Review of faith, culture, politics of past 50 years essential reading

By Brian T. Olszewski (CNS)

This is the cover of “Getting Religion: Faith, Culture and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama” by Kenneth L. Woodward. The book is reviewed by Brian T. Olszewski. 

”Getting Religion: Faith, Culture and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama” by Kenneth L. Woodward. Convergent (New York, 2016). 447 pp. $30. In the introduction to “Getting Religion,” Kenneth L. Woodward states two goals for writing it: to “provide an account of American religion, culture and politics over the past 50 years by someone who was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to witness events and people in ways that others never could or did; and to challenge some competing narratives through my personal reflections on what happened and why.” That he far surpasses those goals is just one reason why this book is essential reading. In the first two chapters, Woodward blends autobiography with a description of how he saw the United States during the 1940s and ‘50s. Of the latter decade he writes, “religion was embedded in the national culture as well as in the landscape — though, like minerals in the soil, particular religious traditions were deposited at different depths and levels of concentration.” Although the Second Vatican Council and some of its effects, and the “birth control encyclical,” “Humanae Vitae,” fill volumes of reporting and commentary, Catholic readers should appreciate Woodward’s take on these critical moments in Catholic history even though they occupy only a fraction of the pages. The issues, events and personalities he covers go far beyond the Catholic Church. The second part of the book provides an extensive look at what was occurring in the ‘60s and early ‘70s — the civil rights movement, feminization of theology and entrepreneurial religion, i.e. the evangelists, whom he describes as “performance artists.” In each of these areas, Woodward shows how those facets of culture grew out of organized religion or seeped into it, depending on the movement, issue or cause.
Segments of interviews done during his Newsweek stint with the Rev. Billy Graham, Hillary Clinton, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, the Dalai Lama, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and others add context to the narrative about the respective times in which they were prominent national and world figures. While “Getting Religion” can be heavy reading due to the subject matter, Woodward adds a smattering of humor throughout. For example, he recalls when Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, asked him, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior?” Woodward replied, “No, I don’t want a personal lord and savior. I prefer the one everyone else has.” Two factual errors detract from the overall quality of this work. One is that the promulgation date for Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical “Populorum Progressio” (“On the Development of Peoples”) is listed as 1961 instead of 1967. Blessed Paul VI was not elected pope until 1963. Woodward also refers to Jesuit Father Robert Drinan of Massachusetts as “the only Catholic priest ever elected to the U.S. Congress.” Father Gabriel Richard was elected to the U.S. House as a nonvoting member from the Michigan Territory in 1822. Norbertine Father Robert Cornell of Wisconsin was elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and 1976. Nonetheless, one would be hard pressed to find anyone else who could compile and organize its contents, and write this book as well as Woodward. His 38-year tenure as the religion editor at Newsweek, combined with knowledge of and lifelong practice of his Catholic faith, are all the credentials he needs. With that combination Woodward provides an engaging story for readers who “were there,” either by participation or merely by living through those times.
For those who only know what they read about those decades and the people, events and movements integral to them, they will feel as though they “were there” once they have read “Getting Religion.”
(Olszewski has written for and edited diocesan publications for more than 40 years.)

Pastor who served in Clarksdale dies

Father Patrick McDermott

Father Patrick McDermott of the Diocese of Biloxi died Sunday, September 17, in Ocean Springs. Father McDermott, 77, a native of Donegal, Ireland, was ordained at St. John College in Waterford on June 14, 1964. In the Diocese of Jackson he served at Clarksdale St. Elizabeth Parish. On the coast, he served as assistant pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Biloxi and St. James Parish, Gulfport. His assignments as pastor included St. James Parish, Gulfport; Our Lady of Victories Parish, Pascagoula; Sacred Heart Parish, D’Iberville and a second stint as pastor of Our Lady of Victories Parish in Pascagoula, where he served until his retirement in January 2010. In retirement, Father McDermott resided at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Biloxi. A funeral Mass will be celebrated Monday, September 25 at Our Lady of Victories Church, 503 Convent Avenue, Pascagoula, Visitation is set for noon to 3 p.m., when the Mass will start. Father McDermott will be buried in Ireland.

California pastor of immigrant parish honored with Lumen Christi Award

CHICAGO (CNS) Today, Greenfield in California’s Salinas Valley looks and feels different because Father Enrique Herrera believed that the Catholic Church could make life better for the city’s residents, according to Chicago-based Catholic Extension.

Father Enrique Herrera, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield, Calif., is the winner of the 40th annual Lumen Christi Award of the Catholic Extension Society. He is pictured in a late June photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Extension Society)

