St. Gabriel Mercy Center seeks Executive Director

MOUND BAYOU – The staff and board of the St. Gabriel Mercy Center faces the task of finding a new director just weeks after the director they hired died of a heart attack on the day he was set to start his new job.
Myron Douglas of Starkville had begun orientation with outgoing director Sister Monica Mary DeQuardo, OSF. Sister DeQuardo and Sister Emy Beth Furrer were packed and ready to leave for their next stop in St. Louis on Tuesday, Jan. 16 when they got the news. Douglas was to be the first lay director of the center.
The board regrouped and the call for a new director is going out. Board Chairperson DeVoyce Morris offered the following reflection on the history of the center:
1829, 1954 and 2013, 2015 and 2017 are significant dates in the annals of the St. Gabriel Mission School and St. Gabriel Mercy Center’s history. It was in 1829 that the Oblate Sisters of Providence was founded by Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, OSP, and Father James Hector Nicholas Joubert, SS, in Baltimore, Md. The Oblate Sisters were an order of African American women religious devoted to the “education of young African American girls.”
Years later, September 7, 1954, to be exact, Father John W. Bowman, SVD, opened the doors of the St. Gabriel Mission School to the children of Mound Bayou and surrounding areas. Realizing that education is the key that unlocks the doors of progress, especially for the predominantly black community of Mound Bayou, Father Bowman appealed to Mother Teresa Shockly, OSP, Superior General of the Oblate Sisters, for teachers. When the new school doors flung open, three Oblate Sisters M. Raymond Lawes, Margaretta and Mary Roberts, had already arrived at St. Gabriel. Thus began the reputation of educational excellence at St. Gabriel, having educated some of the world’s most prominent doctors, engineers, lawyers, educators, religious leaders, entrepreneurs, nurses, other professionals and citizens.
Following 30 years of kindling the young minds of countless boys and girls, the Oblate Sisters left Mound Bayou. The Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA) of Fond du Lac, Wis. came and stayed for five years. From 1990-2001, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart (MSC) from Reading, Pa., followed and opened the St. Gabriel Early Childhood Center after the grade school closed. In 1997, the St. Gabriel Center was opened by Christian Brother, Tom Geraghty (FSC), and in 1999 three Sisters of Mercy (RSM) arrived. In 2001 the early childhood center closed; and, the building became what is known now as the St. Gabriel Mercy Center, offering an array of programs for the people of Mound Bayou and Bolivar County.
A trip of Franciscan Sisters served at the center for the past two years preparing the staff and board to take over their operations. Catholic Extension recognized the work of the Sisters and the center by deeming St. Gabriel to be a finalist in its Lumen Christi Award program. The board hopes that a new director can continue the tradition of excellence found there.
A qualified applicant will have at least five years of administrative, leadership, managerial and/or supervisory experience; a master’s degree or above in a business, supervisory or managerial related field; demonstrated experience in fundraising and grant writing; be willing to live in a small, rural community and be an active member of a church. Resumes and cover letters are due to the center by March 30. Send applications to: DeVoye C. Morris, Board Chairman, St. Gabriel Mercy Center, P.O. Box 567, Mound Bayou, MS 38762.

