ROCHESTER — The Monroe County Sheriff’s office recognized Sister of St. Joseph Judy Greene with a Civilian Service Award last month for her 11 years of service as a jail chaplain.
"I was really surprised and definitely honored," Sister Greene said of the award during the 13th-annual sheriff’s luncheon on Sept. 10. "(The award) came at a nice time at the end of my time there. It was really touching."
Ed Ignarri, director of rehabilitation for the sheriff’s Jail Bureau, said he nominated Sister Greene for the award because she has done "an outstanding job" in service to the inmates and the sheriff’s office. She has a way with people that makes them respond positively to her, he added.
"No matter what she thought of anybody or what they did or what circumstance brought people here (to jail), she always treated people the same — with a great deal of compassion and kindness," Ignarri said. "Basically, she would not turn anyone away that needed someone to talk to or needed help with a personal issue."
The chaplaincy, which is now being overseen by Deacon Mike Zuber, was created 11 years ago by Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark, noted Sister Greene, following years of volunteering by her fellow sisters and other parish volunteers to sing at Masses that they also would help coordinate at the jail.
"They began seeing a need for a Catholic presence more than services on a weekend," added Sister Greene, who has moved on to a new position as a coordinator at the SSJ motherhouse.
So, the Diocese of Rochester collaborated with the sheriff’s office and the Sisters of St. Joseph to create a part-time chaplaincy, Ignarri said. At that time, Sister Greene was leaving a position as a chaplain at Park-Ridge Nursing Home, where she also had worked in the employee assistance program helping people with chemical and drug dependencies. She applied to work for the new chaplain position at the jail.
"My previous experience led me, and it was a good preparation," she said.
Sister Greene’s experience from her previous work was an asset, Ignarri noted.
"She brought a great deal of talent … and was well-qualified to do drug and alcohol counseling and grief counseling and those types of things," he said.
She also led Bible study and spirituality groups as well as coordinated Masses, Communion services and holiday gatherings as part of her work, he explained.
When she started working at the county jails, located in downtown Rochester and in Henrietta, she felt comfortable from the beginning, Sister Greene said.
"I was aware about what could happen," she said of the potential dangers to her personal safety. "We’re there and you follow the rules. We’re guests there in many ways. … (But) so many times during the 11 years, I thought I just belong here."
And she would often feel as if she were the one receiving a gift during interactions with inmates and staff during her tenure, Sister Greene remarked.
"It is so easy to say you’re present to people, and it can sound very trite, but it isn’t," she added. "There was a whole understanding, meaning and depth to that word (presence) that I kept on learning how much it meant that I showed up and kept showing up."
Sister Greene also had an impact on inmates, with her "peaceful and pastoral" mannerisms and speech when interacting with them, noted Kevin Marren, a project manager with Wegmans Design Services and a volunteer who has served alongside her, mainly at the downtown jail facility.
"It’s the kind of voice they don’t hear in their day-to-day life, where they hear harsher voices in a harsh environment," he added. "For them to be able to talk to her and listen to her, it’s a breath of fresh air for them and brings new perspectives, allowing them to connect not only with our church but with their own spirituality."
Sister Greene said she always wanted to make sure the inmates understand they are part of the diocese, part of the one body of the church.
"What I really think people were always trying to say to me in more than one way or another is, ‘There is more to me than what you see.’ We all do that," she said. "There is more, and people let me into their lives, shared what their situations were, their struggles, their desire for God, what they wanted to change in their lives."
And in the prayer and discussion circles she has led, whether they took place at the SSJ motherhouse or the jail, she was blessed to witness the circle of humanity, Sister Greene remarked
"It’s all about connections. … I just hope it brought some kind of comfort and hope," she said.