and Deacon Ed Peitler said they hope to have someone in place when Deacon Hyland leaves at the end of April.
Deacon Peitler, director of the office of social ministry, said Deacon Hyland gave prison ministries a good start, and he hopes to continue toward the goal of having a Catholic presence at all of the correctional facilities.