Youth minister assists in rescue, gives God glory

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Five-year-old Helena White is back home after a remarkable rescue and recovery thanks to the work of strangers who stopped to rescue the girl from her car, which had flipped into a creek near Camden Dec. 28. One of those rescuers, William Banks, a youth minister at Camden Sacred Heart Parish, said he believes he was part of a miracle and that everything about that day was directed by God to put him in the right place at the right time.

Helena White, center, gets love from her mother Chasity and father Ray White during a news conference about the little girl’s recovery from a car wreck and near drowning. (Photos by Maureen Smith)

Helena White, center, gets love from her mother Chasity and father Ray White during a news conference about the little girl’s recovery from a car wreck and near drowning. (Photos by Maureen Smith)

The child’s mother, Chasity White, told a reporter for the Jackson Clarion Ledger she turned her head to look at a picture little Helena has drawn and missed a turn on the road. Their car flipped and landed in a creek. When White could not get her child out, she ran up to the road and started flagging down passers-by.
Banks and his girlfriend Jessica Burch were driving back from the Gulf Coast when they came across the scene. “When you looked down the bank you could see the mama, she was screaming that her baby was in the car,” he said. One of the rescuers told Banks they needed a knife to cut the seatbelt. “I had just gotten a knife, two days before, she (Burch) gave it to me.”
Banks went into the water. “I can’t even swim. I was so scared, but the Lord was there with me. I could not see. Someone took my hands and guided them to the seatbelt,” said Banks. He cut his own hand while cutting the seatbelt to make sure he did not cut the child. When he got the belt off he discovered little Helena’s body was wedged between the seats.



“I said, we can’t get her out this way, we have to try something else. We have to lift up the car,” said Banks. How did he and a handful of others lift a submerged car? “The grace of God,” he said. Once they pulled the girl from the car she had been under water for a long time, perhaps as long as 10 minutes.
“She was blue and her mama was holding her in the water. You could tell she was just getting weak,” said Burch, who was a lifeguard and knew CPR. She and the others on the bank helped Chasity White out of the water and one person started CPR. “About four minutes in, she gave a little burp so they rolled her over and water came out,” explained Banks. “Then she started crying. That was the most beautiful sound, the crying baby,” said Banks.
“Yes, that was the miracle, the sound of that baby crying,” added Burch. Banks said he had no way of knowing what happened after the ambulance left. He did not know the child’s name or where she went. “I did not sleep for days. I would cry—I just didn’t know what happened,” he said. Burch saw a story on the television, including video of the rescue. Banks contacted the sheriff’s department to see if he could speak to the family. Seeing Helena and hearing that she will recover fully eased his anxiety.
Doctor Mary Taylor, chief of pediatric critical care at Batson’s Children’s hospital called Helena’s recovery remarkable.  At a press conference about the case held Friday, Jan. 9, the doctor said fact that Helena was in an age-appropriate 5-point restraint car seat and that rescuers started CPR immediately are the two factors that contributed most to the child’s survival.
The car seat prevented more serious injuries to her body. “While it may seem funny because she was trapped in the car that probably saved her from significant injury from the rollover car accident she had,” explained Taylor. Then, starting CPR restored circulation and got oxygen to her brain, preventing permanent damage. Even the fact that the water was cold may have helped. Taylor said a person is more likely to survive a cold-water near-drowning. She added that some children spend weeks on a ventilator after a near-drowning. Helena spent only days and had to be sedated because she was so active in the days after the accident, an early good sign of her spirit. She went home Sunday, Jan. 11.

Banks still has the knife he used in the rescue, but says he will not use it again.

Banks still has the knife he used in the rescue, but says he will not use it again.

“She is the same happy little girl that wants to make everyone happy,” said her mother. “We’re very thankful for all the prayers and all the support because it has definitely helped,” she said.
White said Helena remembers the accident. She said she wants her daughter to know the rest of the story— and the people who saved her life. “I was so surprised to see how many people stopped. We are so thankful for everyone that helped. Now we keep in pretty close contact. She said ‘I want to meet everyone that helped’ and I’m like, ‘you will,’” said White.
Banks and Burch offered to host a real birthday party for the girl, since she spent her 5th birthday in the intensive care unit. “It has changed my perspective on life. I just pray every day. I take a little time every day. You know, you never know what God is going to put there for you,” said Banks. Although he still has the knife he used in the rescue, he said he will not use it again. He still gets emotional when talking about the accident. He said he plans to talk to his youth group about the rescue to tell them to be ready for when God might call them to step up.