For his efforts in the Catholic community and the wider community, Catholic Extension has chosen Father Herrera to receive the 2017-2018 Lumen Christi Award, its highest honor. The priest, who is pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield in the Diocese of Monterrey, will be officially presented with the award during a Mass at his parish Dec. 10. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the award. When Father Herrera arrived at Holy Trinity Parish and saw that parishioners were struggling to feed their families and had few opportunities for a brighter future, he decided that his parish would become a beacon of hope. Together with his parishioners, he started new programs focused on strengthening faith, education and community. “Hearts were opened. Individuals started changing. Families started changing. Neighborhoods started changing. Classrooms started changing. The Police Department, Fire Department, school officials, City Council and mayor all got on board,” Extension said in announcing the award.
“The Lumen Christi Award shines brightly to honor and give recognition to people who are great missionaries in our country,” said Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension. “Father Herrera is a great example. He has stood up as a shepherd for his flock and raised them up. He is a ‘voice for the voiceless,’ but he is also helping people to fi nd their own voice, helping them to aspire and to dream. He is a true missionary.” Catholic Extension’s selection of Father Herrera and his bustling parish of immigrant parishioners also shines a light on a seismic shift that has occurred in the Catholic Church over the past 25 years. A new study released by the Public Religion Research Institute documented what America magazine
called the “shift from a predominantly white church clustered in the Northeast and Midwest to a church influenced by Latin American immigration and located in the South and West.” Before Father Herrera was born, his parents had worked in the Salinas Valley. After his birth in Mexico he is the third of seven children his father continued to travel there regularly as a migrant worker to support the family. Enduring his father’s long absences, he developed a soft spot for the plight of migrants. By age 10, Father Herrera felt the tug toward priesthood. Wanting to be “a voice for the voiceless,” he entered the seminary in Guadalajara, Mexico, after high school. When his family immigrated to the Salinas Valley, he caught the attention of the bishop of Monterey, who asked him to join the diocese. Ever since, he has served the poor in several parishes, working primarily with immigrants. “I have come full circle,” he said in a statement. “As the son of immigrants, I am now able to serve immigrants in the same location.” As pastor of Holy Trinity, Father Herrera shepherds
the only Catholic church in Greenfield. Catholic Extension helped build the church in 1934. A city of 16,000, Greenfield is in the heart of the Salinas Valley. It is comprised mainly of immigrants who come to harvest lettuce, broccoli, grapes and strawberries. Half of the city’s population is under age 21. The average income there is almost 40 percent below the national poverty level. Father Herrera is particularly focused on the youth of the parish. Most of their parents, 90 percent of whom are farmworkers in nearby fields. Their work schedules keep them away from home. This past May, 446 children received their first Communion. Father Herrera also has ramped up the number of teenagers being confirmed. Hundreds are in the confirmation program each year, and he encourages them to be leaders. The teens become his core group of volunteers because they have the “energy, wisdom and understanding” to guide others, he said. With Catholic Extension’s help, this summer the parish started a new summer camp for children. The program includes lessons on faith and on science. For adults, Father Herrera tries to work around their long work schedules. When agricultural fields are dormant, he holds daily Bible classes that attract more than 400. The parish has six Masses each weekend, including four in Spanish. Between liturgies, baptisms and quinceaneras, about 4,000 people come to church each weekend.
Father Herrera believes that the Catholic Church has a role in addressing human needs alongside the spiritual ones. He knows that his parishioners confront pervasive poverty and complex problems, and he wants to “bring the Catholic faith to the streets.” “We need to put the Catholic Church in the social arena, so it not only helps people grow in their faith but also to grow as members of a community,” he explained. The parish has a food bank, English classes, immigration assistance, nutrition and parenting classes. Every year during spring break, 300 high school students attend anti-bullying and anti-violence classes. The priest has established soccer and basketball leagues to keep young people engaged during their free time. “Father Herrera advocates for our community to ensure that we get what we need spiritually as well as physically, emotionally, intellectually and in other aspects that are needed for a balanced life,” said Greenfield Mayor Jesus Olvera Garcia, who is a Holy Trinity parishioner. “Holy Trinity Catholic Church has the doors open to welcome everyone to be part of their events and services.” Father Herrera’s dream is that all his young parishioners will attend college, so the parish holds fundraisers to provide college scholarships and connects students to other resources and scholarships. Catholic Extension, the Chicago-based papal society devoted to building churches and the Catholic Church in America’s poorest places, has supported the Diocese of Jackson for many decades. 

Catholic Charities USA gives $2 million for hurricane relief

By Catholic News Service
SAN ANTONIO (CNS) — Catholic Charities USA presented a $2 million check Sept. 4 representing donations received to date for immediate emergency assistance for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey and its catastrophic flooding. Parishes in the Diocese of Jackson may take up a special collection for the effort the weekend of Sept. 16-17.
One hundred percent of the funds raised will go directly to immediate and long-term recovery efforts.

Evacuees who were rescued from the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Harvey wait to board school buses bound for Louisiana Aug. 31 in Vidor, Texas. (CNS photo/Jonathan Bachman, Reuters)

Making the presentation was Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, accompanied by Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of the neighboring Diocese of Victoria, J. Antonio Fernandez, president and CEO of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Catholic Charities USA’s Mobile Response Center vehicle, filled with emergency supplies, left Catholic Charities headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, for Texas and will remain there to assist Catholic Charities agencies with response efforts.
Diocesan Catholic Charities agencies have been hard at work in recovery efforts, trying to address difficulties as they arise.
In Houston, which has received the lion’s share of attention, there have been huge problems finding temporary housing. Apartments are flooded and hotels are not accepting payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On top of that, the city is getting ready to shut down shelters.
In Victoria, relief efforts are just getting started, as Catholic Charities is trying to find a building to convert into a distribution center. Cleaning supplies are still needed to cope with the aftermath of flooding.
While most volunteers want to go to southeast Texas, which suffered significant damage, five counties in the Diocese of Austin were also hit by Harvey. Catholic Charities personnel have gone door-to-door to hotels in Bryan and College Station trying to find displaced people, then connecting them to United Way, as hotels in the area are full due to the college football season. Some businesses are offering paid time off for their employees to go to impacted areas and do volunteer work.
In Corpus Christi, Catholic Charities USA workers are on the ground with people and resources. The biggest challenges they face include trying to find places to store donated supplies and relocating residents with no affordable housing available.
Trucks are a big issue in Beaumont and San Antonio. In Beaumont, six 18-wheelers arrived fully loaded with donations, and up to 100 volunteers stayed until 2 a.m. on Sept. 5 to unload them.
Beaumont’s water supply has remained sketchy since the storm. Water service has not been restored to all areas and those who do have water must boil it first. With flooding still an issue, supply routes change daily and Catholic Charities faces the challenge of getting donations to the right places. They are also setting up food service for volunteers and survivors and looking for vehicles to deliver donations to outlying areas.
(Editor’s note: at press time, the path of Hurricane Irma was unclear. Look for relief efforts in the next edition.)

