Suburban Hero: Batavia volunteer helps Kane County jail inmates open their hearts
It seemed more than a coincidence, as Batavia resident Tim Lyons read newspaper articles, heard radio broadcasts and saw television shows about prison ministries.
"I felt I was being asked by our Lord to go to the jail," recalled Lyons, 60, who retired as a Batavia Fire Department lieutenant in 2016 after 29 years. "It was nonstop, and I finally just said OK."
So Lyons reached out to the Kane County jail and a deacon at Holy Cross Church in Batavia to arrange to visit inmates and urge them to open their hearts. Six years later, the weekly visits are going strong.
"I just want to help these people. I'm here to help men who are lost," he said. "Once I got in, it was so rewarding. It's so obvious when someone gets it. We don't want to limit it to just Catholics. I want them to just give this a shot."
Lyons, who also gives his time to the Knights of Columbus Council 2191 and Elburn Lions Club, will be recognized as the Kane County Sheriff's Office Volunteer of the Year this month at a recognition dinner for all volunteers.
"He's been instrumental in getting the diocese and priests inside the jail," said Bill Woods, volunteer coordinator at the sheriff's office. "We didn't have priests coming into the building. We were unable to offer it."
Lyons is honored by the award, but thinks priests and other volunteers should get recognition. "We love what we do. It's not about us," he said.
Lyons said he was inspired in October 2001 by a prayer from New York Fire Department Chaplain Mychal Judge that reads: "Lord, take me to where you want me to go; let me meet who you want me to meet; tell me what you want me to say; and keep me out of your way."
"I was blown away by it," said Lyons, who noted he and his wife, MaryJo, have added one more line: "And protect me from myself."
"Our Lord wants to show mercy to everybody," he added. "He will send us wherever he wants us, but we have to ask him. We have to open our hearts."
Each Wednesday afternoon during odd-numbered months, Lyons and a local priest visit the jail to hold Mass and offer Holy Communion to inmates.
On Wednesdays during even-numbered months, Lyons and a priest will visit to offer inmates the holy sacrament of reconciliation, or confession. Thursday nights are Bible study groups from 7 to 9 p.m. Priests come from Holy Cross in Batavia, St. John Neumann Catholic Church in St. Charles and Rockford.
Lyons understands he can't reach everyone and some inmates might tell him to buzz off. He's OK with that.
"My thing is just getting people to open their eyes a little wider. We all have things that happen that can't be explained," he said. "These guys are in a bad spot, surrounded by people who maybe aren't so good and just need a little help."
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