Diocese, agency partner for papal visit trip options

The Catholic Diocese of Jackson  has partnered with Proximo Travel to offer three options to those who wish to attend the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit set for this September in Philadelphia. The first trip, called CCMS #1, is an eight-day trip and includes airfare, accomodations, some meals and registration to the meeting. It costs $2,399.
CCMS #2 is a five-day trip including airfare and most meals. It will cost $1,199.
The third option, CCMS #3 is a 5-day bus trip. It includes hotel and some meals as well and is $999.
All three options include the opportunity to attend the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. The eight-day trip includes  some sessions at the World Meeting of Families.
Organizers say it is important for those who wish to take a trip to register early. They have to fill entire busses to send them. Once the first bus is full, Proximo will start a reserve list for a second bus, but cannot send that bus unless all those seats sell.
Additional details about these trips are available on the website for the Diocese of Jackson. Go to and look for the headline about the Papal visit trip.
To make reservations, contact Kami Laverne at Proximo Travel at 855-842-8001.



  • BATESVILLE/SARDIS St. Mary and St. John parishes, Bishop Joseph Kopacz will celebrate the 9, 10:30 a.m. and the 5 p.m. Masses on Sunday, Feb. 1.
  • BOONEVILLE St. Francis of Asissi Parish, Holy Hour, Wednesdays from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
  • CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth Parish, “An Introduction to the Theology of the Body: Discovering the Master Plan for Your Life,” Tuesday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m. in McKenna Hall preceded by a light dinner. Replay on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 12:10 p.m. in the rectory.
  • CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories, parish mission, “The Beauty of Catholicism,” Sunday-Tuesday, Feb. 8-10, at 6:30 p.m. Dinner will be served at 6 p.m. Led by Michael Cumbie. A nursery will be provided.  Details: 662-846-6273.
  • CORINTH St. James Parish, novena/prayer service for an end to abortion during Holy Hour/adoration time, Sunday, Jan. 25, at 4 p.m.
  • GLUKSTADT St. Joseph Parish, Bible Timeline Series, Tuesdays  at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesdays  at 10 a.m. in Heritage Hall.  Details: parish office, 601-856-2054.
  • HATTIESBURG “Fire From Heaven,” Charismatic Catholic retreat sponsored by the University of Southern Mississippi Catholic Student Association, Feb. 6-8 at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 3117 West 4th Street. Led by Father Mark Goring, Pauline Brazil and Jay Flunker. Details: Jonna van Thiel, 601-450-2520.
  • JACKSON St. Peter Cathedral, Lenten retreat and anointing service, Saturday, March 14.
  • JACKSON St. Richard Parish, “Old Testament: God’s Revelation,” class sponsored by the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, twice a month on Thursdays from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Next class is on Jan. 29. Cost is $20. Details:
  • McCOMB St. Alphonsus Parish, Pro-Life day of reflection and prayer, Saturday, Jan. 24, from 8:15 a.m. – 2:15 p.m. Led by Catholic apologist Jim Seghers. Babysitting available.
  • NATCHEZ Assumption Parish, Bible study on the Gospel of Matthew on Fridays in Tuite Hall after the 8 a.m. Mass. Led by Roseminette Gaude.
  • NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, a half-day Model for Healthy Living retreat, Saturday, Feb. 28, in the O’Connor Family Life Center. Starts with breakfast at 8 a.m. and ends at 12:15 p.m. Details: Ann Elizabeth Kaiser,  601-213-6378,