Catholic leaders sharply criticize Trump’s decision to end DACA

By Kurt Jensen
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Catholic church leaders, immigration officials and university presidents were swift and unanimous in their condemnation of President Donald Trump’s Sept. 5 decision to phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals known as DACA.
“In the past, the president stated that the Dreamer story ‘is about the heart,’ yet (the) decision is nothing short of heartless,” said Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich. “The Dreamers are now left in a six-month limbo, during which Congress is supposed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, a feat they have been unable to achieve for a decade,” he said in a Sept. 5 statement.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals supporters demonstrate near the White House in Washington Sept. 5. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the DACA program is “being rescinded” by President Donald Trump, leaving some 800,000 youth, brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, in peril of deportation and of losing permits that allow them to work. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

The rescission of DACA, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, places an estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants, many of whom were brought to the United States as young children and have known no other home, under threat of deportation and losing permits that allow them to work. President Trump later tweeted that he was depending on congress to take action in that time and then hinted that he may re-visit DACA if no plan is passed by then. From August through December, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the work permits of more than 200,000 DACA recipients will expire and only 55,258 have submitted requests for permit renewals.
Amelia McGowan, the program director for Catholic Charities of Jackson’s Migrant Resource Center, said her office is still working on DACA cases and renewals. “We remain committed to to supporting our clients with DACA,” said McGowan. She urged calm for those in the program. “We understand there is some uncertainty. We want to remain a resource for everyon in the community with questions. There may be other immigration options for those seeking DACA, so we want to remain a resource for them,” she added.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz of the Diocese of Jackson echoed his support of the program. “Here in Mississippi, we cannot ignore the contributions immigrants make to our culture and our economy. Our neighbors from other nations have now been here so long, they have set roots in the soil. They are raising families and working to strengthen our state in many ways. It is time to seek a just and reasonable solution to the issue of immigration. Scripture instructs us to ‘welcome the stranger,’ and care for those on the margins. As Catholics, we will stand with immigrants and support their efforts to become citizens,” said the bishop.
The decision to end DACA is “a heartbreaking disappointment,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. She also said her organization rejects and adamantly disagrees with Sessions’ “untested personal opinion that DACA is unconstitutional.”
“Americans have never been a people who punish children for the mistakes of their parents. I am hopeful that we will not begin now,” said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration. “I do not believe this decision represents the best of our national spirit or the consensus of the American people. This decision reflects only the polarization of our political moment.”
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the USCCB, said in a statement with other USCCB leaders: “The Catholic Church has long watched with pride and admiration as DACA youth live out their daily lives with hope and a determination to flourish and contribute to society: continuing to work and provide for their families, continuing to serve in the military, and continuing to receive an education. Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.”
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, called the decision “malicious.”
“One can’t hide behind the term ‘legality’ in rescinding DACA,” his statement added. “That is an abandonment of humanity, and abandonment of talented and hopeful young people who are as American as you and I.”
Mercy Sister Aine O’Connor, who stood in front of the White House as the decision was announced, also took issue with Sessions’ remark: “Nothing is compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws.”
“We do not see it as a compassionate act. It is a merciless act,” Sister O’Connor told Catholic News Service, adding that it was “an abdication of responsibility by the Trump administration.”
Future plans for her group include lobbying members of Congress to show “the root cause of immigration, which includes American policies that destroy economic stability in other countries.”
The Washington-based Franciscan Action Network’s statement compared Trump to Pontius Pilate: “Like Pilate, President Trump has tried to wash his hands of responsibility when he could have and should have kept DACA in place. God commands his people to care for immigrants and treat them ‘no differently than the natives born among you.'” (Lv 19:34)
The Ohio-based Ignatian Solidarity Network accused Trump of undermining “the dignity of undocumented individuals,” adding, “As people of faith, we are called to uphold the inherent dignity of our immigrant brothers and sisters, to stand with those marginalized by a broken immigration system, and to recognize the gifts and talents that these young people bring to our communities.”
Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, in a statement on his Facebook page, said he wanted to emphasize Georgetown’s “strongest support for all of our undocumented students. As a nation, we have the capacity and responsibility to work together to provide a permanent legislative solution to ensure the safety and well-being of these young women and men who have – and will – contribute to the future of our country in deeply meaningful ways.”

