Retired priest, 89, continues prison ministry

MIDLAND, Texas (AP) — Monsignor James Bridges retired two years ago after 21 years as pastor of St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Midland, but the 89-year-old Lamesa native still pursues an ambitious ministry to 70 indigent inmates at a dozen Texas prisons.

The Odessa American reports citing Matthew 25:40, Bridges recently said, “The King will answer, “In truth I tell you, insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me”

Bridges sends the prisoners an average of $700 a month of his own money and donations. “They have no money and have not had a letter in years,” he said.

“We send them enough to live with human dignity. They ask about spiritual things and some say my care has caused them to go to church. They feel like someone loves them. The women write about their children a lot. I have some resources and I have friends who give me money.”

During his tenure as pastor of the Diocese of San Angelo’s biggest parish, Bridges became well-known for his initiatives to help start West Texas Food Bank in Odessa and the Helping Hands financial assistance and emergency housing organization in Midland. He was a pastor for 55 years, also serving as the founding priest of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Odessa and at churches in Fort Stockton, Wall, Clyde and Rowena. He still says occasional Masses at various churches.

With his 13-year-old Boston terrier Queenie barking in the background, Bridges said in a phone interview that he has also helped paroled inmates get jobs and housing.

His longtime secretary Kathy Wells, who retired six months after he did, handles his correspondence and sends money to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Inmate Trust Fund with his credit card.

Wells said they help support inmates at the Lynaugh Unit at Fort Stockton, Jordan Unit at Pampa, Stiles Unit at Beaumont, Clemens Unit at Brazoria, Michael Unit at Tennessee Colony, Lockhart Unit at Lockhart, McConnell Unit at Beeville, Connally Unit at Kenedy, Allred Unit at Iowa Park, Luther Unit at Navasota, Cleveland Unit at Cleveland and the Hobby and Mountain View prisons for women at Marlin and Gatesville.

“Sometimes we send more if they need shoes or personal hygiene items,” Wells said. “Monsignor reads every single letter and usually writes a little note at the bottom. It’s awesome. I do these things for him because that’s how much respect and love I have for him as a priest.

“I want him to keep going for as long as possible because he loves helping people. It’s who he is.”

Bridges said the Rev. David Herrera at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Midland helps them keep books. “I wish all churches had a prison ministry,” he said.


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