For the past five years, Deacon Bill Gallagher has served as a prison ministry volunteer, making it his mission to share God’s unconditional love with the inmates in the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Burlington County.
Now he looks forward to broadening his work as he begins his new post as the coordinator of Jail and Prison Ministry in the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care, succeeding Vincentian Father Martin McGeough, who left in late September to become pastor of a parish in Emmitsburg, Md.
Deacon Gallagher, who resides in Cinnaminson, recounted how his prison ministry journey began while reading an article in The Monitor about the need for more volunteers at the Fort Dix institution, the largest single federal prison in the country. The priest who had been the chaplain at the time had been unexpectedly reassigned to a new appointment, leaving no one to provide Catholic outreach to the inmates. Wanting to learn more about volunteering in a prison, Deacon Gallagher eventually asked to be relieved from his diaconate duties in St. Charles Borromeo Parish, where he had ministered for some 30 years, to devote full attention to Fort Dix. In addition to helping with Scripture studies and faith formation programs, he and other volunteers also provided support to inmates’ families and aided inmates in the re-entry process into society.
Through his work, Deacon Gallagher said he observed how inmates are filled with emotions such as guilt, hopelessness and anxiety.
“I wanted to give them some hope by bringing the Gospel of grace to the Catholic inmates in the Fort Dix facility. They are looking for a relationship with God,” Deacon Gallagher said.
“They come with a good attitude and they are appreciative of our visits. For that we are very grateful,” he added. An important lesson Deacon Gallagher said he learned was how the inmates “suffer from the same anxieties as anyone else.”
“They worry about their families and are concerned about the future,” said Deacon Gallagher, who himself is a family man. He and his wife, Patricia, have been married for 43 years and they are the proud parents of seven grown children and have 10 grandchildren. His education and career background includes extensive continuing education studies at the Seton Hall University International Clergy Institute, and he also brings strong business and leadership skills following four decades of working as a business owner in the construction industry.
As Deacon Gallagher became more immersed in his ministry at Fort Dix, the more he realized he wanted to expand his horizons. When he learned that the Jail and Prison Ministry coordinator’s position would be vacant after Father McGeough’s departure, Deacon Gallagher “saw this as a golden opportunity.”
“Now I’m going from overseeing one jail to overseeing 16 jails, prisons and youth facilities in the Diocese,” he said. “You never know how the Lord is working.”