  • AMORY St. Helen Parish, spaghetti lunch sponsored by the junior and senior high youth, Sunday, Feb. 1, at the parish hall after Mass. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children, with a maximum of $25 per family.
    Discussion of the book, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” by Chris Bohjalian, Monday, Feb. 16, at noon.
  • CHATAWA St. Teresa Parish, decorated Christmas tree and two wreaths for sale, on display in the front entrance of the sisters residence building. Details: Sister Helene Robin, 601-730-5458.
  • CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth School drawdown,  Friday, Feb. 13, from 7:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. at The Bank! Tickets are $100, admitting two people for food, music, and access to the silent auction.
    – School open house, Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 5:30 p.m.
  • CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories Parish, weekly Sunday Mass in Spanish is moving from St. Mary, Shelby, beginning on Feb. 22, at 11: 30 a.m. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will join this Mass on March 1.
  • COLUMBUS Annunciation School, open house for prospective families, Saturday, Jan. 21, from 10 a.m. – noon.
    – Pancake breakfast, Sunday, Jan. 25, at 8:45 a.m. at Annunciation Parish.
    – Mardi Gras party and $10,000 drawdown, Saturday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. at Trotter Convention Center. Tickets are $100 and admits two adults. Details: Parish office, 662-328-2927.
  • GRENADA St. Peter Parish, blood drive, Sunday, Jan. 25, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • HERNANDO Holy Spirit Parish, celebration of the feast of the Presentation/Candlemas Day, Jan. 31-Feb. 1. Candles will be blessed at all the Masses. The celebration will begin in a gathering space followed by a candlelight entrance procession into the church proper.
    – The youth will collect monetary donations for the city food pantry after all Masses Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 31-Feb. 1. Checks can be made out to Interfaith.
  • JACKSON St. Peter Cathedral, presentation of Bishop Chanche Awards, Saturday, Feb. 21, at 10:30 a.m. Honorees will be announced soon.
  • JACKSON St. Therese Parish, spaghetti dinner and movie fund-raiser, Saturday, Jan. 24, at 5 p.m. “Heaven is for Real” will be shown.
  • JACKSON Sister Thea Bowman School students will lead music at Christ the King Parish 9 a.m. Mass Sunday, Jan. 25, as part of Catholic School Week.
  • JACKSON Knights of Peter Claver, Ladies Auxiliary Court #199, annual Mardi Gras Ball, Saturday, Feb. 7, at the Regency Hotel.
  • MADISON St. Joseph School, drawdown, “Jeans, Jazz & Bruin Blues” Saturday, Feb. 7. Tickets and sponsorships are now available. Tickets are $125 and admits two. Details: Office of Advancement, 601-898-4803.
    – Save the date for “Thea’s Turn,” Friday-Saturday, April 10-11, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 12, at 2 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center. A drama based on the life of Sister Thea Bowman.
  • MADISON St. Francis of Assisi Parish, “Celebration of Light” event, Saturday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. in the Family Life Center. Admission is $10. Benefits Mississippi Children’s Home Services.
  • McCOMB St. Alphonsus Parish, Knights of Columbus soup cook-off and bingo, Saturday,  Jan. 24, from 5 – 7 p.m. in Liguori Hall. Fun for all ages. Cost is $5 per person.
    MERIDIAN St. Patrick, Our Lady of Fatima Sodality meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 17, at 6 p.m. Theme, “Women in the Acts of the Apostles,” led by Sister Marilyn.
  • NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, World Marriage Day celebration, Wednesday, Feb. 11, during dinner in the O’Connor Family Life Center.
  • PEARL St. Jude Parish, Mardi Gras Ball, Saturday, Feb. 7, from 7 – 11 p.m.  Ticket are $10 singles, $15 couples, and $25 families. Proceeds benefit St. Jude Young Apostles.
    – Chicken plates on sale for the Super Bowl for $12 per plate after all Masses Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 24-25. Sponsored by Council 8038 of the Knights of Columbus. Proceeds to benefit Coats for Kids and seminarian education
  • SOUTHAVEN Area parishes will celebrate Scouting Sunday on Feb. 8. At the 8 a.m. Mass at Good Shepherd, the 10 a.m. Mass at Christ the King, the 10:30 a.m. Masses at Holy Spirit and Queen of Peace. All Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are invited to come in uniform.


  • JACKSON Fifth Annual Catholic Day at the Capitol, Wednesday, Feb. 4. Begins with Mass at 12:05 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle with lunch immediately following in the parish hall. Both Bishop Kopacz and Bishop Roger Morin will speak. Catholic legislators will be honored. Details: to register, visit or call Michael Thomas, 601-331-1152, at Catholic Charities.
  • JACKSON Catholic Charities “Savor the Flavor” Thursday, Feb. 20, from 6 – 10 p.m. at Hal&Mal’s. Admission is $25. Benefits the Migrant Support Center of Catholic Charities Jackson. Taste food from several restaurants, enjoy live music. Cash bar. Details: www.catholicharitiesjackson.