Federal tax changes offer tuition savings opportunities

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Mississippi parents can use one of the state’s 529 plans to pay for Catholic elementary and high school educations and take advantage of the federal and state tax benefits of the plans. The provision is part of the new tax plan approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late December.
Emelia Nordan, the college savings and policy director for the Mississippi State Treasurer’s office led a webinar for the Mississippi Independent School Association about the topic on Tuesday, Jan. 30. She explained that Mississippi’s MACS 529 savings account can now be used to pay for private or Catholic School tuition, but urged parents to be cautious and seek advice from a financial planner as they move forward. The MPACT pre-paid college tuition plan is not part of this new provision.
“Last year Congress expanded the definition to include tuition for elementary and secondary education,” said Nordan. Interest earned on deposits is not taxed on a federal level and in Mississippi, “you can contribute $10,000 in a single account, $20,000 in a joint account per year and claim that contribution as a state deduction,” said Nordan. Parents can contribute more than $10,000 per year per child, but that is the only tax deduction they can take. Parents can contribute to an account all the way up to April and claim the deduction on their 2017 taxes.
The deduction only applies if the family is using the Mississippi 529. Out- of-state 529 plans can provide some federal benefits, but only a state plan will result in state tax deductions.
Mississippi’s 529 savings plan has ten different investment options so families can select the one they think will earn them the best return. Another route is to simply deposit the money for the ten-day required waiting period and immediately withdraw it just for the tax benefit.
The families would still have to pay any fees associated with the plan, said John Fletcher, a partner at Jones Walker LLC working with the Tax and Estates Practice Group. He said families should take a good look at whether the tax benefit would offset any fees, but he recommends that families consider finding some way to start saving money.
“What I would ask people is if they are considering opening a 529, can they put $250 in it, maybe more?” If the family is already making tuition payments, Fletcher said they can make the payments into the 529, then get the money back out after the required 10-day waiting period. “Then, if you earn any interest, you keep that money and your cash flow stays the same,” he said. Getting some of the tax benefit is just another bonus if a family uses the plan this way.
In order to access the money, parents can use an online account to have the money transferred directly to their school or ask for a check. Nordan warned that having their student’s identification number or name on withdrawals is important so schools will know how to apply the money. She also said documenting how the money is used is critical.
One unanswered question deals with third-party institutions who process tuition payments. For example, some schools have a partnership with a local bank. Parents can take out a loan for their tuition. The school gets the tuition money up front while parents are able to make year-round payments to the bank. Nordan said it is unclear right now how the IRS will view payments to third-party vendors. “You are self-certifying that this is a qualified expense,” said Nordan. This is part of why documentation of how the money is used can be important.
Fletcher said it might be better to withdraw the money as a loan reimbursement rather than have the 529 pay the bank, but he added that the Internal Revenue Service has not yet clarified this part of the plan.
Another unclear area is whether the money can be used for pre-kindergarten programs. In the case of colleges and universities, the accreditation of the institution is what determines if it is eligible for money. The initial bill references K-12 education, so pre-kindergarten families may want to wait until the IRS weighs in on that issue.
The changes are getting attention on a national level. Representatives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Catholic Educational Association spoke with Catholic News Service about the need to educate the Catholic School community about the new options. One significant change the national representatives are discussing is the definition of who may contribute to such a plan. Under the original 529 framework, it was parents. Now, it could be pretty much anyone.
“Grandma and Grandpa, aunts and uncles, and parishioners” could make contributions under an expanded 529 rubric, Daniels noted. No matter who contributes, only the account holder gets the tax benefit in Mississippi.
“I was the principal of a grade school, and I know there are parishioners who really want to make a difference in children’s lives,” said Dominican Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director of Catholic education for the USCCB.
Under the new law, not only can multiple people contribute to an account, multiple accounts can be opened for the same child, according to Kathryn Flynn, content director of savingforcollege.com, which provides research on 529 plans’ performance rankings and other metrics, then recasts it to make it more understandable.
Non-profit organizations can even open an account to earn interest for scholarships. The non-profit would not have to designate a recipient until the scholarship is awarded.

Foundation to honor Sister Thea Bowman, other women of courage


By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – A Jackson-based foundation will honor Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, as one of five women of courage during their Women’s History Month gala with the theme “Women of Courage and Strength: nevertheless, she persisted.” The Connecting the Dots Foundation raises money to support other non-profits. This gala will support scholarships and historic preservation.
Sister Thea will be honored for her work to advance the appreciation of diversity within the faith community. Among the other women to be honored at the gala: Dr. Helen Barnes, the first African American woman on faculty at the University of Mississippi Medical Center; Eliza Pillars, the first African American public health nurse; Beth Orlansky, an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice; and Pam Johnson, author and community activist.
The Diocese of Jackson is one of the sponsors of the event which is set for Saturday, March 24, at 6 p.m. at the downtown Jackson Marriott. Tickets are $100 each. Those who wish to support the event, but cannot attend can donate tickets for local students to use. Dress is formal. Tickets are available through the Ticketmaster service by calling (800) 745-3000. For sponsorship details call Marilyn Luckett at (601) 813-5045.

