MANSFIELD—On the night before every scheduled execution in Ohio, a small group gathers to pray outside Mansfield Correctional Institution.
They spend most of their vigil in silence, offering brief intercessory prayers at the end of the hour for the condemned man, his victim or victims, their loved ones, all involved in the execution process and for an end to all violence, including the death penalty.
“We’ve stood in all kinds of weather,” Lynne Lukach, a member of Mansfield St. Peter who coordinates the vigils, writes in an e-mail to the Catholic Chronicle. “We are there — in a visible, public place that really is a sacred space — to witness to the sanctity of all life.”
According to Ms. Lukach, Father Herb Weber, a former pastor of St. Peter, initiated the vigils in 1998 when the state of Ohio began planning to resume executions. At that time, death row was located at Mansfield Correctional Institution. Though most of those inmates were transferred to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown about five years ago, the Mansfield prison still houses 29 death row inmates.
Nine of those men are Catholic, according to Father Tony Borgia, pastor of Mansfield St. Peter, who celebrates a weekly Mass at the prison for the death row inmates.
The priests of St. Peter have ministered to the Catholic inmates on death row for a number of years and have also accompanied two men to their executions.
As of March 23, there were a total of 156 inmates on death row in Ohio. Executions are currently scheduled at a rate of one per month through October. Upcoming vigil dates include April 11, May 16 and June 13, from 7 to 8 p.m. For more information contact Ms. Lukach at 419-524-2572.