Crump congratulates state, speaks of true justice, honors MLK

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney famous for representing the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, drew several hundred participants to the Diocese of Jackson’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial celebration in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle Sunday, Jan. 11, at 3 p.m. Crump quoted King throughout his presentation, emphasizing the notion that true peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of true justice.

An ecumenical gospel choir provided music for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial event in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle Sunday, Jan. 11. (Photos by Maureen Smith)

An ecumenical gospel choir provided music for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial event in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle Sunday, Jan. 11. (Photos by Maureen Smith)

Trayvon Martin was a black teenager who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Florida. Martin had walked to a corner store to get a drink and Skittles. Crump said when he took the first call from Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, he had no idea the case would garner world-wide attention. Crump said he will always remember that first call.
“From that day to this one thing I can’t define, I can’t articulate is that sound in his voice. The heartbrokenness, the despair,” he went on to say. Even Crump’s law partners worried that the case would be a hard one to win thus sapping valuable time and resources from the firm. He told them he knew all that, “but if I don’t take the case, who will?”
The firm lost the criminal case based on a so-called “stand your ground” self-defense law, but the national reaction started a new conversation about race relations and weapons in America. “When you answer the bell and God is watching, you don’t know what is going to happen,” said Crump. He said working for true justice requires sacrifice and struggle. “God put us on earth to do something for his glory and God cares about true justice,” said Crump.
Although the Martin case involved a white shooter and a black victim, Crump said he was seeking justice beyond racial lines. “It doesn’t matter if the finger on the trigger is black or white, that doesn’t matter. We must speak up,” he said. After the Martin case, Crump became involved in the case of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man shot by police.

Benjamin Crump speaks during the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial service.

Benjamin Crump speaks during the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial service.

Protests following these cases have spawned the phrase ‘black lives matter.’ Crump said people should believe that all lives matter. He called on parents in the audience to speak to their children about respect for themselves and society, to participate in issues of social justice and to be an example of speaking up for justice.
Crump also had warm words for the state, congratulating the community on the recent prosecution of a group of teenagers who admitted coming to Jackson to harass and beat black people. Two of the teens pleaded guilty in federal court Friday. After the speech, Crump said given the history of racial violence in Mississippi, he and others are pleased to see the outrage the case inspired.
“That’s why it’s interesting and ironic here in Mississippi. You all are going to be an example for these other states of what equal justice is, what true peace is, because it’s the presence of justice that everybody says ‘when it happens in our community people are held accountable too,’” said Crump.  He added that he hopes the perpetrators can change. “We as a society we all have to help each other become better. We have these tragedies, but out of every tragedy there is an opportunity to learn and become a better society. Hopefully there will be redeeming qualities (in this situation) that we will try to hopefully talk about rehabilitation and not just punishment,” he said.
Benjamin Cone and Worship, an ecumenical choir, sang for the event. Cone even offered a song he wrote with his teenage son in reaction to the Trayvon Martin case. Bishop Joseph Kopacz commented on their powerful voices, saying he was glad the cathedral had strong windows. The bishop also offered a reading about justice from the prophet

The Ladies Auxillary of the Knights of Peter Claver attended the event in full regalia.

The Ladies Auxillary of the Knights of Peter Claver attended the event in full regalia.

Isaiah. He agreed with Crump that we all are called to work for justice. “Sometimes in the quiet conversations (such as the one Crump had with Tracy Martin), before the world gets a hold of it, is when God speaks to us,” he said. He also added that when we work to advance the dream Dr. King had, “we still carry forward this dream of God.”

