Lunardini to join Catholic Charities as COO

By Maureen Smith

John Lunardini, Catholic Charities COO

JACKSON – John Lunardini will step into the role of Chief Operating Officer at Catholic Charities, Inc., in Jackson on Monday, Nov. 20. Lunardini comes from the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association where he was the communications and business development director. Prior to his work in healthcare, he managed grants and programs for the Hinds County Human Resource Agency as the vice president of community programs.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz will remain at the agency as executive director, while Lunardini takes over much of the day-to-day work of operations and supervision. “John brings with him a wealth of experience in management, communications, IT and business development,” said Bishop Kopacz. “We are so glad he responded to the call,” he added.
Bishop Kopacz has been the executive director for about a year-and-a-half. “I am grateful that I got this opportunity to get an inside view of the operations at Charities. It is a good thing for a bishop to truly be immersed in the ministries of his diocese,” said the bishop. While he has enjoyed his tenure, Bishop Kopacz is happy to welcome a partner in the work.
Lunardini is a Jackson native and graduate of St. Richard and St. Joseph Catholic schools, but was not raised Catholic. His two children currently attend St. Richard and he and his wife love the community there. “We started digging down into ourselves to try and discover what we really wanted in our life,” he explained. They completed classes for the rite of Christian initiation for adults (RCIA) at Gluckstadt St. Joseph Parish and entered the church a few years ago. “It was one of the best things we have ever done as a family,” he said.
Lunardini was not looking for a job, but his wife saw an announcement about the Catholic Charities position in their bulletin and urged him to apply. “Not only am I looking forward to being able to serve the greater good, but to be able to combine that with my faith – that’s not something everyone gets to do.”
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) has had a tremendous impact on Lunardini’s faith development. He says integrating the seven principles of CST is at the core of what he believes Catholic Charities does. He believes they transcend politics and give the faithful a way to connect with the world at large.
“I think we should be asking how we can talk to people about these seven core issues – they are not just Catholic issues, they are issues of life, they are for everybody,” he explained. The seven principles proclaim the life and dignity of the human person; a call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities; preferential option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity and care for God’s creation.
Lunardini’s approach to management comes from an African proverb popularized by Boston Celtics player Doc Rivers, Ubuntu. It roughly translates to “I am because we are.” To Lunardini, this means the success of Catholic Charities is predicated on the success of each person and program in the agency. Part of the philosophy calls for individuals to consciously and actively encourage one other and find ways to partner to make the overall organization stronger. Since Catholic Charities operates a number of diverse programs, this support is crucial.
(Editor’s note: the press deadline for this edition of Mississippi Catholic was too close for complete coverage of the Journey of Hope events. Look for stories in the next edition.)

MSU Bulldog, Father Burke Masters to headline Journey of Hope dinner, luncheon

JACKSON – Catholic Charities is pleased to welcome Father Burke Masters to this year’s Journey of Hope meet-and-greet on Monday, Nov. 6 at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and then to the Journey of Hope lunch the following day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, at the Jackson convention complex.
The two-day Journey of Hope event is one of the biggest fund-raisers staged by Catholic Charities every year. The Monday evening meet-and-greet is $25 per person and runs from 6-8 p.m. This gathering gives people a chance to get up close with the speaker and get a preview of the luncheon event. The lunch starts at noon and is free to anyone. Table captains host attendees, inviting them to make an offering at the end of the program. Michael Thomas, development director for Catholic Charities makes the promise every year to keep the event to an hour so working people can always attend.
Father Masters has strong ties to Mississippi – he was part of the Mississippi State Bulldog baseball team that played in the College World Series and was nominated as one of the top student athletes in the college’s history. His vocation story is unusual since he was not raised Catholic. According to an interview he gave to Our Sunday Visitor in 2016, he went to a Catholic high school in his home state of Illinois because it offered strong academics and the opportunity to further his ambition of becoming a professional baseball player.
Father Masters became Catholic his senior year of high school, but continued to pursue baseball, earning accolades throughout his college career. God, it would seem, had other plans. He played for one professional team, tried his hand at team management and then went into the business world. He had a girlfriend and was living what he thought was a pretty normal life. He told OSV his call to the priesthood started when his girlfriend took him to Eucharistic adoration for the first time. He describes it as God’s gentle, persistent call.
After seminary, he worked in parishes in the Diocese of Joliet, Ill. Now, he is on the vocations team, helping other young men respond to God’s call to the priesthood. He also serves as the chaplain to the Chicago Cubs so he can stay connected to his love for baseball.
Tickets for the meet-and-greet are still available as are positions for table captains and seats at the luncheon. Contact Julie O’Brien at 601-326-3758 to purchase or reserve a place at both events.


