Introducing the Voice of Hope Honorees

Image of the crowd and band at the Voice of Hope Dinner.
Photo by Michael Houy

Prison Ministry Volunteers, represented by retired diocesan coordinator of prison and jail ministry Bill Barber, and Humility of Mary Sister Mildred Ely were honored at the 2024 dinner.


They are a diverse group—with laity, religious and clergy of varying ages serving in all six of the counties of the diocese—says Bill Barber, former diocesan coordinator of prison and jail ministry, but he notes one striking similarity among the volunteers he directs: “Our common mission is to be messengers of God’s love and the reconciliation bought by the Lord Jesus Christ” to men and women who are incarcerated in various facilities in the six counties—reflecting Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35-36: “I was  … in prison and you visited me.”

Diocesan prison and jail ministry volunteers will receive a Voice of Hope Award from diocesan Catholic Charities at its annual Voice of Hope Dinner at the Eastwood Events Center in Niles on May 2. Barber, having served as diocesan coordinator of prison and jail ministry from 2019 to 2022 will accept the award on their behalf. 

Diocesan prison and jail ministry has nearly 30 volunteers at facilities across the six counties, including the jails in Portage,  Mahoning, Stark and Trumbull counties, as well as Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in Columbiana County, the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown and Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut. Volunteers include lay men and women, women religious, priests and deacons. 

Headshot of Bill Barber

A retired geologist and a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish in Ravenna, Barber, almost a decade ago, got invited to an annual retreat for inmates that Deacon Russ Brode of his parish led at the Trumbull Correctional Institute (TCI), a state prison in Warren. Drawn to the ministry, Barber said, “I was going out once a month” to minister to the inmates. After a time, he stepped up his involvement through the Tuesday afternoon Catholic studies program there. Eventually, he was leading the program.

His involvement grew further. “We have a number of programs out there. I became a lay leader of prayer and was involved in Communion services.”

He also started ministering to inmates at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, a private medium-security prison in Youngstown operated under contract with the U.S. Marshals Service and the State of Ohio.

After years of involvement, he was asked to become diocesan prison and jail ministry coordinator. “I tried to grow the ministry,” he said. Though no longer diocesan coordinator, he continues as a volunteer.

A few years ago, Barber undertook a new effort—Kolbe Gatherings—whereby former inmates come together after their release and offer mutual support. 

The groups were named after Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who was imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1941. While there, Father Koble actively ministered to those imprisoned with him and volunteered to die for a fellow prisoner.

From his interaction with inmates, “I developed a great appreciation of issues related to re-entry,” Barber explained. Former inmates face employment issues and other complications arising from life on the outside. “In addition, while incarcerated, many had found small faith-sharing communities which allowed them to lean on one another. When they come out, they lose that,” Barber said. 

Despite the hardships that the inmates face during and after incarceration, Barber said, the volunteers are impressed with the faith, hope and perseverance they witness in those they serve. 

Volunteers understand the limits of their roles. “We’re not here to save them. Jesus has done that,” Barber said.

Rather, the volunteer comes as “someone who cares, someone who comes to see them and listens to them,” and develops a spiritual relationship, Barber said. “We get to know them and see them as brothers and sisters in Christ—not just defined by the worst period in their life or the worst acts of their life.”

In addition, Barber said, he and the other volunteers find that their ministry enhances their own faith.

“All the volunteers who I talk with have a common experience. We do it to help others, but we get more out of it than we put in it,” Barber said.

To learn more about prison ministry in the Diocese of Youngstown, visit or email the  diocesan director of peace and justice, R.J. Mangan, at


Since entering religious life, Humility of Mary Sister Mildred “Millie” Ely has served in many diverse ministries—pharmacist, hospital administrator, and even food pantry manager—but there was one common element:

“I always went where I felt that I could do the most good,” Sister Mille said in anticipation of receiving a Voice of Hope Award from diocesan Catholic Charities at its annual Voice of Hope Dinner at the Eastwood Events Center, Niles, May 2.

Sister Millie encountered the Humility of Mary Sisters while attending St. Mary School at her parish in her hometown of Conneaut. She was inspired by the sisters who taught there. Her family also inclined her toward serving those in need. 

She entered the Humility of Mary Sisters in 1960 at the Villa Maria Motherhouse in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania, where many of the sisters were then sent on to college to prepare them for their ministries. With her fondness and aptitude for science and math, she opted to study pharmaceuticals—pursuing a degree at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.  

After graduating in 1969, she was assigned to St. Joseph Hospital in Lorain, Ohio, as its pharmacist. 

She found the pharmaceutical work to be satisfying, “but I really enjoyed working with the people—the doctors, the nurses and other staff,” she said.  

When the Humility of Mary community was looking to prepare healthcare administrators for their various hospitals, the CEO at St. Joseph Hospital recommended her.

So, Sister Millie left Lorain for graduate studies in health administration at St. Louis University. Then she returned to serve in 1978, as assistant administrator for St. Joseph Riverside Hospital in Warren. In 1983, she was named president and CEO—a position she held through 1995.

“I usually worked the standard day shift, but sometimes I would work the afternoon and evening shift so that I could get to know the staff,” she recalled.

In 1993, in addition to her duties at St. Joseph Hospital, Sister Millie was brought into leadership of her Humility of Mary congregation. She would continue to serve in leadership in various roles.

During the 1990s, the Humility of Mary Sisters began consolidating their hospitals, following a trend that health care institutions were finding necessary for their survival, Sister Millie explained.

Sister Millie was active in that process, even as it progressed toward mergers with Catholic health institutions regionally—serving in board leadership for the merged entities. 

Humility of Mary Health Partners (HMHP) was formed in 2011. In 2014, the hospitals operated under the name Catholic Health Partners, and in 2016, the name was changed to Mercy Health. Today, the system is called Bon Secours Mercy Health, reflecting another merger in 2018.

Though, as administrator or board member, Sister Millie was not involved in direct patient care, she said, “it was important to me to do what I could to ensure that our hospitals were strong to care for patients.”

In 2003, through her association with Humility of Mary Sister Consolata Klein and Brian Corbin, who served as diocesan Catholic Charities liaison with Catholic hospitals in the diocese, Sister Mille joined the board of diocesan Catholic Charities. “For me, through the whole experience of [working with] Catholic Charities, I found myself an advocate for those in need. How could I help continue the wonderful work that was already done?” she asked.

A few years later, she was asked to become manager of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, located at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Basilica in Youngstown.

“I had operated a hospital. I figured that I could manage a food pantry,” Sister Mille said. She enjoyed the work—interacting with the staff, the volunteers and the people who came for food. Sister Millie served there from 2008 to 2013. 

Though semi-retired, Sister Millie continues to serve on boards and committees, including as secretary of Bon Secours Mercy Health Foundation.

“I feel like the Lord led me through the various areas of my work. I don’t know if I ever would have found all that myself,” Sister Millie said. “I felt blessed that I had the health and the experience to make a contribution.”

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