Our nation, that proposes from its leaders to be pro-life, has reinstated the death penalty.  Sadly executions are taking place in various states in our country.  Near to the home of the Sisters of Providence in Terre Haute, IN is the Federal Correctional Complex where executions have been taking place after a hiatus of 17 years.  This story puts a face on the horrors of the death penalty.

On July 14, for the first time in 17 years, a Sister of Providence tolled the bells at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods following a federal execution at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. The bells announced the death of Daniel Lewis Lee.

In December 2019, Sister Barbara Battista, who had recently begun ministering as the Congregation’s Justice Promoter, organized a prayer vigil with others only days before the federal government was scheduled to resume executions after a 17-year hiatus, with the execution of Lee.

Court rulings blocked the executions at the time, but Sister Barbara and the group marched forward, knowing the federal government would continue to appeal the rulings. And eventually, more executions were scheduled.

Then, COVID-19 reared its ugly head, but the executions were not postponed. Therefore, Sister Barbara and others continued to speak out.  Only days before Lee’s scheduled execution, the abolitionists conducted a press conference deploring the executions which would take place only 19 minutes away from the Sisters of Providence motherhouse.

More litigation stalled Lee’s execution until the Supreme Court stepped in during the dead of night saying the federal government could proceed. And only a handful of hours later, Lee was executed.  And the bells tolled at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods as they do after every execution nationwide.

Near the prison, Sister Barbara and other sisters, along with several others from Terre Haute and the surrounding community, protested the killing and have continued to do so with all of the federal executions that have taken place in Terre Haute since July, the most since the 1950s.

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods have visited with, and ministered to, federal death row inmates at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary for many years and continue to do so today.  Many of the Sisters have companioned death row inmates for years, while some other sisters conduct prayer services or Bible study for other offenders. The sisters have continued to make this ministry vital to their mission.

Sister Barbara Battista recently joined this growing list when she accepted an invitation from Keith Dwayne Nelson to serve as his minister of record prior to his execution on August 28 for his execution. She was also the minister of record for William Emmett LeCroy, who was executed by the federal government on September 22.

The Congregation supports life and respects the dignity of all persons. The sisters continue to pray for death row inmates and their families, for all victims and their families, and for legislators who weigh the decision of life or death for these inmates.

“I’m just here helping to coordinate our efforts,” Sister Barbara said. “I think this is vital. It is essential. Everyone is of value. Our community here in the Wabash Valley is at risk of much deeper harm and long-lasting effects from this violence. We have an opportunity to lessen that harm by how we go about our work.”

Groups like the Sisters of Providence in Terre Haute continue to hold up a mirror to us as a country asking if this is really who we are and want to be–executing people and calling ourselves pro-life.

Barbara McMullen, CDP

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