Youth Briefs & Photos

CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories Parish, weekly Sunday Mass in Spanish beginning on Feb. 22, at 11: 30 a.m. This Mass is moving from Shelby St. Mary Parish.
JACKSON/MADISON Registration is now open for the diocesan Cross Connections Conference: Catholic and I Mean it, set for Saturday, Feb. 28 at the Madison St. Joseph School Fine Arts complex from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Pastors and youth ministers are invited to join in this day of training, faith sharing and worship. Visit the Diocese of Jackson website, to see the schedule for the day and download a registration form.
McCOMB St. Alphonsus Parish, Lifeteen annual Valentines fund-raiser dinner, “Venice Carnival,” Saturday, Feb. 14, from 6 – 9 p.m. in Liguori Hall.
– Girls Group retreat at the O’Neil Amedee’s home the weekend of Feb. 27. More info to come.
MERIDIAN St. Patrick, JCYC meeting, Sunday, Feb. 1, after the 11 a.m. Mass.
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, bake sale on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 24-25, after all Masses.
– JCYO meeting, Sunday, Jan. 25, from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. Second Catholic Faith Investigators (CFI) induction ceremony.
PEARL St. Jude Parish, meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, after the 6 p.m. Mass to finalize plans for the Mardi Gras Ball and to discuss other plans.
– Sunday, Jan. 25, fun day rollerskating at Funtime Skateland in Pearl from 2 – 5 p.m. Admission is $6 per person, includes skate rental. Bring lunch money.
SOUTHAVEN – Tevin Mathew is the winner of this year’s Knights of Columbus Essay Contest. The theme for the essay was “the Importance of Religious Freedom.
“Religious freedom is important because it not only reinforces religious tolerance in a diverse world, but it also gives people hope and strength in their daily life.
I could not imagine my life without my faith; it has gotten me through the trials and successes in my life. I have overcome my struggles and conquered personal battles because of my religion, and as a result, I believe that religious freedom is extremely important and should be applicable to all people,” wrote Mathew.
– On Super Bowl weekend, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, the youth will be collecting soup, canned goods and money to help the food pantry at Sacred Heart Southern Missions and the Samaritans.

Training an opportunity to inspire, invest

Kneading faith
By Fran Lavelle
My home in Starkville is out in the country.  On my way home by way of a narrow gravel road, I pass by the Volunteer Fire Department.   It occurred to me the other night that I have volunteers in my local rural community that are trained and prepared to come to my assistance if I ever experienced a fire on my property.  These folks are trained to save lives. I am grateful that there are people in my community who take on that responsibility and take with it the seriousness of being prepared.  Sometimes, however, folks in ministry are hesitant to ask “too” much of the people in the pews.  The concern is that as volunteers we fear that by placing too many requirements on them, they will quit. I think the opposite is true.
Proper training gives us a certain level of competency. The more competent one is, the more willing they are to take continue to take on responsibility.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with and extensive increasing list of things to do and decreasing budget and/or energy to do them. Sometimes we just need to spend the money, time and energy to gain insight, perspective and rest that we most need to do our ministry with competency and care. So it was for the more than 50 people from the Diocese of Jackson who recently made the journey to Kenner, La., for the 33rd Annual Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference.  This year’s theme, “Christ Centered People: Called, Gifted and Sent,” drew more than 900 people from the Gulf Coast region and beyond.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was seeing contemporaries from around the diocese. Our delegation from the Jackson diocese included priests, sisters and lay people.  I am still very new to this job and this was the first time for me to attend this conference.  I take no credit for the success of the weekend, but I must say I was so proud of each and every member of our diocese who attended.  The weekend was educational, reflective and challenging.
One of the best keynote speeches was given by Father Steven Bell, CSP.  Father Bell was formerly on the staff at Busted Halo and now serves as the pastoral associate at St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbus, Ohio. We had a chance to chat before his remarks as I had been asked to introduce him.  Father Bell challenged us to step out of our role as “church people” and look at our ministry with new eyes. What if I were coming to this event/activity for the first time?  What would my experience of hospitality be? How would I fit in?  Hospitality should resonate in every aspect of what we do in ministry.
It does not matter if one is the pastor, DRE, youth minister, catechist, book keeper or janitor hospitality should be the hallmark of all that we do. This is a challenge that I keep before me in my ministry and in working with college leadership underscored often. It does not hurt, however, to be reminded of it again.
While it is a regional conference, speakers came from all over the US.  Hearing the perspective of someone who comes from a different place can be beneficial and enlightening.  In those moments we realize how much a like we are and that no place is free of challenges. For example, a workshop speaker made a statement that I have not heard before but resonated with me immensely.  He said that we’ve got to stop treating youth like a problem and start treating them as vital and integral members of our parishes. Zowie! They are NOT, he reminded us, the future of our Church. They are in every way, the Church of today.
His challenge made me think about the ways our Office can better serve the people in our parishes chosen to minister to our youth. Just like my volunteer firefighters down the lane, I want our catechist and DREs/CREs to feel like they have the education, training and tools to do their very best.  And, like my volunteer firefighters, there is something life-saving about the mission.  If your parish is not already taking catechetical training seriously, maybe this will serve as food for thought.  I encourage you to make the investment.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Mission of Catholic education remains solid

