A wonderful story of a man who became a Catholic Prison Chaplain, from Our Sunday Visitor, and one item I particularly liked was his understanding that criminals will approach the faith intellectually—a central plank in our prison ministry model—so the presentation has to be sound.
Link’s story is full of surprises.
The first surprise was when Dean Link’s wife, Barbara, suggested to him about 15 years ago that he consider volunteering at a prison.
“Why would I do that?” he asked.
“I think you’d really like it,” she answered.
“I thought she was crazy,” Father Link told Our Sunday Visitor. “I went with the express intent of showing her that she was wrong. But she was right. I enjoyed it greatly.”
That was the next surprise — how fulfilled he felt in giving lectures to these prisoners. Also how different the prisoners were from what he expected. Finding himself in a room with 60 “lifers” and no guards, it occurred to him, “I’m in here with all these dangerous people,” but then he also realized, “They’re children of God.”
“He was stunned at how bright they were and how eager to learn,” Zagrans told OSV. “They didn’t ask questions about how to use the system to their benefit. They were really philosophers, wanting to know the philosophy of ethics and justice: How do we put this into our lives? How do we have an ethical orientation in the way we think and in our actions? He was blown away. He said he was never the same person.”
After loss, a new vocation
When Barbara Link died in 2003, Link’s family and friends feared that he might soon follow her. He began volunteering at the prisons more often, “as a sort of therapy.”
“I needed to be needed,” he said.
This led to the next surprise. A personal ordination invitation from his bishop. Bishop Dale Melczek of Gary, Ind., contacted him, saying, “You’ve been doing a lot of prison ministry; I need a prison chaplain. Would you consider going into the seminary?”
Link replied that he had been thinking of entering the diaconate.
The bishop countered, “I was thinking of the priesthood.”
Later, Bishop Melczek told Zagrans: “I believe that if Christ were walking the earth today, he would be involved in prison ministry, just like Dave Link.”
“He wanted to put his best guy in the prisons,” Zagrans said. “And that was Father Link.”
After completing his studies at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Wisconsin, Father Link was ordained to the priesthood in June 2008.
Five years later, his becoming a priest continues to be a surprise — even for Father Link. He told OSV that every morning when he looks in the mirror, he thinks, “What is this priest doing in my bathroom?” But he quickly added: “It’s a pleasant shock. I love being a priest, and I love prison ministry.”