Tolton Play to tour Diocese of Jackson

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – A one-man play detailing the life Father Augustus Tolton is coming to the Diocese of Jackson for two runs, first in March and again in June. “Tolton: from slave to priest,” was written by Leonardo Defilippis, president and founder of St. Luke Productions.
Father Tolton, a former slave, is the first recognized American diocesan priest of African descent. The Archdiocese of Chicago opened his cause for sainthood in 2011, giving him the title “servant of God.”
Born into slavery, he fled with his mother and siblings through the woods of northern Missouri and across the Mississippi River while being pursued by soldiers when he was only 9 years old. The small family made their home in Quincy, Illinois, a sanctuary for runaway slaves.
The boy’s father had died earlier in St. Louis, after escaping slavery to serve in the Union Army.
Growing up in Quincy and serving at Mass, young Augustus felt a call to the priesthood, but, because of rampant racism, no seminary in the United States would accept him. He headed to Rome, convinced he would become a missionary priest serving in Africa. However, after ordination, he was sent back to his hometown to be a missionary to the community there, again facing rampant racism.
He was such a good preacher that many white Catholics joined his black parishioners in the pews for his Masses. This upset white priests in the town, so Father Tolton headed north to Chicago, at the request of Archbishop Patrick Feehan, to minister to the black Catholic community here.
Father Tolton worked to the point of exhaustion for his congregation in Chicago, and on July 9, 1897, he died of heatstroke while returning from a priests’ retreat. He was 43.
This play debuted in Chicago in 2017. The promoters of Father Tolton’s cause hope that taking it on a nationwide tour will inspire devotion to the priest and advance the cause. The author first learned of Father Tolton from a priest in the Diocese of Springfield, which includes the town of Quincy where the priest served and is buried.
The Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson invited the tour to Mississippi. A grant from Black and Indian Missions is helping to make the stops possible. “The March showings will be specifically targeted to schools within the diocese. We will have other evening showings in June in cities within the diocese,” said Will Jemison, coordinator for Black Catholic Ministry for the diocese. “The school viewings are free and open to the public,” he added.
On Thursday, March 1, Greenville St. Joseph School will host the play. Then, on Friday, March 2 Madison St Joseph Catholic High School will host. Each location will have two showings, 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Defilippis has created a “very unique art form” that makes it easy for groups anywhere to host the play because of the simple setup. The show ultilizes a multi-media platform so pre-recorded actors seem to interact with the live actor on stage.
When writing the script, Defilippis, who co-wrote the play with his wife, pulled from themes in Father Tolton’s life – perseverance, trust in God, incredible forgiveness and his priesthood.
Defilippis believes the time Father Tolton spent studying for the priesthood in Rome opened him up to the universality of a priest’s ministry. He studied with men from all over the world and saw the church’s history in places like the catacombs, the Coliseum and St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Once he becomes a priest, he’s a priest for all. This is not a segregated situation, it’s not a segregated mindset,” Defilippis said.
The play doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities Father Tolton faced, such as severe prejudice against him from fellow priests in Quincy. The post-Reconstruction period was a troubled time for the United States, and tensions and violence were real. Father Tolton himself often spoke of being watched.
Defilippis believes that telling Father Tolton’s story through art is a way to bring light into today’s seemingly dark world.
“The highest form of art is when you not only entertain and inspire, but bring it to another level of what we call evangelization, what actually touches hearts in a deep and impactful way that actually changes lives,” he said. “That’s what we’ve seen with these plays.”
In June, the play will return to the diocese for shows in other locations. Details on those shows will be announced as soon as they are worked out.
(Joyce Duriga, editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, wrote the play descriptions and interviewed the author for Catholic News Service in November, 2017. Excerpts from her story appear above.)

