Fr Vasyl Kren on life as a prison chaplain

Fr Vasyl Kren, a vivacious straight talking Ukrainian, has been a chaplain at HMP Edinburgh since 2016, writes Stuart Conlan of Crux.

He has a very congenial personality, and the strength of an ox to match. Inmates respect him.

He has the care of around 900 souls and attends the prison around four days a week (his main job is administrator of Our Lady of Pochaiv and St Andrew’s, a Ukrainian Catholic Church on Dalmeny Street).

Fr Vasyl, right, chats with Stuart Conlan of Crux Margazine. Image: Ieva Marija Photography.

Recently, Crux joined him there to find out more about his role.

“When I was first appointed as a prison chaplain, I feared my English would not be up to the task," he said.

"That said, I speak several languages besides English including Slovak, Russian, Serbian, Polish and Croatian, as well as my native Ukrainian.

"And, as my English has improved over the years, I have been able to function as a bridge for many non-English speaking inmates.

Joining inmates for Mass brings treasure for the volunteers as well as for the prisoners

"When I arrive at my office in the morning, I check what has been happening overnight to see if anyone is ill or if anybody has asked to see me.

"I prioritise first timers and those on the ‘talk-to-me’ programme, which is the Scottish Government’s strategy aimed at reducing suicide rates in prisons.”

Fr Vasyl tells me that when tough times come, he very often finds prisoners are keen to talk about God.

They might for example try to pray or to read a Bible.

However, many have no idea how to follow through, so to speak, and are at a loss as to how to take the next step.

Image: Ieva Marija Photography

They ask him – what shall I do?

Fr Vasyl studied theology for five years in Ukraine followed by a further six years of study in Zagreb, Croatia.

He offers Sunday Mass for around 40 prisoners and staff in the prison Chaplaincy.

A handful of volunteers, including me, have had the privilege of assisting him on several occasions.

I must tell you it is quite an unparallelled and humbling experience.

As well as administering the sacraments, Fr Vasyl also offers sessions in bereavement counselling, scripture study, and he helps with arranging meetings with writers and with ex-prisoners who have successfully turned their lives around.

Being of the Eastern Catholic Church, which is in union with Rome, Fr Vasyl also has Vladyslava his wife and Gabriela their young daughter to look after in their family home in Edinburgh.

He tells me how he has been supported by the Archdiocese and by his brother priests including Canon Jock Dalrymple (St John the Evangelist & St Mary Magdalene's, Portobello), Canon Brian Gowans (St Serf's, Kirkcaldy) and Fr Basil Clark (Our Lady of Loretto & St Michael, Musselburgh).

He laughs mischievously as he adds, “Oh, Archbishop Cushley, he is my godfather!” (Fr Vasyl and His Grace arrived in Edinburgh at the same time 10 years ago and immediately hit it off.)

As our time together ends, Fr Vasyl talks about the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SSVP) volunteers who assist at Mass in HMP Edinburgh. “It is a calling of the heart and a desire to bring the light of the resurrection to those places where there may be only darkness.

"Joining inmates for Mass brings treasure for the volunteers as well as for the prisoners.”

If you are interested in assisting at Mass in HMP Edinburgh with SSVP, then please contact The full article by Stuart Conlan appears in the latest edition of Crux, the magazine of the Friends of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh. All images: Ieva Marija Photography.

Ecumenical visit highlights value of prison chaplaincy

Archbishop Leo Cushley joined the Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton at Scotland's facility for women in custody on Friday.

The visit to HMP & YOI Stirling gave the church leaders the opportunity to see the prison chaplaincy service, which offers spiritual and pastoral support to those in custody of all faiths and none.

Rev Foster-Fulton, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “Church of Scotland representatives serve as chaplains in prisons across the country, providing pastoral and spiritual care for the whole of the prison population.

"Jesus said ‘I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me'.

“Chaplains form a strong link between the communities inside and outside, supporting families and caring for those most in need, helping them to discover purpose and meaning and develop the resources to live a fulfilled life.”

Archbishop Cushley said: “Chaplains play an important role in prisons across Scotland in helping with the wellbeing and spiritual direction of prisoners.

“Sally and I were keen to visit HMI & YOI Stirling and we are impressed with the facilities provided and the steps taken to ensure the care of women in custody.”

'Happier futures'

Paula Arnold, Governor of HMP & YOI Stirling, said: “We value our partnerships with the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland, and the important role that chaplains play in supporting people on their personal journey in custody.

“Relationships, including those based on religion and faith, are key to supporting the wellbeing of our women and helping them towards happier and healthier futures.”

In 2022, the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland formally signed an historic declaration of friendship known as the St Margaret Declaration.

It describes the Churches' shared beliefs, ‘rooted in the Apostles, Christ's first disciples,' and acknowledges a common heritage as Christians in Scotland.