Forming our future
By Jules Michel
Let the children come unto me!
As an educator, I have always liked this quote from the New Testament.  Jesus was a teacher who invited the children to come to him to learn about the kingdom.  What more powerful statement is there of the priority of Catholic education in the kingdom of God.
The Plenary Councils of Baltimore, Maryland, in 1852-1884 pronounced the support of the American Bishops of that period when they proclaimed that every new parish created in the country must have a Catholic school affiliated with it!
So many times Mississippi is considered last in education, but that cannot be said of Catholic education.  We have one of the oldest, continually operating Catholic schools in the country, Natchez Cathedral School, founded in 1847.  It is also the oldest school in the state still in operation despite a Catholic population of only 3 percent. The four remaining Catholic high schools in the diocese represent 593 years of uninterrupted Catholic education of not only Catholic students, but those of every race, nationality and religion in the world.
This could only have happened through the Holy Spirit as He inspired the religious men and women who founded and established our school system. It could not have happened without the parents and parishioners of the past 170 years social and financial sacrifices. Yes social sacrifices, as there were times when it was not socially acceptable to attend a Catholic school.  In the African American community it was an even more socially dividing institution.  In the black communities some Catholic school patrons were made to feel as if they were trying to “be white.” In the white communities many felt the Catholic Church should not educate the African American for fear he might learn enough to buck the white social system existing in America.
I am sure the Italian, Syrian, Irish and German immigrant Catholics in America were made to feel the same way in their respective communities. (This is not unlike the social road blocks that existed in the time of the early church as it followed its mission of evangelizing the Gentiles.) For nearly 2,000 years we have seen that you cannot separate God and learning!
So what about Catholic education in Mississippi? We have seen from where it has evolved, but where is it going? Does the Catholic school system have the same mission as it did in 1847 or has that changed also?
As a person who has spent 43 years of his life in Mississippi’s Catholic Schools, I can say without a doubt our mission has NOT changed.  In fact I think it is even more appropriate now than it was 168 years ago.  If we consider that the mission is to provide a Catholic, faith-based academic education to all those persons desiring such a school, then it has not changed. What has changed is who. Who is staffing our schools and who are our current students.
In the post Vatican II era of the 1960’s we saw a dramatic decrease in the number of religious men and women choosing Catholic education as their vocation. I began working in the Catholic schools about this time, 1974. Within 10 years, the schools became almost totally staffed by lay persons, some even non-Catholic.
The challenge of the schools at this time was to make sure the lay staff and administration was totally vested in the original Catholic school mission and the charism of the religious who founded the state’s Catholic schools. Among men and women religious, even on a national scale, there was concern that lay educators just could not keep our schools “Catholic.”  Amid many obstacles I feel we have not only kept them Catholic but added the dimension of the lay Catholic charism. Since most of the Catholic school educators were products of religious-led Catholic schools, they tended to keep these traditions alive. In addition many of our lay administrators were married and had children which added another dimension to how they perceived their ministry of Catholic education.
I believe one of the most successful changes in the new era Catholic school has come in the teaching of religion or theology. These programs have not only embraced the traditional teachings of the church but also the social teaching of the universal church. Lay staffs are modeling how students must take not only their academic training into their adult life but also the spiritual training that requires them to be lay, adult witnesses to the teaching of Jesus Christ. They have become the St. Pauls of modern times.
The second major change in the 21st century has been the larger number of persons of other faith beliefs choosing a Catholic education. We can assume they are not all here to become Catholic, although a significant number do convert. No, they are here for quality academics, a safe environment and an education intertwined with Christian values. This addition means we have added a new dimension to Mississippi Catholic education, that of evangelization!
So what does the future hold? Well, that is up to you, the patrons and alumni and to our former students. If you feel our schools have given you a quality education and preparation for life, then you will support us with your children and patronage. If you are open to selecting a ministry in Catholic education you will support us with your talents. With only 14 of our schools still open since 1847, I can only hope that the Holy Spirit will work in them as He did in the early, catacomb church.  As Father (Alfred) Camp always said, “It ain’t easy!”
(Jules Michel is principal of Vicksburg, St. Aloysius, and has been principal of Jackson St. Richard School, Natchez Cathedral School and Greenville St. Joseph Schools.)