Catholic Charities gets strategic

By Michael Thomas
JACKSON – During the last week of January, members of the Catholic Charities board of directors and governance council met at Holy Family Parish to begin the 2018 – 2023 Strategic Plan for Catholic Charites, Inc. In keeping with the mission of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Jackson “…to be a visible sign of Christ’s love…” every five years a strategic planning committee is formed with members of the board, the governance council and Charities staff. This committee evaluates the past plan and develops a new one.
The plan will set forth a five-year set of goals and objectives designed to guide the agency, its board and governance council in actions that will improve outreach to consumers and operations. The theme for the strategic planning process is “Embarking on the next five years – The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9”
Bishop Joseph Kopacz began the full-day retreat with a reflection on Catholic Social Teaching. He included a review of the mission, values and principles that guide Charites. Senior staff members then gave an overview of operations along with presentations and updates from each program before the group began a review of the 2012-2017 strategic plan. “Today the council members were renewed in their focus and we are excited about the future of Catholic Charites,” said Cindy Jefcoat, chair of the governance council.
Traditionally, Catholic Charities has utilized a combination of a “SWOT” or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis, committee meetings and an internal employee survey to determine the goals and objectives in the plan. “This time we are going to add an external stakeholder and donor relationship survey to give us a better understanding of how we are viewed both internally and externally,” said John Lunardini, COO. Adding, “It is very important to hear from our partners, funders, donors and our parishioners on how they view the work of Catholic Charities in the diocese. In early March, we will begin sending out surveys to as many of these stakeholders as possible to gain the valuable feedback we need to strengthen our agency.”
This planning session comes at a particularly vibrant time for Catholic Charities. The addition of a COO working with Bishop Kopacz, who acts as CEO for the agency, along with a move into a new headquarters near downtown Jackson in 2017, have triggered opportunities to strengthen and renew the programs and staff. At the same time, the Diocese of Jackson launched a new mission, vision and set of Pastoral Priorities. The two efforts dovetail in their hope to encourage the faithful to ‘embrace diversity, serve others and inspire disciples,’ as the diocesan vision statement reads.
Catholic Charities is enlisting the help of Maris, West and Baker, a Jackson-based advertising agency, to redevelop the Catholic Charities website and update branding for the entire agency. “By the Bishop’s Ball in June, we expect to have a completed strategic plan and website that will help us increase our visibly in the community so we can have an even greater impact on the people that need our services the most and on the community as a whole,” said Lunardini.
Some of the accomplishments from the last strategic plan were relocating the Domestic Violence Center in Jackson, expansion of the MYPAC program under Hope Haven, implementation of an exit interview process and renewed COA accreditation.
(Michael Thomas is the Development Director for Catholic Charities of Jackson.)

Parish calendar

SPIRITUAL ENRICHMENT
CANTON Gray Center, Centering Prayer Spring Retreat, April 13-15. Retreat leader: Father William Meninger, Trappist Monk. This year will explore the Enneagram as a path for increasing one’s self-awareness, compassion and conscious living. Details: Limited space is available so register soon at https://graycenter.wufoo.com/forms/z1ogo6sv0d0yfxw/ or (601) 859-1556.
CHATAWA St. Mary of the Pines Retreat Center, Tending the Soul of Marriages, married couples retreat, February 16-18, 4 p.m. – Sunday morning. Presenters: Robin and Easton Hebert, spiritual directors and retreat leaders from Lafayette. They have built a ministry of mentoring those who prepare for marriage and those who desire to live the sacrament more fully. Cost: Suggested donation: $360 per couple. Details: Sr. Sue Von Bank (601) 783-0801 retreatcenter@ssndcp.org.
A Lenten Day of Reflection, God’s Love and Mercy. Saturday, February 17, 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. Presenter: Sr. Dorez Mehrtens, SSND, who is on staff, will help with reflections. Cost: Suggested donation: $40, includes lunch. Details: Sr. Sue Von Bank (601) 783-0801 retreatcenter@ssndcp.org
CULLMAN, Ala., Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center, Intensive Centering Prayer Weekend: The Welcoming Prayer, February 22-25. Develop further the discipline of Centering Prayer and deepen your relationship with God. Begins on a Thursday instead of Friday. Prerequisite: Introduction to Centering Prayer. Cost: Private Room $325. Details: contact Sister Magdalena Craig, OSB at (256) 615-6114, www.shmon.org.
NATCHEZ Compassion Care Hospice, Suite A, 113 Jefferson Davis Blvd., Grief and Loss Support Group, Second Monday of each month, 5:30 p.m. Next meeting, Monday, February 12. Open to the Public. Details: call (601) 442-6800.