Stuck in traffic

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Father Ron Rolheiser

There’s a famous billboard that hangs along a congested highway that reads: You aren’t stuck in traffic. You are traffic! Good wit, good insight! How glibly we distance ourselves from a problem, whether it is our politics, our churches, the ecological problems on our planet or most anything else.
We aren’t, as we want to think, stuck in a bad political climate wherein we can no longer talk to each other and live respectfully with each other. Rather we ourselves have become so rigid, arrogant and sure of ourselves that we can no longer respect those who think differently than we do. We are a bad political climate and not just stuck in one.
Likewise for our churches: We aren’t stuck in churches that are too self-serving and not faithful enough to the teachings of Jesus. Rather we are Christians who too often, ourselves, out of self-interest compromise the teachings of Jesus. We aren’t stuck in our churches, we comprise those churches.
The same is true apposite the ecological challenges we face on this planet: We aren’t stuck on a planet that’s becoming oxygen-starved and a junkyard for human wastage. Rather it’s we, not just others, who are too careless in how we are using up the earth’s resources and how we are leaving behind our waste.
Admittedly, this isn’t always true. Sometimes we are stuck in negative situations for which we bear no responsibility and within which, through no fault of our own, we are simply the unfortunate victim of circumstance and someone else’s carelessness, illness, dysfunction or sin. We can, for instance, be born into a dysfunctional situation which leaves us stuck in a family and an environment that don’t make for easy freedom. Or, sometimes simple circumstance can burden us with duties that take away our freedom. So, metaphorically speaking, we can be stuck in traffic and not ourselves be part of that traffic, though generally we are, at least partially, part of the traffic we’re stuck in.
Henri Nouwen often highlighted this in his writings. We are not, he tells us, separate from the events that make up the world news each day. Rather, what we see written large in the world news each night simply reflects what’s going on inside of us. When we see instances of injustice, bigotry, racism, greed, violence, murder and war on our newscasts we rightly feel a certain moral indignation. It’s healthy to feel that way, but it’s not healthy to naively think that it’s others, not us, who are the problem.
When we’re honest we have to admit that we’re complicit in all these things, perhaps not in their crasser forms, but in subtler, though very real, ways: The fear and paranoia that are at the root of so much conflict in our world are not foreign to us. We too, find it hard to accept those who are different from us. We too, cling to privilege and do most everything we can to secure and protect our comfort. We too, use up an unfair amount of the world’s resources in our hunger for comfort and experience.
As well, our negative judgments, jealousies, gossip and bitter words are, at the end of the day, genuine acts of violence since, as Henri Nouwen puts it: Nobody is shot by a gun that isn’t first shot by a word. And nobody is shot by a word before he or she is first shot by a murderous thought: Who does she thinks she is! The evening news just shows large what’s inside our hearts. What’s in the macrocosm is also in the microcosm.
And so we aren’t just viewers of the evening news, we’re complicit in it. The old catechisms were right when they told us that there’s no such a thing as a truly private act, that even our most private actions affect everyone else. The private is political. Everything affects everything.
The first take-away from this is obvious: When we find ourselves stuck in traffic, metaphorically and otherwise, we need to admit our own complicity and resist the temptation to simply blame others.
But there’s another important lesson here too: We are never healthier than when we are confessing our sins; in this case, confessing that we are traffic and not just stuck in traffic. After recognizing that we are complicit, hopefully we can forgive ourselves for the fact that, partially at least, we are helpless to not be complicit. No one can walk through life without leaving a footprint. To pretend otherwise is dishonest and to try to not leave a footprint is futile. The starting point to make things better is for us to admit and confess our complicity.
So the next time you’re stuck in traffic, irritated and impatient, muttering angrily about why there are so many people on the road, you might want to glance at yourself in rearview mirror, ask yourself why you are on the road at that time and then give yourself a forgiving wink as you utter the French word, touché.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Kansas Sister remembers brother on path to sainthood

By Christopher M. Riggs
WICHITA, Kan. (CNS) – Sister Marita Rother really didn’t get to know her brother, Father Stanley Rother, as a priest until she visited him in Guatemala in the 1970s.
She was at the Adorers of the Blood of Christ convent in Wichita when he left to study for the priesthood.

Sister Marita Rother, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, holds a picture of her brother, Father Stanley Rother, a priest of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese, who will be beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City. (CNS photo/Christopher Riggs, Catholic Advance)

