Kolbe House is the agency of the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission of the Archdiocese of Chicago that serves individuals and families affected by the criminal justice system.
Compelled by the Gospel mandate, “I was in prison and you visited me,” Kolbe House — a jail ministry — is a sanctuary for those impacted by incarceration. We seek to promote restoration and reconciliation through outreach, support and accompaniment. We follow the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe to love and hope in the midst of evil and despair.
Through our ministry, the merciful love of the Father is shared…
...with the incarcerated, whom we serve as God’s beloved daughters and sons.
...with their families, to surround them with love and let them know they are not alone.
...with community members, to help see how we are all connected and affected by
...with the larger culture, inviting all to see in the incarcerated our own brothers and sisters.
We, Kolbe House, are the Catholic jail ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
We strive to be welcoming and hospitable to people of all cultures and backgrounds who wish to gather in prayer and ministry. Our ministry begins with listening, and so we create an environment where everyone’s stories are welcomed and honored.
We are a worshiping community comprised of men, women, and children who have been impacted by incarceration. We give witness to the healing power of God and are motivated by the gospel mandate, “I was in prison and you visited me.”
We are a community of believers who have been marked by incarceration and embrace a ministry of presence, compassion, and hope.
We commit ourselves to prayer and to challenge injustices where we see them and strive for peace and reconciliation.
We recognize the dignity of each person as a daughter or son of the Father, in Jesus Christ — guilt or innocence aside. We listen without passing judgment, offer consistent accompaniment, and share the Good News that God has plans not to harm, but to give each person a hope and a future.
The modern criminal justice system seeks to isolate perpetrators and punish them for crimes committed. Our Catholic faith offers an alternative: reconciliation. As Jesus reconciles us to each other and to the Father through the cross, we seek to reconcile the human bonds that have been broken by sin.
We promote a vision of restorative justice, which brings together and considers the needs of perpetrators, victims, families, and community in order to make progress toward true repentance, forgiveness, and healing.
This local community serves the entire Archdiocese as a spiritual sanctuary for all those affected by the criminal justice system. We believe that each person reflects the image and likeness of God and is called to belong to the Body of Christ. We are a center of hospitality and spiritual warmth, a holy ground where all feel safe and welcomed.
We not only listen to the stories of those we meet in jail but offer the entire Catholic community throughout the Archdiocese opportunities for education and relationship. Contact us to learn how your parish can join in the mission of Kolbe House.
We also work together with restorative justice and peace initiatives in our neighborhood and across the state to reduce violence, build stronger families and communities, and advocate for a more just criminal justice system.
In-jail ministry. Priest, religious and lay volunteers from across the Archdiocese visit Cook and Lake County jails to provide prayer and communion services and one-on-one pastoral ministry. This ministry is guided by our pillar of presence, in that we seek to accompany and encourage each person in their journey through detention. On this journey it is God who comes close to us, rather than we who find God. In a non-judgmental way we seek to facilitate detainees’ openness to that encounter. We also share materials such as daily devotionals, Bibles, and greeting cards with stamps when appropriate.
Family ministry. We provide pastoral accompaniment for families with a loved one in jail. We also provide emergency assistance when necessary and help them connect to resources like public aid, counseling, and community support. We maintain a small food pantry to benefit these families.
Re-entry ministry. Our location just two blocks from Cook County jail allows us to meet immediate needs of individuals when they are released, including food, CTA passes, clothing, and connections with housing and other support. We seek to build long-term relationships with individuals or connect them with meaningful long-term support communities.
Restorative justice. We seek points of connection for all those affected by incarceration, including detainees and their families, victims of crime and their families, individuals working in corrections or criminal justice, and community members. One of our main events is a Mass of Reconciliation every Friday at 5 p.m., followed by a potluck meal on the first Saturday of each month to create a safe space for building relationships.