Birthright adds confidential text service

By Monica Walton
FLOWOOD – Birthright of Jackson has added a new option to connect young men and women to free, non-judgemental and confidential help with an unplanned pregnancy – texting. Birthright offers guidance toward lifegiving options, so the expectant mother can make the best decision for herself and her unborn child.
Anyone can text BRJXN to 41411 and get an immediate response from a Birthright of Jackson volunteer. Birthright has been helping girls and women across the state of Mississippi since 1983, before personal mobile phones were even a thing. “We felt we needed to update the way we make ourselves available to potential clients,” said Dennis Riecke, Birthright of Jackson board president. “One of our board members suggested a texting program since that is an easy and discreet way for a young woman to reach out for help. We all agreed,” he added.
“Texting is something common to most girls in their teens and twenties which is the typical age of our Birthright clients.” Most Birthright clients have a cell phone, even those without a car or a place to live. There are more cell phones than people in the U.S. People stay connected. For a good percentage of the population, a cell phone is the only phone they own.
There is much research supporting this. According to Pew Research Center, texting is the number one way all teens get in touch with their closest friends, and 80% of people older than 65 own a cell phone and send an average of ten texts a day. (Aug 2015) In May, 2017, the U.S. Center for Disease Control reported in their National Health Information Survey NHIS, “Adults living in poverty (66.3%) and near poverty (59.0%) were more likely than higher income adults (48.5%) to be living in households with only wireless telephones [cell phones].”
Birthright volunteers noticed that people text so much, it’s no big deal when the person sitting next to you pulls out their phone to send or read a text. Others scarcely notice, and discretion is vital to the work of Birthright.
Imagine this…17-year-old Gabrielle missed her period and she is worried that she might be pregnant. She’s thinking to herself: “How can this be? It was just one night. We went a little too far. Who hasn’t done that once or twice? Surely I’m not…
What can I do? I can’t be seen buying a pregnancy test. I can’t risk taking the test at home.” Gabrielle certainly does not want to make an actual phone call asking for help. Someone might hear her say she needs a pregnancy test. She can’t even bring herself to think the word “pregnant,” much let say it out loud.
So, rather than having to speak the words, “I think I might be pregnant,” a simple text – BRJXN – to this number – 41411 – will get Gabrielle help, answers and guidance to navigate this time of uncertainty. It is available to anyone, any time.
Gabrielle texts BRJXN to 41411. A reply comes immediately, “Hey there! Text or call me at 601- 421-1818 so we can set up a time to chat and get the info you need! — BRJXN” She breathes a sigh of relief. Help is a quick text away. When she is ready, Birthright is ready. She knows someone cares and Birthright is waiting and willing to help. Simple. Discreet.
Gabrielle, and anyone else who is struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, has a direct line to get the help she needs.
No counseling is done by text, but a local Birthright volunteer will be happy to chat on the phone or set up a time to meet at the Birthright Center. Birthright offers free pregnancy testing, emotional support, and all the resources a woman needs to follow through with her pregnancy.
(Monica Walton is the executive director of Birthright of Jackson.)

Catholic Charities’ renewed adoption program seeks visibility

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Catholic Charities’ Adoption program is going through a little rebirth of its own these days. A new director and a new case manager are taking the legacy of love and work from their predecessors and building on it. One of their first tasks is to spread the word that, “We are open and we are here for you,” said Stacy Pajak, who became program director a year ago. She works with Monica Mounger, who came to the office from Hope Haven, a crisis home for teens.
In addition to working with pregnant women who wish to give their babies up for adoption, the office can provide case management services for a private adoption, locate an available baby for parents seeking to adopt, perform home studies for adoptions and attempt to find birth parents for adopted children. Pajack said she and her partner are going back to state agencies and working with pregnancy crisis centers to renew and strengthen their relationships. Not only do they provide adoption, but they connect birth mothers and families to other needed services.

