By Mike Viola
Father Andy Chalkey, O.M.I. has briefly thought about what he would like to have inscribed on his tombstone. He came up with a simple message, “Thanks for Everything.”
“But I don’t plan on using it any time soon, I’m too busy,” said the 88-year-old Missionary Oblate.
At an age when most people would kick back and enjoy their retirement, Fr. Andy is accepting new challenges to serve people in need. Recently he became a chaplain at the St. Clair County Jail in Belleville, Illinois.
Father Andy celebrates Mass for inmates several times each month. He also offers counseling to anyone who wants to talk to a non-judgemental person.
“I just love working there,” said Fr. Andy. “I explain to them that if Nelson Mandela can get out of jail and become the president of an entire country, what can they do when they get released.”
Mass is celebrated at the jail in a courtroom. Father Andy finds it ironic that the courtroom and the church have many similarities. There are benches and a podium. Participants even follow a pattern of sitting and standing at certain times.
Prior to becoming a prison chaplain, Fr. Andy was a chaplain in a much different environment – the Apartment Community of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. He was known there as “Handy Andy” because of his jack-of-all-trades skills. He would celebrate Mass, share the Sacraments and offer spiritual guidance. He would also fix scooters and give haircuts, always for free.
Father Andy brings international missionary experience to his work as a prison chaplain. For two years he worked in Denmark, including ministering to inmates at the largest prison in Copenhagen.
For 17 years he ministered on the remote island of Sibutu in the southern Philippines. For years he was the only Catholic on an island of about 5,000 Muslims. He helped to bring electricity and a water system to the island. He built a school and cleared land for an air strip so small planes could land to take people to the mainland for medical care. He also worked at the island prison, counseling prisoners even though none of them were Catholic.
“I’m just so thankful that I have been able to minister in so many wonderful places, and that I can still minister today,” said Fr. Andy.
And thousands of people around the world are in return grateful for Fr. Andy’s ministries, which they can sum up in three simple words – “thanks for everything.”