The ideas behind Kolbe House began coming together in 1982, through a small group of priests, deacons, and sisters who were involved in jail or detention center ministry, under the direction of Bishop Francis Kane, then-Director of the Office of Peace and Justice. They confronted the disturbing realities surrounding incarceration and asked themselves: What, if anything, could the Church do to change the cycle of incarceration and the other social problems it symbolizes?
Bishop Kane presented their answer to the question — a parish-based jail ministry — to Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who supported their vision. In March of 1983, Cardinal Bernardin named the ministry “Kolbe House” and appointed Fr. Lawrence Craig as director. The name was chosen in honor of the recently canonized saint, Maximilian Kolbe, a prisoner executed in Auschwitz during World War II, and to emphasize the importance of hospitality. He wanted people who sought the aid of Kolbe House to feel not that they were not coming to an office to be treated as nameless clients but that they were coming to a home to be treated as family.
Fr. Larry began the ministry at St. Columbkille Parish, but shortly thereafter Assumption B.V.M. was in need of a new pastor. Located only a few blocks from Cook County Jail, it seemed the perfect location for Kolbe House. Fr. Larry worked hard to incorporate Kolbe House’s ministry into the community. “The truth is that no one is 100 percent clean and no one is 100 percent dirty,” he said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 2000. “In any given congregation, you have saints and sinners together--you just don't know which is which.”
Fr. Larry led Kolbe House until his death in 2006. His vision was always that jail ministry must have a comprehensive scope — providing services not only to those currently incarcerated, but also to victims of crime, workers in the system, families of the detained, and individuals and families suffering from similar problems. He felt that jail ministry must also seek alternatives to incarcerations, programs for prevention and deterrence, and aftercare for those released.
After Fr. Larry’s death, Fr. Arturo Perez became director of Kolbe House and pastor of Assumption B.V.M. parish until he retired in 2016. He was succeeded by Fr. Mark Bartosic, who after two years with Kolbe House was ordained bishop in September 2018.
The current executive director, MaryClare Bimingham, was hired in February 2019 as the first layperson to lead Kolbe House. Under her direction, Kolbe House is strengthening and expanding its ministry, especially with men and women re-entering the community after a period of incarceration.
St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, born in Poland in 1894, grew up with a great love for Mary, who appeared to him when he was ten years old. At 16, he entered the novitiate of the Conventual Franciscans and advanced his studies until being ordained a priest in 1918. Shortly thereafter he founded the movement that became the center of his ministry, the Militia of the Immaculata. Through this movement he promoted consecration to the Virgin Mary and use of the Miraculous Medal.
His outreach was expansive. He founded monasteries near Warsaw and in Nagasaki, Japan, published monthly Marian devotionals in both Polish and Japanese, and produced a radio station.
When Poland was invaded by Germany in 1939 during the outbreak of World War II, Fr. Maximilian remained in the monastery, converting it into a hospital and shelter for refugees, including 2,000 Jewish people. He continued publishing religious works, including a number of anti-Nazi publications. The monastery was finally shut down by German authorities in 1941, when Fr. Maximilian and four others were arrested. He was eventually transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.
For the next three months, Fr. Maximilian continued to minister as a priest to those around him, which resulted in frequent beatings and lashings. After the disappearance of three prisoners, ten men were chosen to be starved to death in an underground bunker to discourage others from attempting escape. When one of the selected men cried out, “My wife! My children!,” Fr. Maximilian volunteered to take his place. For two weeks in the bunker, he led the others in prayer. On August 14, 1941, being the only one of the ten still alive, he was executed by lethal injection.
St. Maximilian sought to bring peace and hope to others, and he resolved to love even in the most horrific of circumstances. He is said to have counseled a despairing prisoner with the words, “Hatred destroys! Love alone creates.”
St. Maximilian Kolbe was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982, just a few months before the founding of Kolbe House. With him as our patron, we call ourselves to accompany our brothers and sisters who are isolated by the walls of jails and detention, to love in the face of hatred and to hope in the face of despair.