Birth mothers and adoptive families get counseling in addition to getting help navigating the system. “It’s hard on that birth-mama. I don’t ever want her to feel any shame that is associated with her choice because she gave that baby life and nurtured him or them and carried them. I have great admiration for birth moms,” said Pajak. Birth mothers are guaranteed services for life through Catholic Charities. Pajak added that many families seeking to adopt are grieving because of years of infertility so Catholic Charities works with them in that process as they start to consider foster care or adoption. The program has even added a text line for birth mothers who want to request help, 601-941-2814.
Pajak said she is working with the criminal justice system to offer counseling to pregnant women in jail. “We are trying to get in with social workers and case managers. We want to offer counseling to pregnant women. The law says that she can give a baby to a relative, sign it over to CPS (child protective services) or she can put it up for adoption, so we should be in there as an option,” she said.
When an adoptee wants to find his or her birth parents, Catholic Charities can try to help. The process is confidential, includes counseling and not too expensive. Mounger said she has conducted almost a dozen searches since she started a few short months ago. Sometimes an adoptee can only get a medical record. Other times, he or she will be reunited.
One way others can help is by wearing the message of adoption on their sleeves, or on their backs to be accurate. The adoption program is offering t-shirts and journals for sale. The shirts are purple with the Catholic Charities logo on the front. The back reads “Adoption isn’t about giving a child up. It is about giving a child more. More love, more family, more opportunities, just more.” The quote comes from Terra Coooper, a photographer who became an adoption advocate after becoming an adoptive mom.
“We started making a bulletin board and put a lot of adoption quotes on it so the families would see that when they come in and we just love that one,” explained Mounger. “We wanted to have a positive adoption wall so parents could see it – not only adoptive parents, but birth parents and we just took to that one so we put it on the shirt,” she added.
The shirts and journals are for the families who go through adoption, but Pajak said the staff decided the message should go farther than just those families. “We wanted to do the t-shirts for gifts but also proudly market what we do here at Catholic Charities. Our mission is to be a visible sign of Christ and adoption is a visible sign of Christ,” said Pajak. The journals are also purple and have the logo pressed into the front. Each shirt costs $15 and each journal costs $10. Those interested in purchasing should contact the office at 601-960-8649 or email Stacy at

Catholic Charities celebrates new office opening with blessing, ribbon cutting

JACKSON – On Friday, May 5, Bishop Joseph Kopacz cut a Ribbon for and blessed the new Catholic Charities offices on East River Place in Jackson. The staff has been in the facility since January, getting settled and getting programs up and running. The new space is larger and has much better parking than the old headquarters downtown. 

Catholic Charities Migrant Resource Center leads know your rights workshops

CANTON – Immediately after the Spanish-language Mass at Sacred Heart Parish, Nancy Sanchez, Matthew Young and Amelia McGowan put on a very short “know your rights” presentation about what to do in case of an encounter with ICE or the police. The three are all on staff at Catholic Charities’ Migrant Resource Center.

“We particularly spoke about what to do if ICE or the police come to your home or work, or if you are stopped in a roadblock, as most people seemed to be concerned about that,” said Amelia McGowan, attorney for the center. “We used a guide from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC),” McGowan added. Close to 100 people attended the presentation.

“Because we have received a human trafficking grant, I also discussed human trafficking briefly, as some of our clients have fallen victim to labor trafficking, and many are particularly vulnerable to it,” McGowan explained.

After the presentation, Matthew and McGowan provided legal screenings for interested individuals. About 25 people stayed for the screenings.

“For those individuals, we reviewed their particular situations to see if they might qualify for an immigration benefit, such as a U visa for certain victims of violent crimes, a family petition, asylum, etc. We provided those screenings so that people would know what their legal options may be if they are undocumented and would like to stay in the United States,” said McGowan.

This presentation as part of a grant, the Legal Screening Pilot Project, the Migrant Resource Center received from CLINIC. The purpose of the grant is to provide outreach, education and legal screenings to immigrants – especially undocumented immigrants – throughout the state. Starting in the end of February, the center has conducted these presentations/screenings in Corinth, Greenwood, Jackson, Tupelo and Canton. The staff will host one more in Natchez on a date to be determined. “So far, we have spoken to about 550 in group presentations, and 175 individually,” said McGowan.

