(Editor’s note: This article was reprinted from the Summer 2014 issue of Glenmary Challenge, the magazine of Glenmary Home Missioners, www.glenmary.org.)
When Glenmary missioners first arrived in West Point and New Albany, Miss, in 1965 to establish mission communities, 10 years had passed since the state’s school districts were ordered by the Supreme Court to desegregate, and the Voting Rights Act was about to be signed into law.
During that tumultuous time Fathers Joe Dean and Bob Rademacher (respective pastors of the new missions) worked to call together integrated faith communities in the heart of the national civil rights movement.
In the almost 50 years since those first missioners moved to Mississippi, Glenmary has established and/or staffed 12 missions in the state. Many of those missions were the first integrated congregations in their counties.
Missioners tried to meet the needs of all those living in the region, regardless of background, race or denomination.
In 1974 a summer camp was held for local youth near the Glenmary mission in Amory. The camp was one of the first in the state to be fully integrated.
Eventually, it evolved into Camp Glenmary, which continues to welcome campers every June. The two week of Camp Friendship are open to low-income kids in northeastern Mississippi, followed by two weeks of Catholic Camp, a time when Catholic young people from that same area gather as a group for the unique experience of not being in the minority.
Glenmary’s time in Mississippi came to an end on June 29, when the last three Glenmary missions were returned to the Diocese of Jackson: Houston Immaculate Heart of Mary, Bruce St. Luke the Evangelist and Pontotoc St. Christopher.
“As we leave the Diocese of Jackson, we rejoice that today, the Church is present in counties where our missioners have established Catholic communities, and numerous outreach programs are now in place,” says Father Chet Artysiewicz, president of Glenmary.
But, he adds, there is sadness in leaving a region that has been such an important part of Glenmary’s history as a missionary society.
The decision to move on to areas of mission need in other states is based on Glenmary’s strategic plan to consolidate mission efforts geographically, which enables missioners and lay coworkers to better collaborate and support each other.
Glenmary’s mission efforts in Mississippi were often groundbreaking in ways other than in the area of race relations.
In the early 1990s, lay professional coworkers were hired and trained by Glenmary to start Catholic communities in several states. In all, four missions were called together and established in Mississippi by lay leaders in Eupora, Ackerman, Ripley and Bruce.
Numerous outreach efforts such as sheltered workshops, day care centers and food pantries were begun by missioners and coworkers in Mississippi, with many still in existence. And Glenmary missioners and coworkers have been on the front lines in welcoming the influx of immigrants who have arrived in the state to find employment.
“As we leave Mississippi, I am heartened to see so many of our missions thriving and the members of those missions continuing on with Glenmary’s missionary charism of nurturing the faith and reaching out to those most in need,” said Father Atrysiewicz.