PARISH, SCHOOL AND FAMILY EVENTS
AMORY St. Helen, Mardi Gras Parish Party, Tuesday, February 13. Food, fun, bingo and prizes for the entire family. Details: church office (662) 256-8392.
CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth, Healing Hearts Grief Support Groups has changed its meeting this month to Friday, February 16, at 6 p.m. at Rest Haven Restaurant, 419 North State Street. Details: Frankie Davis at (662) 902-0293.
COLUMBUS Annunciation, Frassati Fellowship Group. Are you a young adult looking for a faith community of other recent college graduates, graduate students and/or young professionals? Frassati Group is a young Catholic adult support group that will meet for Bible study, volunteer work and more. Details: Keely McCulla at (615) 509-7462.
NATCHEZ Assumption, Fat Tuesday Pot Luck Supper, Tuesday, February 13, in Tuite Hall immediately following Ash Wednesday 5:30 p.m. vigil Mass. Details: (601)442-7250.
St. Mary Basilica, parish celebration for all married couples, especially those celebrating their 15th, 25th, 40th, 50th, 60th and 60-plus anniversaries, Wednesday, February 21, at the Wednesday night dinner. Everyone, married or not married, will be treated to a complimentary dinner. Details: church office (601) 445-5616.
St. Mary Basilica, Knights of Columbus Annual Lenten Fish Fry, Friday, February 16, from 5-7 p.m. in the Family Life Center. For grilled catfish, please call 30 minutes ahead. Details: (601) 897-0295.
SHAW St. Francis of Assisi, Mardi Gras party, Tuesday, February 13, at 6 p.m. Details: church office (662) 754-5561.
Lenten Luncheons begin Wednesday, February 21. Details: Barbara Reginelli at (662) 719-8627.
VICKSBURG Knights of Columbus Council 898 is hosting the Beatitudes Marriage Enrichment Program, Thursday, February 15, at 7 p.m. in the council home, 310 Fisher Ferry Road. The program runs for six weeks, and each session lasts approximately 45 minutes. There is no charge. Explore the Beatitudes as the path to holiness in Christian marriage and that holiness is the source of joy in marriage. Details: Charles Hahn (601) 831-1057.
St. Paul, Friday, February 16, 6-7 p.m., Knights of Columbus first Lenten Fish Fry, $10 per plate; $6 child’s plate. Details (601) 636-0140.

YOUTH BRIEFS
CLEVELAND Delta State University Catholic Student Association, meets Tuesdays at 9 p.m. in DSU Union, second floor. Some past discussion has been Jesus’ authority over all things, even demons, and how we must use the armor of God to shield ourselves from the daily evils we encounter. Details: If you are a student and want to join us, text your name and number to Hunter Pugh at (662) 902-1669.
MERIDIAN St. Patrick School, Countdown 2018, Friday, February 23, in the Family Life Center. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and drawing begins at 7 p.m. Entertainment provided by Aa’keela Hundall. Details: Tickets can be purchased from any school advisory board member, the school office or Leslie Vollor at (662) 321-1150.
JACKSON 40-Days for Life Pro Life Kickoff Event, Wednesday, February 14, noon – 1 p.m at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization clinic on North State Street in Fondren. The 40 Days for Life event is an ecumenical, faith-based effort made up of prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil, and community outreach. Volunteers can sign up for shifts. Details: Barbara Beavers at (601) 940-5701 or barbara.beavers@gmail.com.
Pro-Life Mississippi annual Spring Banquet and Silent Auction, Thursday, April 5, First Baptist Church, 431 North State Street, Jackson. Silent auction 5 – 6:30 p.m. VIP meet and greet 5-6 p.m. Banquet begins at 6:30 p.m. Keynote speaker will be retired Lt. Col. Allen B. West, former U.S. Representative from Florida’s 22nd District. Details: (601) 956-8636.
Walk for Life, Saturday, April 28, begins at St. Richard Church, Jackson. Meet at 7:30 a.m. and begin at 8 a.m. Afterwards, lunch prepared by St. Richard Knights of Columbus. Details: www.ProLifeMississippi.org.
RIDGELAND, Hospice Ministries volunteer training, 450 Towne Center Blvd, February 16-18. Training runs from 5:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Friday; 1-5 p.m. on Saturday and concludes on Sunday 1-5 p.m. It is a fast-paced program filled with speakers and refreshments. Hospice Ministries is a community-based, not-for-profit organization that helps others during one of life’s most trying experiences, terminal illness. Details: Volunteer Services, (601) 898-1053 ext. 258 to register or have any questions.