Churches around the world are currently marking the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity  an event that takes place over eight days between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul.

Prisoners' Week Scotland

Prisoners' Week Scotland begins on Sunday with an ecumenical service at Letham St Mark's Church, Rannoch Road, Perth.

We pray for the those who minister to prisoners in the Archdiocese:

Fr Dermot Morrin OP, of St Albert's Catholic Chaplaincy in Edinburgh and chaplain at HMP and YOI Polmont, will feature on New Every Sunday on BBC Scotland (7am) speaking on the theme of 'Changing our Ways'.

Barbara Dickson OBE, a parishioner at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Edinburgh is patron of Prisoners' Week. The parish and Archbishop Cushley have signed the Prisoners Week Charter.

Prisoners' Week aims to highlight its vision "for a just and peaceful society where all people are cared for and supported, be they prisoners, the families of prisoners, those released from prison or the victims of crime.

"Through Prisoners' Week we want to encourage action and support, particularly among communities of faith, for all those affected by imprisonment."

A Prayer for Prisoners' Week

Lord, you offer freedom to all people.

We pray for those who are held in prison.

Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist.

Support with your love: prisoners, their families and friends, prison staff,

chaplains and all who care.

Heal those who have been wounded by the activities of others, especially the victims of crime.

Help us to forgive one another. To act justly, to love mercyand walk humbly together with Christ, in His strength and in His Spirit, now and every day. Amen.

Prisoners' Week Scotland takes place from 19-25 November. Find out more at

WATCH: Prisoners and experts share experience of life inside

Life inside Scottish prisons was discussed by prisoners, experts and chaplains at The Gillis Centre in Edinburgh on Saturday.

A View from Within: Justice & the Prison Service was hosted by Canon Brian Gowans and the Archdiocesan Commission for Caritas Justice & Peace.

Prisoners from HMP Castle Huntly shared their experiences about life inside and stressed the importance of addressing challenges within the criminal justice system.

These include education, self-motivation, mental health, and breaking down stereotypes.

Professor Nancy Loucks from Families Outside underscored the significance of acknowledging obstacles faced by families of those in prison and advocated for collective efforts to challenge stereotypes and provide support.

Canon Gowans spoke of the global disparities in the treatment of prisoners which he discovered in his role as President of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care.

Deacon Kenny McGeachie, the National Chaplaincy Advisor to the Scottish Prison Service, discussed challenges within the Scottish prison system and advocated for an  inclusive, trauma-informed, and rights-based approach.

In alignment with the call of Christ to serve those in prison, attendees were urged to act practically by endorsing the Prisoners' Week Charter.

The Archdiocese has already pledged its support, affirming their commitment to advocating for a more empathetic and equitable prison system.

Thanks to everyone who attended. Find out more about the Commission for Caritas, Justice & Peace here. Find out more about Families Outside here.

A View from Within: Justice & the Prison Service

People with experience of the prison system in Scotland share their stories. Details and registration here.

Prisoners' Week: remembering those behind bars

Archbishop Leo Cushley has thanked Catholics in the Archdiocese who visit prisons - and has challenged more parishioners to join them.

He chatted with prisoners and staff at HMP Edinburgh yesterday (Wednesday) as part of Prisoners' Week.

He said: "This year's theme is 'Out of Sight, Out of Mind' and it's good to know that people across the Archdiocese do remember those who are locked up.

"They do this very quietly, discreetly and in a Christian fashion. I think during Prisoners' Week it's worth highlighting this important voluntary work so that more people know about it and contribute."

He thanked Prison Governor David Abernethy, who took him around the site, and the ecumenical chaplaincy team, including Father Vasyl Kren (main pic, second from left), for their work in ministering to people of all faiths and none.

Mass behind bars

Archbishop Cushley was joined by two members of a prison visiting group from St Mary's Cathedral, John Macfarlane and James Walker.

A group from the Cathedral visit HMP Edinburgh (also known as Saughton Prison) on the first Saturday of each month.

They meet up with Father Kren each month to attend a Mass and two communion services, spending up to three hours inside the building.

Mr Macfarlane (main pic, right) said: "The small group of us who visit the prison each month go there to attend Mass with some of the prisoners.

"I think it's an important connection - both for us who visit, and for the prisoners themselves. We get the opportunity to chat very briefly with them after each Mass, which I think is also very important in maintaining the link with the Church outside."

Fr Kren said: "I's great to have parishioners joining us. We had a positive ecumenical meeting with Archbishop Cushley at the prison, discussing a range of issues. We appreciate the visit and the encouragement it gave the chaplaincy team here."

A spokesperson for Prisoners' Week said: "This year's theme challenges us to get to know more about the lives of people in prison and asking if we care."

If you would like to join St Mary's Cathedral prison visiting group email