“He went to the seminary right after high school,” she said, adding that he didn’t tell his parents of his interest in the priesthood until after he graduated.
“We never talked about it,” Sister Marita told the Catholic Advance, newspaper of the Wichita Diocese. “We were both rather quiet. I didn’t even tell my friends until shortly before I left that I was actually leaving (to become a nun).”
Still, she and her three brothers were close to one another and to their parents, she recalled.
“We were very seldom not doing things together. Our parents really did keep us in line. We had great respect for each other … anytime they would hear squabbling – if it was in their earshot – they would calm us down.”
But Stanley was different from his siblings, she said.
“I actually do not remember him getting a scolding from my parents,” Sister Marita said. “I got my share, my other brothers got theirs. Not that I was comparing myself, but when I thought back on it, I don’t remember, particularly my mother, ever correcting him for anything, or scolding him like we used to get.”
His behavior may have been a foreshadowing of why he will soon be honored by the church.
Sister Marita will be among those participating in a beatification ceremony for Father Rother Sept. 23, in Oklahoma City. Pope Francis acknowledged Father Rother’s martyrdom in December, making the Okarche, Oklahoma, native the first recognized martyr to have been born in the United States.
Hundreds of thousands of Catholics died in the Guatemalan civil war from 1960 to 1996, targeted because of the church’s insistence on catechizing.
In time, Father Rother’s name appeared on a death list. He and an associate left Guatemala in 1981 because of the danger. Father Rother returned to Oklahoma, but his heart was still with the people.
He had a great empathy for the poor, Sister Marita said. Though many of his flock spoke Spanish, a year or two after he began his missionary work in Santiago Atitlan, he asked to begin training in the Tzutujil language, one of the 21 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, so that he could better serve his flock.
“It’s a very difficult language to learn and almost everyone who heard him speak it could not believe that he learned it in the short time that he did. This man who flunked a year in the seminary because he couldn’t learn Latin is now speaking Tzutujil,” she said.
It was a blessing for many of his estimated 15,000 parishioners.
“They could understand what he was talking about,” Sister Marita said. “It got to where he was giving his homilies in Tzutujil. He soon became known as Padre A’Plas, his Indian name, which was Tzutujil for Francis.”
Francis was Father Rother’s middle name.
Because of his ability to communicate in the Mayan dialect, she said, the people claimed Father Rother as one of their own.
“When he left, it was like leaving his people,” she said. “There was no one there to continue the Mass in their language. He did not want to leave. When he got home, he longed to be back with them. He knew they were not going to survive spiritually and I think he felt like he abandoned them.”
He returned to Oklahoma for about three months.
“When I saw him … he looked terrible. It was like he was lost. He kept gazing out the window, kind of in his own thoughts, and we knew what they were.”
When he was told it was safe to return to Guatemala, he hesitated because of his mother’s illness, but he decided to return.

People stand near an image of Father Stanley Rother, a priest of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese, during Mass in 2006 at a church in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Father Rother will be beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma. (CNS photo/Daniel LeClair, Reuters)

“I’ve got to do it,” he told his sister. “And I knew that. I could see it in his eyes. He had to do it.”
Within three months of his return, on July 28, 1981, three men entered his rectory in the dead of night and murdered him.
“We knew he was in danger. We didn’t know that things had escalated to that point,” Sister Marita said. “To get that call was very painful.”
She added that she began to understand the love the people had for her brother on her second trip to Guatemala in 1978. She met children here and there all named Francisco. “It turns out there were lots of Franciscos there,” she said. “It became a very common name.”
Although Father Rother’s body is buried in Resurrection Memorial Cemetery in Oklahoma City, his heart will always be with the people he loved. It is enshrined at St. James the Apostle Church in Santiago Atitlan.
(Riggs is editor of the Catholic Advance, newspaper of the Diocese of Wichita. Bishop Joseph Kopcaz will be in Oklahoma City for the beatification.)

Survivors of sisters killed in Mississippi continue duo’s ‘ministry of presence’

by Dan Stockman, Aug. 24, 2017 in Spirituality (reprinted with permission by Global Sisters Report, globalsistersreport.org, original with pictures can be found here)

The sun was rising on an early March morning in 2016, and Rosemarie Merrill was in the driveway, getting ready to leave for the long trek from Durant, Mississippi, to her home near Boston.

She had been visiting her sister, Sr. Paula Merrill, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, and Paula’s housemate, co-worker and friend, Sr. Margaret Held of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee.

“Paula brought me my coffee and Margaret brought me blueberry muffins she made,” Merrill said. “Them, standing in the driveway, waving goodbye. That’s my last memory of them, and no one’s going to take that away from me.”

Months later, the motherhouses of the two sisters got the news: On the afternoon of Aug. 25, police checked on the sisters when they did not show up at the medical clinic where they worked in nearby Lexington. They found signs of a break-in and entered the house to find Held and Merrill had been killed.

Held and Merrill had become what Jesuit Fr. James Martin would later call “martyrs of charity.” They were both 68.

In Nazareth, the leadership team called the sisters together in the chapel and shared the news.

“Our individual and community grief flowed in and out of each other,” Sr. Susan Gatz, the congregation’s president, wrote. “Our minds scrambled to make sense of it … no use. Our hearts ached.”

Less than 48 hours later, police arrested Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, of Kosciusko, a town about 18 miles east of Durant. He remains held without bond, preliminarily charged with two counts of capital murder as well as burglary and grand larceny for allegedly stealing one of the sisters’ cars. The sisters had reportedly been stabbed to death.

Holmes County court officials said a grand jury is expected to deliver its decision in September or October on whether there is enough evidence to put Sanders to trial. If so, he will be formally charged and a trial date will likely be set for next year. The district attorney has not said whether she will seek the death penalty for Sanders; both congregations have stated their opposition to it.

Though Held and Merrill had been in the impoverished town of Durant, population about 2,700, for six years, they had been ministering to those made poor for some 30 years, mostly in Mississippi. In May, a stone monument with their pictures on it was placed in a Durant park honoring their service.

They were posthumously inducted into the Nightingale Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Mississippi Nurses’ Association and the Mississippi Nurses’ Foundation, and a scholarship at the Mississippi University for Women, where both received nursing degrees, was established in their names. The award will be presented to a graduate nursing student who works in an underserviced or needy area or who is active in charitable or community service work.

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth will hold a Mass in Merrill’s honor at 10:30 a.m. EDT Aug. 25, which can be viewed via a live webcast. The School Sisters of St. Francis held a prayer service in Held’s honor Aug. 23.