IN MEMORIAM
Sister Dorothy Ann Balser, S.S.N.D., died January 28 at St. Mary of the Pines, Chatawa. She is the sister of Father Edward Balser. Sr. Dorothy was born in McComb on November 6, 1927. In 1949, she took her profession of vows with the School Sisters of Notre Dame in St. Louis. In the Diocese of Jackson, Sr. Dorothy coordinated the laity of St. Francis of Assisi, Brookhaven, in all levels of religious education.
Her experience and skill as a teacher of primary children enabled her to develop programs for children in Magnolia and Osyka. Her burial took place on January 30. A formal prayer service and Eucharistic Celebration will be announced at a later date.

Research begins on Sister Thea Bowman

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Bishop Joseph Kopacz has appointed Redemptorist Father Maurice Nutt to begin researching the life, writings and works of Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, in what may well be her first step on the road to sainthood. Father Nutt will travel to and from his home in New Orleans to the Diocese of Jackson for the time being.
This does not officially open a cause for canonization, but is a preliminary step prior to opening a cause. Since February is Black History Month, the appointment seems all that much more timely.
Sister Thea, the granddaughter of a slave, was born Bertha Bowman in 1937 in Yazoo City. Her family moved to Canton where she enrolled in Holy Child Jesus school. She decided to become Catholic at the age of nine. A few years later she asked to join the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and became the first African-American member of the order.
Sister Thea was a gifted teacher and vocalist. She earned a doctorate in literature and traveled the world – taking students to England and visiting Africa to connect with her own heritage. As she taught, sang and experienced life, she began to form a theology of diversity and inclusion that would become the hallmark of her public life. The late Bishop William Houck invited her to be a consultant for intercultural awareness in the Diocese of Jackson. Even while working in Mississippi, Sister Thea traveled the country teaching workshops on music and speaking about the importance of diversity in the church. Her influence both in and outside of the church was tremendous. She appeared on the television newsmagazine 60 Minutes. Harry Belefonte met with her in hopes of producing a movie about her life. She was one of the most sought-after speakers in the country.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984. As the cancer worked its way into her bones, she continued to maintain a grueling travel schedule, praying to ‘live until I die.’ One of her last public appearances, delivered from a wheelchair, was speaking to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She told them she was ‘fully black and fully Catholic,’ and urged them to embrace their African-American, Vietnamese, Native American and other cultural flocks and their customs and music. Sister Thea believed the church could welcome diversity and uphold tradition. She closed her speech by getting the men to stand, link arms and sing the Spiritual ‘We Shall Overcome.’
Sister Thea died in 1990. She is buried in Memphis. Not long after her death, many of her friends wondered if they had known a saint. In the past year or so, rumors spread that Sister had been declared a servant of God. She had not, but it was one more sign that this case might merit a closer look.
Father Nutt met Sister Thea as his teacher, but he now calls her his spiritual mother. He has written two books about her – one will be published this summer – and he often includes reflections on her life in his missions and workshops. His job right now is to research and document her life. Much of this work is already done since he has written about her, but this is an opportunity to gather her writings and records and organize it all in one place.
The first step on the path to sainthood is to determine if a person has ‘heroic virtues.’ Father Nutt will begin to assemble a file – something a little more in-depth than the usual biography – for Bishop Kopacz to review. “I’d love to find every place named for her,” said Father Nutt. The diocese has a school named for Sister Thea, one of half a dozen nation-wide. He has come across shrines dedicated to Sister Thea as close as New Orleans and as far away as Oakland, Calif. The Franciscan Sisters have a foundation in her honor as well as an extensive archive of material.
Father Nutt will review their holdings as well as what is housed in the archives in Jackson as part of his work. The next step, probably months down the road, will be for the bishop to ask the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for input on opening a formal cause for sainthood. If the bishops agree, the case can go to Rome to be opened and the diocese will have to raise money to support it. The cost of canonization can run into the million dollar range.
That’s when work begins in earnest. Once the cause is opened, the promoter will begin telling Sister Thea’s story and encouraging people to pray for her intersession in hopes of producing a miracle. A second miracle is required before the church will canonize a saint.
The whole process of canonization can take decades to complete. Father Nutt is confident he can start by finding Sister Thea’s heroic virtues and see where the Holy Spirit leads after that.