MaryClare Birmingham assumed the role of Executive Director at Kolbe House in February, 2019. MaryClare is the first lay woman leading Kolbe House as its Executive Director. She has been a member of the Kolbe House Advisory Board and supported the work of previous director Bishop Mark Bartosic, which allows for seamless transition in this important ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
MaryClare brings a variety of career experiences to Kolbe House Advisory Board. As a certified public accountant, she worked for eight years in public accounting, then served as business manager of a Catholic high school. She left that work to become a full-time homemaker raising five children with her husband. They created their family through adoption, including adoption of older children from Russia. For her return to employment she entered the world of health care, earning a doctorate and licensure in physical therapy and practicing in an outpatient setting. A lifelong resident of the Chicago area, she attended Catholic schools from grade school through college and has participated in several parish ministries.
MaryClare’s commitment to prison ministry developed through support and accompaniment of an individual through the court process, the prison system, and re-entry to society after incarceration. This experience impelled her to research aspects of the Illinois criminal justice system and engage with organizations and experts who advocate for reform. Her particular interests are promotion of human dignity during incarceration and supervision, restorative justice, differentiation of consequences for juveniles and adults, and evidence-based policies for people convicted of sex-related crimes and violent crimes.
Deacon and Associate Director of Kolbe House
Kolbe House Chaplain at Cook and Lake County Jails
Deacon Pablo Perez joined our staff in September 2008. He was ordained a deacon in February 2008. Pablo volunteered at Kolbe House during the summer of 2006 as part of his diaconate formation. "I fell in love with jail ministry and knew then that I'd come back to be a jail chaplain," Pablo says.
Pablo was born in Guatemala and came to Chicago when he was four-years old. He grew up on the north side and graduated from Senn High School in Chicago. Pablo ministers at St. Bede the Venerable Parish on the Southwest side of Chicago, and he counsels couples and trains Eucharistic ministers and lectors, as well. He has been married for 24 years and has three children: two adults and one teenager.
Pablo says, "I was lucky to meet Fr. Larry Craig — it was the week before he died. He told me that as a volunteer I'd have to be able to go into jail and see Christ's face in those I'd visit. His words inspired me. Since then, I've seen the Holy Spirit moving us during the chapel services."
Development and Communications Coordinator
Dave is the newest member of the staff, starting in December of 2021. He grew up in Central Illinois and has lived and worked in Chicago for 15 years. Dave spent the early part of his career in sales and marketing in the beverage industry. Later, he worked in both higher education and politics where he added fundraising to his portfolio of relationship management and communications.
Dave’s mother was a teacher and his father was a warden in the Illinois Department of Corrections. “They were both proponents of equality and fairness. They practiced it at work and they preached it at home.”
Coordinator of Outreach and Formation
Emily is a married layperson and mother of three young children. In her role at Kolbe House, Emily is responsible for parish outreach, ministry to families, and formation of volunteers. She entered this ministry after being introduced to restorative justice through Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation and learning from her husband’s incarceration experience as a Mexican immigrant.
Her past professional ministries include parish family faith formation in Chicago and youth and children’s ministry as an Incarnate Word Missionary in Chimbote, Peru. Both experiences inform her passion for developing parishes as primary sources for relationship and community development. She earned an MA in Intercultural Ministry from Catholic Theological Union and a BA in Economics and Journalism from Creighton University.
Gloria Hernandez became the Kolbe House office manager in the spring of 2012. She has been a parishioner at Assumption B.V.M Parish for 25 years where she taught Religious Education and served on the Finance Council. She became familiar with the work of Kolbe House through her involvement in the parish.
After Gloria took an early retirement from J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, she came to work for Kolbe House. She says: “This is a ministry that may be viewed as one where time or effort should not be expended. However, this is exactly what makes this ministry so important. Having lived in the area where Kolbe House is based, I am familiar with what incarceration does to a family and the impact Kolbe House has to that situation.”
Gloria was born and raised in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. She brings specialized knowledge in information technology as well as well as years of corporate experience to Kolbe House. Gloria is thankful for this opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and contribute in some way to the jail ministry – a ministry she describes as one that is “truly served from the heart.”