Br Bernard Bulfin: bringing Christ’s love and forgiveness to those in prison

13/05/2015

Catholic Outlook May 2015: DWF Appeal
In semi-retirement, Br Bernard Bulfin enjoys the social aspect of a game of golf. Photo: Virginia Knight.

Originally published in Catholic Outlook May 2015

By Virginia Knight

Brother Bernard Bulfin FSP came to Australia to teach the sons of Catholic families in working-class areas, to give them hope, and inspire them with aspiration and ambition.

As chaplain at Parklea Correctional Centre for the past 12 years, Br Bernard has continued to bring Christ’s love and forgiveness to those at the very margin of society.

Retiring after 45 years in Catholic education, including consecutive terms as Principal of Patrician Brothers’ College Blacktown and Fairfield, Br Bernard sought an opportunity to serve God’s people with a new mission.

He pursued studies in Clinical Pastoral Education and worked as chaplain at Nepean and Hawkesbury Hospitals and several nursing homes in Western Sydney before being offered the chance to work in a prison. It is a role he feels at home with and enjoys.

“There is more chance to develop a relationship with the people in your care,” he said of his work in the prison environment. “There is greater energy. The inmates are friendly, hospitable and cooperative.”

Much of his work is one-to-one; not as a counsellor, but in being a presence and listening. “They really appreciate the fact that you visit them and are prepared to listen,” he said. “They see me as a person who cares and is concerned about them.”

Br Bernard shares the role with Sr Marcia Cox RSJ, and they work collaboratively with chaplains from other denominations to be a caring presence among the inmates. This ministry receives funding from the Faith at Work DWF Appeal.

In addition to offering religious services, the prison chaplains lead formation in support programs such as Seasons for Growth (coping with grief and loss) and Positive Lifestyles, which aims to address self-esteem issues and help build confidence.

Often, he is called upon to assist inmates to work through their grief with the loss of a close family member or friend. Family is very important to those in prison, the loss of contact creates a depressive environment which he, as chaplain, attempts to lift by praying with them and listening.

Each year at a Christmas celebration, the prison chaplains organise the distribution of donated gifts to the children of inmates.

“One prisoner gave his son his gift and then came up close with tears in his eyes and said to me, ‘This is the first time in 11 years I have given a present to my son. I have always been drunk, drugged or in gaol.’

“These little moments give you hope and an increase in faith.”

Last year Br Bernard celebrated his Diamond Jubilee, 60 years since he first took vows as a Patrician Brother on 15 August 1954. In August this year, he will return to Ireland to spend time with family and friends in his native Tipperary.

In March 2015, Blacktown Council awarded Br Bernard a Plaque of Achievement in ‘Recognition of 60 years of Service to the Brothers of St Patrick, and outstanding contribution to the Blacktown Community serving as teacher and later principal at Patrician Brothers’ College Blacktown for 23 years’.

The award was presented by the Mayor of Blacktown, Stephen Bali, an old boy of Patrician Brothers’ College Blacktown.

“The honour was very much unexpected but appreciated," Br Bernard said.

In semi-retirement, golf is the focus of Br Bernard’s recreational activities. It is an outlet to physically unwind from what can be an emotionally demanding ministry. “I like the social aspect. It is a lovely relaxing group of people and it is good exercise walking around 18 holes,” he said.

Your donations to the Faith at Work DWF Appeal help to fund prison chaplaincy
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