A lifelong bond with the School Sisters

Beth Bacik saw Held, her younger sister, in Milwaukee just a few weeks before Held died. Held was home in Milwaukee for a spirituality conference but took time to visit all the elderly sisters in the motherhouse because she didn’t get back to Milwaukee often and feared it might be the last time she saw them before they died, Bacik said.

Bacik has always been close to the School Sisters of St. Francis, and not only because her sister joined the order. The School Sisters educated both of their parents, and all six daughters went to the sisters’ grade school. Held and Bacik both attended their high school, and Bacik attended their Alverno College.

Whenever Bacik visited the motherhouse, it always felt like home because of her many years spent with the sisters. But after Held’s death, she became even closer to the community. After the All Saints’ Day Mass, the choir director asked if she sang.

“I said, ‘I was taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Of course I sing!’ ” Bacik said, and that sealed her membership in the choir. “One bad thing happens, and then you find something good in it. We have a larger family now.”

In addition to choir rehearsals and singing for Mass, Bacik also traveled with several sisters to Durant in May for the dedication of the monument honoring Held and Merrill’s work.

The night before the dedication, sisters from both communities as well as relatives of Held and Merrill had dinner with a local parishioner, who also happened to be the real estate agent handling the sale of the sisters’ house, which belonged to Rosemarie Merrill and Rosemarie’s son, David. As the real estate agent, he had a key, and some of those gathered decided to visit the home the next morning.

“I knew I was going to go in, but others weren’t sure,” Bacik said. Though the crime scene had been cleaned so the house could be sold, some were not sure they wanted to be in a place where such horror had taken place.

Bacik had visited Held there eight years before. And when she walked in, she instantly recognized something.

“There was a fragrance in the house that reminded me of the last time I visited them,” she said. “I can’t even tell you what it was, but I recognized it instantly.”

The others stayed in the living room, but Bacik went into Held’s bedroom.

“I walked in there by myself, not knowing what I was going to feel,” Bacik said. “But I immediately felt close to her, being in her space. I just folded my hands, closed my eyes, and this beautiful feeling of peace just washed over me.

“It was so beautiful and intense. I thought, ‘This is a holy place, a sacred place.’ I felt like it was a holy chapel or a church.”

‘Paula was doing what she loved’

Sr. Adeline Fehribach was the Sisters of Charity’s provincial at the time Merrill died and delivered a reflection at her funeral Mass.

Merrill did much more than just treat the sick, Fehribach told the mourners. She listened to their stories, she prayed for them, she wept for them, and she worked for others to hear the cry of people who live in poverty, as well.

“She listened with love, knowing that she was encountering the suffering Christ, and then she would bring her experience of the suffering Christ to prayer, where she would sometimes weep over her own Jerusalem of Holmes County, Mississippi,” she said.

Those encounters with Christ also would have shaped her reaction to the perpetrator of the crime against her, Fehribach said.

“As strange as it may sound to those who did not know Paula, if Paula could meet the person who killed her, she would not focus on what the person had done to her. Her heart would be broken at what had happened to her friend Margaret, and she may even have to work at getting over her anger at the fact that her patients had lost their one lifeline to a better quality of life,” she said.

“But as she worked through her pain and anger at the harm done to others, I believe she would look upon the one who caused all the harm and see in that face the suffering Christ, as well,” Fehribach added. “I can almost hear her say with compassion, ‘What kind of violence did you experience that could allow you to do what you have done to me, to my friend, and to this community? Who hurt you that much? How can I help you let go of some of that pain?’ ”

Fehribach said in an email interview with Global Sisters Report that she initially asked God why something like this would happen, especially when there are so few sisters to take their place.

“I came to the realization that the sister who experienced such a violent death probably would have been an active sister working on the margins,” Fehribach wrote. “Consolation came with knowing that Paula was doing what she loved with the people whom she loved and who loved her back.”

Holmes County can a painful place, Rosemarie Merrill said. When she would visit her sister and Held in Durant, she never failed to be shocked by the abject poverty she witnessed.

“Paper shacks. Metal shacks. Houses with very few windows. It was just awful,” Merrill said.

Though she is deeply grieved by the loss, Merrill said she focuses on the incredible joy the sisters brought to everyone they met.

“They were just fun people to be around,” she said. “We would be there some nights at dinner, and we couldn’t eat because we were laughing so hard. I know the people in Durant still miss them terribly — the people just really loved Paula and Margaret.”

Though she attended Sanders’ first court appearance and plans to attend the sentencing if he is convicted, Merrill will not attend a trial. She said she doesn’t want her fond memories ruined by details of the deaths.

Looking to the future

Many of those close to Held and Merrill have said part of their mourning is for the community the sisters served because the two were a vital link between people living in poverty and health care.

But the Daughters of Charity are preparing to help fill that gap.

Daughters of Charity Sr. Mary Beth Kubera said Sr. Mary Walz, a social worker, will live and work in Durant starting in November, after Walz’s sabbatical ends. Kubera said the two have been planning the mission for months.

Kubera, a member of the province leadership council, said the community in St. Louis had already been looking for a way to serve the people of Mississippi, and, after the loss of Held and Merrill, Durant seemed to be the perfect place.

“The work the sisters were doing was really a ministry of presence to the people,” Kubera said. “Sister Mary’s going to be a social worker at the clinic, and we’re looking for another sister or two interested in partnering with us.”