She said her staff is available to other communities who see a need for education and screenings. “If any parish or community organization is interested in a presentation/legal screening event, they can call us at (601) 948-2635 or email us at”

Conoce tus derechos y habla con la abogada de inmigración

El Centro de Recursos para Migrantes administrado por Catholic Charities de Jackson está patrocinando una serie de talleres de “conocer sus derechos” en todo el estado. Nancy Sanchez, especialista cultural del centro, dijo que muchas personas no saben que tienen derechos cuando los oficiales de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE, por sus siglas en inglés) llaman a sus puertas.

“Tienen derecho a guardar silencio. Tienen el derecho de no abrir la puerta. Tienen derecho a hablar con un abogado “, dijo Sánchez. Ella espera que la información alivie la ansiedad de algunas de las familias.

Un abogado también estará disponible en los talleres para ofrecer ayuda legal a los asistentes que puedan ser elegibles. “Parte de los propósitos de estos talleres es ver si alguien califica para el alivio debido a la violencia doméstica o si han sido víctimas de un crimen o si tienen un miembro de la familia en necesidad y podemos solicitarlos”, explicó Sánchez.

12 de Marzo:  10 am  – 4 pm en: St. James Church. 785 Lakeshire Dr., Tupelo 38804

26 de Marzo:  12:30 – 4 pm en: Sacred Heart Church. 238 E. Center St., Canton 39046

2 de Abril: 1:30 – 4 pm en: St. Therese Church. 309 W. McDowell Rd., Jackson 39204


Catholic Charities to offer ‘know your rights’ workshops

The Migrant Resource Center run by Catholic Charities of Jackson is sponsoring a series of “know your rights” workshops across the state. Nancy Sanchez, a cultural specialist for the center, said many people don’t know they have rights when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers knock on their doors.
“They have the right to remain silent. They have the right not to open the door. They have the right to talk to a lawyer,” said Sanchez. She hopes the information will ease some of the anxiety families are experiencing.
An attorney will also be on hand at the workshops to offer legal assistance to attendees who may be eligible for immigration aid. “Part of the purpose of these workshops is to see if someone qualifies for relief because of domestic violence or if they have been the victim of a crime or if they have a family member in need and we can petition for them,” explained Sanchez.

March 12 – 10:00 am to 4 pm  – St. James Church – 785 Lakeshire Dr., Tupelo 38804

March 26 – 12:30 pm to 4 pm – Sacred Heart Church – 238 E. Center St. Canton 39046

April 2 – 1:30 pm to 4 pm – St. Therese Church – 309 W. McDowell Rd. Jackson 39204

Advocates stress that U.S. has moral obligation to welcome refugees

By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Leaders from six organizations want Americans and President Donald Trump to understand that refugees, especially those from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, are average people with careers, comfortable homes and loving families rather than see them as a monolithic threat to the United States.
Their appeal during a Feb. 1 news conference at Casa Italiana at Holy Rosary Church in Washington came as refugees continued to be denied entry into the U.S. nearly a week after Trump ordered a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee resettlement program.
Officials of Catholic Charities USA, Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., Catholic Relief Services, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Center for Migration Studies called on Trump to rescind his presidential memorandum implementing the suspension, saying the country has a moral obligation to welcome people fleeing for their lives.
They called the world’s refugee crisis a pro-life issue.
“One of the issues for many of us in this country is that we can’t imagine that the refugee is a person like ourselves, that many of the people that are now caught in camps or horrible situations are people like ourselves who woke up one morning and learned that everything they had was destroyed,” said Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.
“We all have to stop objectifying them. These are human beings like you and I,” she said, recalling the people in northern Iraq she recently contacted via online video communications.
Other leaders cited the country’s long history of welcoming refugees as well as church teaching on welcoming the stranger. They said the U.S. should not relinquish its role as a moral leader in refugee resettlement, especially for those who have been cleared or are awaiting final approval to enter the country. Any delay in their arrival puts them at greater threat, the leaders said.
“These refugees are victims of the same violence that we are trying to protect ourselves from,” said Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell, senor legislative specialist at Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency. “And yet it is American principles, of course, that we are trying to protect. So a disproportionate security response leaves us wondering: What does it mean to be American? What does it mean to be Catholic?”
Welcoming refugees can be an act that not only protects them but also protects U.S. security, said Don Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies in New York City. “It’s not really a balance. Refugee protection actually advances and furthers security,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean that there doesn’t have to be careful screening and that there’s responsibilities for improving that screening based on intelligence,” Kerwin added. “Those need to be implemented. But the fact is we have a very, very secure screening process for refugees. It’s more secure than any other admission process for any other category of immigrants.”
Trump’s memorandum, one of three governing immigration issues during the first week of his administration, suspends the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and bans entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries – Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia – for 90 days. It also establishes religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.
The resettlement program’s suspension also will affect about 700 employees of Catholic Charities agencies nationwide, with layoffs expected for nearly all of the workers because the stream of refugees has ended, said Sister Markham.
“We absolutely depend on the partnership between public and private funding to support these programs,” she explained. “We don’t have the resources to carry them without that partnership. Four months carrying 700 employees with no income is not feasible for a charitable organization like Catholic Charities.”
The bishops’ MRS department in conjunction with diocesan Catholic Charities agencies resettled about 23,000 of the nearly 85,000 refugees admitted into the U.S. in fiscal year 2016. The majority of them were women and children, said William Canny, MRS executive director.

