Linda Showman drew upon past careers and a passion for restorative justice to support volunteers, chaplains and the incarcerated
Oregon’s 14 state prisons and one federal prison house more than 16,000 people. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
A former professional pianist, Linda Showman is attuned to the inexpressible beauty of certain musical pieces. In the same way, in her role as project consultant for the Office of Prison Ministry, she was attentive to hidden graces inside prison walls.
“There’s an intangible part of the ministry that happens,” Showman said. “It’s in that sense of meeting the needs of someone who just needs to talk, of just being there. The times I witnessed volunteers take the time to do this, especially with those whose families abandoned them because they were in prison, were beautiful.”
After four years building up the Portland Archdiocese’s outreach to the incarcerated, Showman retired at the end of September. The archdiocese is looking for a replacement.
“The ministry continues to challenge and uplift me,” Showman said, so the decision came “with a mix of sadness and happiness.”
The 72-year-old plans to spend more time with her husband “just enjoying life together” but will continue her work in restorative justice — what first drew her into prison ministry.
Catholic volunteers, lay and ordained, have served at prisons in western Oregon for years, but there’s not always been comprehensive support for their efforts. In 2016, Archbishop Alexander Sample identified prison ministry as a pastoral priority; Showman was hired the next year.
Deacon Kevin Welch, director of pastoral ministries for the archdiocese, said as project consultant Showman took time to listen to and support volunteers and chaplains throughout the state. He commended her work with Roger Martin, Oregon Catholic Conference lobbyist, and Colette Peters, director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. Peters was keynote speaker at a sold-out prison ministry conference organized by Showman in 2019.
“Linda has a beautiful Catholic faith and responds with action,” said the deacon.
Showman also created five-year plan, launched a monthly newsletter and developed a pen pal program. She crafted a discernment form to help those interested in volunteering, and amid the pandemic organized a national prison ministry training workshop.
Throughout her tenure she’s been in awe of volunteers’ dedication, selflessness and compassion. “They do not proselytize; they show Jesus’ love through their presence,” she said.
Father John Kerns is pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego, and for several years he’s celebrated Mass at a state prison. He said Showman offered volunteers the same kind of dedication and compassion she describes in them. “She is joyful and optimistic about the ministry, and she has a very gentle and affirming touch in supporting the Catholic volunteers who visit our prisons,” said Father Kerns.
Showman holds master’s degrees in theology and music and taught and played piano for several years before becoming chief operating officer of her husband’s company, Ostrom Glass and Metal Works in Portland. “My experience at organizing, project development, networking, I think all that was helpful in prison ministry,” Showman said.
She went on to serve as adjunct faculty for the University of Portland’s pastoral ministry program and as associate director of pastoral formation at Mount Angel Seminary, where she developed a pastoral field education program. It places seminarians in a range of settings, including schools, parishes, nursing homes and correctional facilities where they can “learn from supervisors and other folks in a real-life setting,” said Showman.
During this time she was introduced to restorative justice, a system that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.
Showman sees a strong connection between restorative justice and the vision of justice conveyed in Scripture. Following intensive study she prepared a presentation on the biblical roots of restorative justice for parish groups, schools and other religious organizations. The initiative was supported by the former archdiocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace, headed by Matt Cato, and led to her position as project consultant.
Cato said Showman understands “that even criminals are endowed with dignity equal to all of us, simply because they are human, simply because they, too, were created in the image and likeness of God.”
“As she enters retirement,” added Deacon Welch, “all of us who worked closely with her say, ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant.’”
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