The Lexington Medical Clinic has hired a nurse practitioner and continues to run much as it did when Held and Merrill worked there, officials at the clinic said.

Kubera said the invitation to join Walz has gone out to the entire Sisters of Charity Federation, and they hope to have a partner for Walz by the end of September in time for the November move-in date.

The sister or sisters who go to Durant will already have a place to live: They will lease the same house Held and Merrill lived in, which Rosemarie and David Merrill still own.

“It’s a very sacred space. The sisters made a very happy home there,” Kubera said. “The people will be extremely pleased to know they’ll have the presence of sisters again.”

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is dstockman@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]

Catholic leaders, groups urge all Americans to confront ‘sin of racism’

By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Franciscan Action Network called on all Americans, “especially ourselves and those who have benefited from white privilege,” to look within themselves “and confront America’s original sin – the sin of racism.”
“White Americans must no longer stand silent as we continue to benefit from the attitudes and structures that put us ahead of African-Americans and other minority groups,” the organization said in an Aug. 14 statement issued in reaction to a chaotic and hate-filled weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11 and 12.
The network joined with Catholic bishops, other church leaders and various groups throughout the nation in calling for peace after three people died and several others were injured following clashes between pacifists, protesters and white supremacists in Charlottesville.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz was in Ireland when violence erupted in Charlottesville. He and the priests with whom he traveled greeted the news with sadness and prayer. “I have and will continue to condemn racism and violence of all kinds. The people of Mississippi have seen the deep and lasting damage that hate can leave on a community,” he said upon his return.
“One of our new Pastoral Priorities focuses on reconciliation within our communities. This is a reconciliation we can take out into the world as we proclaim the gospel,” he added.
Franciscan Action Network officials said they were “deeply saddened” by the loss of life and injuries Aug. 12 and were praying for those “whose lives have been tragically altered by this violence” and praying for “greater justice and peace.”
The group’s statement also asked for forgiveness from “our African-American and Native (American) brothers and sisters” for all the injustices done to them in the nation’s history and also for times when the Franciscan Action Network itself has “fallen short” in standing up for justice for them.
“FAN has not done enough to address” the ongoing issue of police brutality against African-Americans “and other issues of systemic racism. From this point forward, we vow to do better,” the statement said.
The National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus in an Aug. 14 statement strongly condemned “the hateful and racist actions and rhetoric that has taken place in our country this past weekend. We not only agree with those who have been saying that the positions proposed by the white nationalist groups are opposed to American values, we also say that they are opposed to Christian values.”
The organization prayed for those who lost their lives and those injured in Charlottesville and for their families and friends. Heather D. Heyer, 32, was killed Aug. 12 when a car plowed into a counterprotest of the white supremacists. Two Virginia State Police troopers also died when a helicopter they were in crashed while trying to help with the violent events on the ground. Nineteen others were injured in the clash.
“And we pray that the Holy Spirit may act once again to bring together the diversity of people that make up our country so that we can live up to our national motto: ‘E pluribus unum,'” said the statement, signed by Father Kenneth Taylor, president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.
“The angry and violent mob which gathered in Virginia this past weekend by word and deed contradicted our national creed and code of civil conduct,” said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, adding that neo-Nazism, racism and threats against all people of color and efforts to “banish immigrants” from this country “dishonor the basic convictions” of the country’s political and constitutional traditions. “They must be opposed in word and deed,” he said.
In Arizona, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson said: “Like Charlottesville, we are a community that will not tolerate racism, bigotry, fascism and white supremacy. These stand in contradiction to the values we hold as a nation and as a people of faith.
“We must strive even harder to break down these barriers (these groups) seek to erect and increase our efforts to educate all, especially young people, to put aside prejudice and hatred and work to build unity among us,” he added.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who have served in the Diocese of Jackson, released a statement of their own. “We, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, rooted in Gospel nonviolence and the call to ‘love our neighbor as our self’ (Matthew12:31) find racism an offense against God. We pray with those who are victims and for those who are in need of awakening to a love that honors all,” it reads.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis in a statement said: “Our country has a detestable history with regard to the treatment of its citizens, including discrimination and hatred that undermine the God-given dignity of every human person. Unfortunately, some of our fellow citizens cling to these detestable ideas which continue with hate and ignorance. We must boldly march forward to a time when ‘love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss.’ (Psalm 85:11).”
The statement also recalled that in the midst of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal police shooting of a young black man, 18-year-old Michael Brown, St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said that “our nation must deal with the sin of racism.”
“That remains true,” it said. “Racism is a sin because it is contrary to human dignity. What we have seen in Charlottesville, Baltimore, Ferguson. and elsewhere. is the result of a society that has put racism, fascism, nationalism, socialism, individualism, and other ideologies in place of God.”

Community members in Charlottesville, Va., hold a vigil for Heather Heyer Aug. 16. She was killed Aug. 12 during a white supremacist protest over a plan to remove the statue of a Confederate general from a city park. (CNS photo/Kate Bellows, The Cavalier Daily via Reuters) See CHARLOTTESVILLE-CAMPUS-CHAPLAIN Aug. 18, 2017.