Bishop, superintendent support school choice effort

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Bishop Joseph Kopacz and Diocese of Jackson School Superintendent Catherine Cook signed a letter urging Mississippi Lawmakers to expand school choice in the state by passing Senate Bill 2623. The bill made it out of the committee process, but as of the publication day for this issue, the House has not debated it.
SB 2623 would expand eligibility for the state’s existing Education Savings Accounts (ESA) to all public school students, students entering kindergarten or first grade, students in foster care, children of active duty military, and siblings of eligible students. The ESA would be funded at $6,500 for special needs students and at 95 percent of the state’s formula for all others, which comes to about $5,700.
Basically, parents who qualify would get access to an account or debit card to use for their child’s education. The bill gives preference to students with special needs. Two-thirds of the Catholic Schools in the diocese serve special needs students and stand ready to enroll more.
The letter from Bishop Kopacz and Cook states, in part, “The Catholic Church teaches that parents are the primary teachers of their children and that public support should empower their choice to send their children to schools that fit their conscience. Expanding eligibility for the ESA, while prioritizing those students with special needs and from low-income families, will allow parents a real option in choosing an education that best fits their child’s learning needs.
“The Catholic schools of Mississippi have long served the neediest students and communities, educating Catholics and non-Catholics across income-levels and racial groups. Our schools have offered a well-rounded education to Mississippians for generations, and we stand ready to give an opportunity to the families who would benefit from an expanded ESA.”
The bishop and Cook got some unexpected assistance in this effort this year thanks to a mission appeal trip the bishop took to Indianapolis. When Bishop Kopacz was preaching in Indiana he met Brittany Vessely, executive director of Catholic Education Partners, a non-profit organization whose mission is to help more families have access to Catholic education. One of the services Catholic Education Partners offers is advocacy and education in states where school choice could help the community.
The organization sent Greg Dolan to Mississippi. He delivered the letter to lawmakers, helped answer questions and visited Jackson area schools during Catholic Schools Week. He explained that the current bill is not a new program. The state already has ESAs. This bill simply expands the categories of eligibility.
“This program is in existence and functionally it wouldn’t change very much. Really, the same process would go on in that parents are given a portion of the funds used for their public education,” he explained. Dolan added that school choice programs are about empowering parents to make decisions in their children’s best interest regardless of their income or location.
“We don’t do this (support school choice) because we want Catholic schools to have higher enrollment. We do it because this is what the church has taught for at least 150 years in our modern schooling environment – that the state should support parents in choices they make for good education. I happen to think personally that more people, if they had the option, would choose Catholic schools,” said Dolan.
The letter was only part of the effort to support this issue. Students from across the diocese attended a School Choice rally at the capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Wearing bright gold scarves, the students provided a backdrop for advocates to speak to lawmakers about the bill.
A group even came down from Greenwood St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis principal Jackie Lewis said she believes parents should have the right to choose the education best for their students. “My child might need something different from your child. You have to look at the specific child and the specific family and find the school that fits,” said Lewis. “Public school is not one-size-fits-all, nor is private or parochial school,” she added. The advocacy group Empower Mississippi helped organize the trip for the St. Francis students.