Blessed Junipero Serra set for canonization

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM MANILA, Philippines (CNS) – Pope Francis said his September trip to the U.S. will take him to Philadelphia, New York and Washington – where he intends to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra – but he will probably not make other stops.
Pope Francis made his remarks Jan. 19, in an hourlong news conference with reporters accompanying him back to Rome from a weeklong trip to Asia. Four days after announcing he would canonize Blessed Junipero in the U.S. in September, the pope said he wished he could do so in California, the 18th-century Franciscan’s mission field, but would not have time to travel there.
The pope said he planned instead to perform the canonization ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, saying Washington would be a fitting location because a statue of Blessed Junipero stands in the U.S. Capitol. The pope also confirmed he would visit the United Nations in New York. He had already announced his participation in the late-September World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
Asked about widespread speculation that he would visit the U.S.-Mexico border on the same trip, Pope Francis said “entering the United States by crossing the border from Mexico would be a beautiful thing, as a sign of brotherhood and of help to the immigrants.” But he said making such a visit would raise expectations that he would visit Mexico’s shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and he joked that “war could break out” if he failed to do so. “There will be time to go to Mexico later on,” he said.

God loves us all equally

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
It’s common for us to see God’s grace and blessing in what unites us. We naturally sense the presence of grace when, at our core, we feel a strong moral bond with certain other persons, churches, and faiths. That, biblically, is what defines family.
But what if what separates us, what if what makes other persons, churches, and faiths seem foreign and strange is also a grace, a difference intended by God? Can we think of our differences, as we think of our unity, as a gift from God? Most religions, including Christianity, would answer affirmatively.
Thus in both the Jewish and the Christian scriptures there is the strong, recurring motif that God’s message to us generally comes through the stranger, the foreigner, from the one who is different from us, from a source from which we would never expect to hear God’s voice.
Added to this is the notion that when God speaks to us we generally experience it as a surprise, as something unexpected, and as something that does not easily square with our normal expectations as to how God should work and how we should learn. There’s a reason for this. Simply put, when we think we are hearing God’s voice in what’s familiar, comfortable, and secure, the temptation is always to reshape the message according to our own image and likeness, and so God often comes to us through the unfamiliar.
Moreover, what’s familiar is comfortable and offers us security; but, as we know, real transformative growth mostly happens when, like the aged Sarah and Abraham, we are forced to set off to a place that’s foreign and frightening and that strips us of all that is comfortable and secure.
Set off, God told Sarah and Abraham, to a land where you don’t know where you’re going. Real growth happens and real grace breaks in when we have to deal with what is other, foreign, different. Learn to understand, writes John of the Cross, more by not understanding than by understanding. What’s dark, unfamiliar, frightening, and uninvited will stretch us in ways that the familiar and secure cannot. God sends his word to the earth through “angels” and they’re not exactly something we’re familiar with.
If this is true, then our differences are also a grace. Accordingly, seeing things differently does not mean that we are not seeing the same things. Accordingly, different notions about God and different ways of speaking about God do not mean that we’re speaking of a different God. The same holds true for our churches, having difference concepts of what it means to be church does not necessarily mean that there isn’t some deeper underlying unity inside our diversity.
Similarly for how we conceive of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, how we imagine Christ as being really present inside of bread and wine, can take many forms and can be spoken of in different ways, without it meaning that we’re speaking of a different reality.
John Paul II, addressing an interfaith gathering, once commented that “there are differences in which are reflected the genius and spiritual riches of God to the nations.” Christian de Cherge, after a lifetime of dialogue with Islam, suggests that our differences have a “quasi-sacramental function”, that is, they help to give real flesh in this world to the riches of God, who is ineffable and can never be captured in any one expression.
Our differences then are part of the mystery of our unity. Real unity, which needs to reflect the richness of God, does not exist in uniformity and homogenization, but only in bringing into harmony many different gifts and richness, like a beautiful bouquet of flowers brings together of a variety of different flowers inside one vase. Our legitimate differences are rooted inside of the same God.
This has implications for every area of our lives, from how we receive immigrants in our countries, to how we deal with different personalities inside our families and places of work, to how we deal with other Christian denominations and other religions.
Without endorsing a naive syncretism and without denying the rightful place for discernment, it must still be affirmed that our differences, conceived as an expression of a deeper unity that we cannot yet conceive, open us up more fully to the deep unfathomable, ineffable mystery of God and, at the same time, prevents us from making an idol of our own ideas, our own religious traditions, our own ways of understanding faith, and our own theologies and ideologies. Moreover, accepting differences as being intended by God and as the presence of grace in our lives should prevent us from constructing our identity, particularly our religious identity, on the basis of opposition to others and the unhealthy need to forever protest our own uniqueness and truth against what’s other.
God loves us all equally. Difference, then, understood as part of the mystery of unity, should help keep us humble and honest enough to let others take their proper place before God.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Celebrating Catholic schools