The General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters deplored “the acts of white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville,” adding: “Hatred and bigotry are anathema to civil discourse, the rule of law and the ideals of our democracy. As women of faith, we add our voice to those calling for an end to racist violence in our country and pray that we awaken to the loving imperative of our being created equal in the image of God.”
“This bold display of hateful rhetoric and action (in Charlottesville) impels us to call on elected leaders, and all people, to explicitly and publicly condemn white supremacy and racism and the organizations that embolden and encourage the movement,” said a statement from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
“May this grieving time call us to search our hearts and ask what are the ways in which we perpetuate this culture of violence and fear? What actions will we take in response? What truths will we speak to contribute to dialogue that brings unity, peace and comfort to those who are afraid? We must continue to act,” it said.
The Ignatian Solidarity Network, a national social justice education and advocacy organization, posted on its blog statements from the leaders of Jesuit-run colleges and universities and other institutions. The blog can be found at http://bit.ly/2x1Lg8U.
“Our common humanity calls on each of us to speak out against racism, violence, prejudice and hatred,” said a post by Jesuit Father Stephen V. Sundborg, president of Seattle University.
A group called Christian Ethicists Without Borders likewise issued a condemnation of the racial hatred and violence on display and issued a statement — signed by dozens and dozens of professors of Christian studies, ethics and theology – declaring: “The evil of white supremacy and racism must be brought face-to-face before the figure of Jesus Christ, who cannot be confined to any one culture or nationality. Through faith we proclaim that God the Creator is the origin of all human persons.”
“We will bring the best of our (religious) traditions to an ecclesial and societal examination of conscience where rhetoric and acts of hatred against particular groups can be publicly named as grave sins and injustices,” it said. “We commit – through our teaching, writing, and service – to the ongoing, hard work of building bridges and restoring wholeness where racist and xenophobic ideologies have brought brokenness and pain.”

Come. Listen. Live. Witness. Sister honored for Civil Rights work

By Kathryn Ziesig
ST. LOUIS – Those are the words by which Sister Mary Antona Ebo continues to live and those by which she was celebrated at a presentation July 30 at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.
Music, poetry and acting, peppered with photos and past video interviews with the Franciscan Sister of Mary and civil rights icon, were woven into a nearly two-hour program to recognize Sister Ebo. She’s most famous for her role in the 1965 march in Selma, Ala., for voting rights for blacks, but also known for her groundbreaking ministry as a woman religious and in health care. From 1981-1987 she worked at University Medical Center in Jackson as a chaplain.
The 93-year-old guest of honor was unable to be present, and instead watched the event at home via livestream with a small group of family and friends. Throughout the program the crowd cheered her, with some yelling out “Ebo!” as they turned toward the video camera to greet Sister Ebo at home.
Just as important was the message of how the local community must stay engaged in the movement for racial justice post-Ferguson, and doing so through Sister Ebo’s example — which is brightly illuminated by her Catholic faith.
“This was all about demonstrating the completeness of her life,” said Philip Deitch, a longtime friend of Sister Ebo’s who organized the program. Her example doesn’t solely lie in the the moments at Selma, he said, but also through her leadership roles in health care and even within her religious community.
“You don’t get to sit back and say ‘I’ve done enough,’” Deitch said. “If there’s still an issue that needs work and you can do something — do something. None of us have the right to sit back and say we’ve done enough, and that’s what I have learned from her.”
Sister Ebo was a trailblazer in many aspects. She was among the first group of African-Americans to enter the Sisters of St. Mary (now Franciscan Sisters of Mary) in 1946. She continued that in her ministry in hospital administration, joining then-segregated St. Mary’s Infirmary in St. Louis. She later became administrator of St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo, Wis., becoming the first African-American to lead a hospital in the state of Wisconsin.
Over the years, she became involved in interfaith work and other social justice issues. In 2014, she visited Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown, in which she told others that they must “raise the rug up and look at what’s under the rug” in Ferguson.
Several videos of Sister Ebo speaking in the past decade, which were shown at the program, demonstrated that her words are just as relevant today.
“My favorite words out of Isaiah 55 are ‘come, listen, live and witness,’” she said in a 2006 awards ceremony. “Those were the words that were represented when we as a group went to Selma. … We choose life for ourselves and our people and that’s what it’s all about. The call was to come to listen to one another — that’s where our unity comes from. By knowing one another, (to) listen to one another, and then bring forth new life.”
Father Art Cavitt of the St. Charles Lwanga Center, who spoke at the History Museum event, said that Sister Ebo encompasses “all the tenets of the Gospel. It’s coming, it’s listening, it’s acting, it’s living, it’s testifying. It’s keeping God in the picture as we integrate practically what it is we’re going to do for justice and in education and equality and all those things.”
Others must live up to what Jesus calls us to do in spreading the Gospel message, which has always been Sister Ebo’s example, said Frederick and Teresa Scurloch, friends of Sister Ebo’s from her home parish, St. Matthew Parish in the Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis. Members of the St. Matthew and several other nearby parishes sang at the event.
(Story and photos reprinted with permission from the St. Louis Review, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.)

Kathryn Ziesig | kathrynziesig@archstl.org | instagram: kziesigphoto
Marie Janet Turner, portraying Sister Antona Ebo, FSM, knelt in front of the protesters and police during the play “God’s Witness” at the Missouri History Museum on July 30 during the tribute event for Sr. Ebo. The play was inspired by the events that occurred in Selma in 1965. The play’s writer and director Madeline Jackson said that while the police did not put down their weapons and the protestors didn’t put down their signs during the Selma marches she hopes that one day this will be the solution.