People attend a Feb. 1 vigil sponsored by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition in Nashville in response to President Donald Trump's Jan. 27 executive order suspending the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days. (CNS photo/Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register)

People attend a Feb. 1 vigil sponsored by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition in Nashville in response to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order suspending the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days. (CNS photo/Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register)

The number of refugees resettled is a small proportion of the 21 million refugees tallied worldwide by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Canny noted.
He also expressed concern that the resettlement program had enjoyed bipartisan support from Congress and Democratic and Republican White Houses over the years, but that “in the last year or so we saw a breakdown” in such backing.
Trump’s other executive memoranda – one calling for a surge in immigrant detention and deportation and the other setting the stage to build a multibillion dollar 2,000 mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border – drew criticism from Jean Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
An increase in enforcement by federal and local officials “threatens due process and makes our communities and their residents, American and foreign-born, less safe,” Atkinson said. “We’re already seeing men and women afraid to go out into their communities, to go to work, to take their children to school to take them to medical appointments.”
While the organizational leaders pledged to advocate for refugees as long as needed, they also invited Catholics to voice their objection to the president’s actions.
J. Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies, said if Catholics mobilized, they could influence the president to change his mind.
“This is a really important moment for Catholics in our country,” he said. “The church is in a particular position to influence this administration I think in positive ways on these issue. Catholics voted for President Trump for various reasons, so they have the ability to convince the administration that they are on the wrong course.”

Actividades de la Semana Nacional de Migración

Durante casi medio siglo, la Iglesia Católica en los Estados Unidos ha celebrado la national-migration-week-2017-poster-470x609-cSemana Nacional de Migración, la cual es una oportunidad para la Iglesia a reflexionar sobre las circunstancias que enfrentan los migrantes, incluidos los inmigrantes, los refugiados, los niños y las víctimas y sobrevivientes de la trata de personas.
El tema de la Semana Nacional de Migración 2017, que se celebrará del 8 al 14 de enero, enfoca la atención al llamado del Papa Francisco ‘para crear una cultura de encuentro, y que al hacerlo miremos más allá de nuestras propias necesidades y deseos y veamos las de los que nos rodean. En la Diócesis de Jackson, las actividades durante la semana son las siguientes:
El domingo 8 de enero se inaugurará  la Semana Nacional de Migración con la presentación del video “Los invicibles” en la Parroquia St. James en Tupelo de 2:30 – 4:30 p.m.  El martes 10 de enero se ofrecerá un taller de inmigración y consultas legales en la Parroquia St. Matthew en Ripley de 6 – 8 p.m. La abogada de inmigración, Amelia McGowan, directora del Centro de Soporte Migratorio de Caridades Católicas en Jackson facilitará el taller y las consultas.
El miércoles 11 de enero las parroquias dedicarán la celebración eucarística a la Semana Nacional de Migración. El jueves 12 de enero, de 6 – 8 p.m. en la Parroquia St. James en Corinth se ofrecerá nuevamente el taller de inmigración y consultas legales los cuales serán facilitados por Amelia McGowan.
Para el viernes 13 de enero están organizando una noche de expresiones culturales de 6 a 8 p.m. El lugar será anunciado previamente. Para información llamar al 662-682-9992.
La clasura de la semana de actividades se realizará el sábado 14 de enero con una presentación bilingüe en la Parroquia St. James en Tupelo de 3 a 4:30 p.m. por parte de la Hermana Guadalupana del Espíritu Santo, Gabriela Rámirez, de la oficina de Caridades Católicas de la Diócesis de Birmingham, Alabama.