Hope Haven doubles capacity, expands services

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Catholic Charities’ Hope Haven Residential, the only crisis stabilization unit for adolescents in the state of Mississippi, will double the number of teens it can serve thanks to a new facility. The new home can accommodate 16 young people and will have an exercise room and a space for arts and crafts as well as group activities.
On Thursday, Jan. 25, a moving crew along with the staff of Hope Haven and other Catholic Charities programs rolled up their sleeves to haul beds, dressers, couches and everything else needed to make a home. They set up bedrooms, common areas, offices and more in hopes of having the new facility up and running by mid-February. The Knights of Columbus from Flowood St. Paul Parish followed to paint and make repairs.
Michelle Hamilton is the director of Hope Haven. She said the new home is more conducive to the needs of the program and she is very excited about expanding. Teens in acute crisis spend 14 days in Hope Haven. “They receive individual and group therapy. We give them a physical and a TB test. They meet with our psychiatric nurse practitioner to review their medications, if they have them, or consider if they may benefit from medication,” she explained.
The teens aren’t the only ones who get care. “We take in the youth and their families,” said Hamilton. Therapists work with the whole family to determine what has caused the behavior or situation that prompted the teen to go to Hope Haven. They then work with both the teen and family to resolve conflict and develop coping skills to help everyone in the future. The family participates in the therapy so healing and progress can continue beyond the stabilization period.
If a teen needs more residential treatment after two weeks, “we help find the right place for them. We provide referrals and facilitate the move,” said Hamilton.
Being able to expand services at Hope Haven will make the therapy done there stronger. “We are very excited about the exercise room and the arts and crafts,” said Hamilton. “The teens need to figure out new coping skills. That looks different for different people. Some have never been taught coping skills at all,” she added. She said when a child finds the right activity – a long walk, painting or drawing or exercise or meditation or any number of other things, he or she knows immediately when it’s the right coping skill for them. Being able to offer a variety of things to try makes Hope Haven an even better program.
“We are very excited to move into a larger facility that will allow us to provide more services and reach more children who need help,” said John Lunardini, COO for Catholic Charities. “With so few options in the state for teens who need mental health care, this expansion makes sense. It also fits into the mission at Catholic Charities to reach out to the most vulnerable. When we see a place where we can do more, we are going to step up and expand or improve our offerings,” Lunardini added.
The new facility will also have a clothing closet for the teens. Hamilton said Hope Haven would welcome donations for the closet, arts and crafts room, snacks for the residents and even gift cards. “Gift cards for restaurants and movies help us because we like to take outings with the residents,” said Hamilton. Those who wish to donate can contact Hope Haven at (601) 371-1809 or email michelle.hamilton@catholiccharitiesjackson.org or tammie.harper@catholiccharitiesjackson.org

Peregrinación por la vida en Locus Benedictus

Por el padre Michael McAndrew, CSsR
GREENWOOD – El 20 de enero, unas setenta y cinco personas asistieron a la segunda Peregrinación por la Vida en el Santuario de María, Madre del Delta, para celebrar la vida desde la concepción hasta la muerte.
La peregrinación celebra la valoración de la “prenda perfecta” de la vida; un término acuñado por el cardenal Joseph Bernardin en una conferencia de 1983, afirmando que los obispos deben considerar como cuestiones provida no solo el aborto, pero tambien la inmigración, la atención a los ancianos, la pena de muerte, la proliferación nuclear y otros asuntos que amenazan el respeto de vida humana.
El día incluyó una caminata de tres millas, con cinco paradas para reflexionar sobre los valores de la vida que incluían el derecho a la vida como un niño; la dignidad y el respeto de las personas de todas las culturas, idiomas y razas; lo sagrado de nuestro medio ambiente; respeto por los ancianos y aquellos que sufren enfermedades; y celebrando la juventud.
Bailarines aztecas de Jackson dirigieron la ruta. Después de la caminata, testimonios fueron brindados por una persona quien sobrevivió cáncer tres veces, un médico, un capellán de la prisión, un ministro de la juventud y un niño (un ciudadano de los EE. UU.) cuyo padre se encuentra en medio de un proceso de deportación. Todos estos testimonios exigen celebrar la vida, la dignidad humana y la fe.
Los participantes viajaron desde Jackson, Greenwood, Greenville, Cleveland, Vardaman, Memphis, Batesville y otros lugares. El obispo Kopacz cerró este día de celebración y oración con el santo sacrificio de la misa.

(El padre redentorista, Michael McAndrew, vive en Greenwood como parte de la comunidad de sacerdotes que sirven a los hispanos en el Delta)

Fotos por Hermana María Elena Méndez, MGSpS