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
This week’s publication of the Mississippi Catholic puts the spotlight on the living tradition of Catholic schools within in the Diocese of Jackson.  This vital arm of the Catholic Church’s mission to make disciples of all of the nations has a rich history in Mississippi as has been pointed out and celebrated countless times in this paper.  Next week is “Catholic Schools Week” and there will be a myriad of activities in each of our schools that manifest the pride of each school in their uniqueness, as well as the communion they share with one another and with God as educational faith communities in the Body of Christ, the Church.
During the autumn months of last year I had the opportunity to celebrate the Mass in each of our elementary and High School communities and it was a joyful and meaningful experience for me to enter into the heart and mind of each of them, including Christ the King and Holy Family, St. Elizabeth, and St. Francis, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Joseph, St. Francis Xavier and St. Aloysius, Cathedral High School and Elementary, St. Anthony and St. Joseph, St. Richard and Thea Bowman, St. Patrick and Annunciation. (I have omitted the locations so that you can connect the schools with their towns and cities, a geographical excursion around the diocese.)
Times have changed and the Diocese of Jackson has fewer Catholic Schools then it once had, but the commitment of families, educators, and diocese remains strong and we continue to sacrifice in order that our schools may continue to flourish in contemporary society. Indeed, there are many challenges that families and school communities face in our world that experiences so much upheaval and instability.
In the 2007 document published by the Congregation of Catholic Education in Rome Educating together in Catholic Schools we read of the enormous challenges in the introduction: “The unexpected and often contradictory evolution of our age gives rise to educational challenges…These challenges emerge from the social, cultural, and religious complexity in which young people are actually growing up…There is a widespread lack of interest for the fundamental truths of human life. Likewise, individualism, moral relativism and materialism permeate above all rich and developed societies…Add to that rapid structural changes, globalization and the application of new technologies in the field of information that profoundly affect daily life and formation…
In a society that is at once global and diversified, local and planetary, young people find themselves faced with different proposals of values, or lack thereof… There are also the difficulties that arise from family instability, hardship and poverty… All of this exposes our young people to the danger of ‘being tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine’ (Eph 4,14).
With this picture of the social and cultural milieu all school communities are acutely challenged to accomplish their mission to educate with purpose and promise.  Yet, our Catholic School communities have considerable resources to fulfill the mission of educating the whole person, in knowledge and wisdom, faith and grace.
In the United States and the Diocese of Jackson we carry forward a tradition and a legacy that is well over 150 years old. Our schools are an extension of our diocese, our parishes and our families; therefore parents, teachers, administrators, laity and religious, priests and bishop, are all part of our school communities, either directly or in directly, on site or present in spirit, laboring to nurture our school communities that seek to infuse the sacred into all academic disciplines, social and athletic events.
The mission of our Catholic School educators is a noble vocation, but it can also be daunting in light of the world in which we live. The document cited above encourages a vision that the world cannot give. “The Catholic School educator’s vocation is a journey of permanent formation which demands a ready and constant ability for renewal and adaptation, and not just about professional updating in the strict sense. The synthesis between faith, culture, and life is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught in the light of the Gospel, and in the growth of Christian virtues.”
“Catholic educators need a ‘formation of the heart’. They need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ that awakens their love and opens their spirits to others so that their educational commitment flows from their faith, a faith that becomes active through love. In fact care for instruction means loving.”
When we take a minute to think about this mission and vocation we know that it is only by the grace of God that it can be achieved in its fullness.  It is rooted in the promise of the Lord Jesus to be with us until the end of time.
As Catholic Schools Week dawns we give thanks to our educators who care to instruct and administrate with great love, to the support staff of each school, to our parents who sacrifice to support their children’s education, to our parishioners whose generosity is directed in part to the support of our schools, to our pastors and pastoral ministers who provide the spiritual guidance that sustains parish and school communities, and to so many who have gone before upon whose shoulders of sacrifice and commitment we continue to stand today.
Have a spirited Catholic Schools Week, and may the Lord who has begun the good work in you continue to bring it to fulfillment.