a cell built for four.
Unbeknownst to me, a person who was to become
pivotal to this story of Divine Mercy s
pent that same
seven years in a prison in a neighboring state confined in
a polar opposite circumstance: the utter cruelty of soli-
tary confinement. Pornchai Moontri
was brought to the
United States from Thailand at age 11. His story is told
wonderfully, painfully, powerfully by Felix Carroll in his
celebrated Marian Press book, Loved, Lost, Found.
After a series of moves and seemingly unrelated
events, Pornchai’s life and mine converged. He was
moved to this prison eight years ago. He and I became
cellmates, sharing a two-person cell. Two years after his
arrival, in 2010, Pornchai announced his decision to
become Catholic. He chose my birthday to be baptized
and confirmed, but due to other seemingly unrelated
“accidental” events, it was postponed until two days
later. On Sunday, April 11, 2010, Pornchai was received
into the Church. It also just so happened to be Divine
Mercy Sunday, the day in which the Lord promised “all
the divine floodgates through which graces flow are
opened”( Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska,
Mary comes knocking
A few years earlier, I had introduced Pornchai to
St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose image in both his priestly
and prisoner garb is fixed above the mirror in our cell.
Pornchai was so inspired by his life and sacrifice that
he took the name “Maximilian” as his Christian name.
Pornchai-Max was called from darkness into a wonderful
light, and his response to that call has led other prisoners
here to examine the direction of their own lives.
Three years later, in 2013, the transformation — not
only of Max, but of our prison — took another major step.
The Marian Fathers sponsored a group of volunteers tointroduce into prison the consecration to Jesus through Mary
using the33 Days to Morning Glory group retreat
written by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC.
It was the first such
effort in any prison, and Max and I were invited.
There was just one problem: We were not going. We
did not understand what the retreat was all about, and
in the previous months we had been hit with a barrage
of trials and disappointments, small things that add up
painfully behind prison walls. In the midst of this spiri-
tual warfare, I asked Max if he wanted to attend, and he
responded with a sullen, “Not really.” I felt the same way.
However, these Marian-trained volunteers were not
giving up so easily. After missing the first session, we
learned that it would be repeated for the “stragglers.”
“I think that’s us,” I told Max. We also learned that St.
Maximilian Kolbe appears prominently in the33 Days
book and retreat. “So I guess we’re going,” said Max.
Several others who had originally opted out also
changed their minds. The retreat culminated in our conse-
cration on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 24, 2013.
Seeing signs in a cellblock
Our consecration didn’t result in thunder and light-
ning, and our spiritual warfare continued. That’s the
nature of prison life. Only in hindsight could we see the
immense transformative grace that was given to us. This
consecration to Jesus through Mary changed not only
our interior lives, but our environment as well.
In the months to follow, many other inmates signed
up for subsequent
group retreats. Several pris-
oners converted to Catholicism as a result. Others, such
as our friend Michael Ciresi, have come home to their
Catholic faith, which they had abandoned. Of the 60
prisoners in this one cellblock, a full 20 percent have
entered into Marian consecration.
The Marian-trained prison volunteers have returned
to guide two additional groups of prisoners to consecra-
33 Days to Morning Glory
and have also led
our original group through two other retreat programs
in Fr. Gaitley’sHearts Afire p
“Part of the risk of real mission and service is the
uncertainty of whether it will make any difference,” said
Jim Preisendorfer, one of the volunteer retreat leaders.
This risk paid off.
Moreover, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pornchai
Maximilian Moontri and I were invited by Fr. Gaitley to
becomeMarian Missionaries of Divine Mercy,
committed to consciously and deliberately trying to win
the whole world for God through the two powerful spiri-
tual weapons of Divine Mercy and Marian consecration.
OnDivine Mercy Sunday 2
016, in the prison chapel,
Jim witnessed our commitment to the Missionaries’ life
Walking across the walled prison yard on the way
back to our cell that day, Max and I felt like the disciples
who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus (see Lk
24:13-53). Having once seen life as not worth living,
Max, holding his Marian Missionaries handbook, turned
to me and said, “How did this happen?”
In announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which
began last Dec. 8, the Holy Father spoke of how the
thresholds of prison cells can signify inmates’ passage
through a Holy Door, “because the mercy of God is able
to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars
into an experience of freedom.”
We’re thankful for the Holy Father’s beautiful gesture.
But it seems Mother Mary beat him to it!