Jason Kelly Johnston was born and raised in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He credits his parents, Dinnie and the late Sydney Johnston, for establishing his love of the Catholic faith from an early age by taking him and his brothers to Sunday Mass, instilling family prayer, celebrating the sacraments, and sending him to Catholic schools.
Johnston began hearing God’s quiet call to the priesthood while he was a student at Vicksburg St. Aloysius School, but he kept busy with his school work, football and track. As a teenager, he was also involved in the Boy Scouts – obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout– the Knights of Columbus Columbian Squires, and performed in plays in the local theater.
After high school, he attended Mississippi State University and graduated with a master of professional accountancy. Although he worked as an auditor for the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor, he continued hearing God’s quiet call.
This call became louder during a Cursillo weekend, in which Johnston was blessed to meet other men who were living their lives as authentic Christians by praying and openly discussing their faith.
While working on a Cursillo Rollo team, he began attending daily Mass, praying the rosary, and making small sacrifices. During this time, he began to feel a strong sense of peace, which he attributed as being a gift from God. Finally, in 2010, he left his job as an auditor and joined the seminary.
Home Parish: My home parish is St. Paul in Vicksburg.
Favorite Saints and why?
St. John the Baptist – I love John’s humility, his prayer life, his calling us all to conversion, and his defense of marriage (at the cost of his own life).
The Blessed Mother (of course!) and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I love St. Thérèse’s Little Way, her love for the faith and her description of her own vocation: “At last I have found my vocation. In the heart of the church, I will be Love!”

Do you have a favorite devotion, religious image or prayer and why?
Since the Source and Summit of the Christian life is the Eucharist, I am a huge fan of Eucharistic adoration. I love the rosary and any devotion to Our Lady. This being the Year of Mercy – The Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Can you tell me a little about your vocation story – when you felt called and how you responded?
I began considering a call to priesthood when I was in high school, but I ignored it for a while when I went to college. While I was at Mississippi State University Father Jeffrey Waldrep had a discernment group of young men who were considering going to the seminary.
I did not have anything to do with it – but at the time, I felt I should have been. A few years later, I was getting more involved at St. Richard Parish in Jackson and the voice of the call became stronger. So, I ended up leaving my job and going to seminary in 2010.

Who vested you at ordination and why?
Msgr. Patrick Farrell. He was my pastor for 10 years in Vicksburg. When I was considering entering seminary I saw his example as one of great compassion. While he was in Vicksburg he got to know my family and he was a great pastor to me and my family at significant moments in my life.

Can you share something about yourself people may not know?
I went to Mississippi State and I graduated in accounting. I also worked for the State of Mississippi for two years before I left for seminary.

What advice do you have for those discerning a vocation?
I would recommend finding a priest or spiritual director who can help you as you discern the call to a vocation. I would read as much about vocations as I could.
There are plenty of great resources available like Father Brett Brannen’s “To Save a Thousand Souls.” I would also recommend they also speak with the diocese’s vocation director, Father José de Jesús Sánchez, 601-960-8484, or

In what parishes have you served?
I’ve been at Our Lady of Victories in Cleveland, St. Joseph in Starkville, Holy Savior in Clinton and St. Joseph and St. Patrick in Meridian as a deacon.

Is there one part of priesthood in particular you are looking forward to?
I am very much looking forward to celebrating Mass, absolving sins, and living among a community of people in the parish as a priest.

What are you looking forward to about teaching and interacting with students at St. Joe?
I am looking forward to the adventure. I have never taught before in a professional sense, but I am looking forward to working with young people and taking part in the handing on of the faith.

Can you share details on your first Mass: Sunday, May 15, 10:30 a.m. St. Paul’s in Vicksburg.
The First Mass of Thanksgiving was  at my home parish, where I grew up and went to Mass with my family every Sunday.  It is going to be on Pentecost Sunday. I am very much looking forward to that occasion.

Jackson vocations office, New Orleans seminary both add staff

JACKSON – In February of this year Bishop Joseph Kopacz reorganized the Office of Vocations, forming a team to promote religious vocations within and outside the Diocese of Jackson. The office now has three employees, Father José de Jesús Sánchez acts as the director of recruitment, Father Brian Kaskie is the director of seminarians and Melisa Preuss-Muñoz is an administrative assistant.
Father Sánchez’s ministry is to travel throughout the diocese visiting Catholic high schools, parishes and colleges, to promote the priesthood as an option for young men, and religious life for both men and women. These visits provide Father Sánchez with the opportunity to discuss what it means to hear and follow God’s call.
Meeting with young adults enables him to discern who, among these young people, shows the interest and skills to enter into the religious life. He also continues to serve as associate pastor for the Catholic Community of Meridian.
In addition, Father Sánchez makes himself available to counsel those who find it difficult to hear God’s call, whether it be to the priesthood, religious life, marriage or single life. He commits himself to meet with the young people to talk about their dreams and God’s dreams for them. The end goal is to give young adults the means to evaluate themselves and God’s desires for them, so that they may reach holiness and help others to become holy as well.
Finally, if a young man decides to begin his priestly formation or a young woman, the religious life, Father Sánchez will help them apply to the seminary or religious community.
Father Brian Kaskie, director of seminarians, walks closely with those who are in seminary formation either at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, La., where men pursue a college degree while going through initial discernment and at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans for graduate studies and final formation. Father Kaskie keeps in constant communication with the seminarians and helps to provide everything they might need during their years of discernment and formation.  He attends their evaluations and acts as a liaison between the seminary and Bishop Kopacz. He is also pastor of McComb St. Alphonsus Parish.
Melisa Preuss-Muñoz acts as a link between Father Sanchez, Father Kaskie, and the seminarians. She works in the chancery in Jackson. Her duties also include updating the vocations section of the website for the Diocese of Jackson, developing and distributing diocesan resources for religious vocations, and organizing and implementing various activities, such as Vocation Awareness Days, at schools.
“We are eager to answer any questions you may have about religious life and would like to help you in any possible. God calls us to the religious life in mysterious ways. If you feel you might hear the call or if you would like to speak with Father Sánchez about discerning God’s call, please call the office,” said Preuss-Muñoz.
Anyone can reach the Religious Vocations office by phone at 601-960-8484 or email at  Anyone can support the efforts to promote vocations by prayer and on social media by following Jackson Vocations on Facebook, Twitter (@jxnvocations), and the website (

Ordinations inspire renewal

complete the circle
By George Evans
Last weekend I was fortunate, even blessed, to attend and participate in the ordination and first Mass of Father Jason Johnston. He and Father Joseph Le were both ordained by Bishop Joseph Kopacz in the Cathedral of St. Peter on Saturday, May 14 and each celebrated his first Mass the next day, May 15.
Fr. Johnston celebrated in his home parish, Vicksburg St. Paul and Father Le in Greenville St. Joseph, where he had previously spent some time in ministry. I urge you to not miss the next chance to attend an ordination and first Mass, particularly when you know the ordinandi.
I met Jason before he entered seminary at the 7a.m. daily Mass at St. Richard where I was on staff at the time. I was from Vicksburg and our families had known each other so there was an immediate connection. A short while later my wife and I invited him to participate in our St. Vincent de Paul Conference at St. Richard which had been established a short time earlier.
He agreed and became one of the earliest members after those of us who had started it. He was a great addition. He was young, an accounting graduate from Mississippi State who had been working for the Mississippi Department of Revenue for a couple of years, loved the Lord and was inclined to prayer and to service of the poor and marginalized.
Not surprisingly he was a great member open to every challenge of a fledging undertaking. About five months later, Saint Vincent de Paul hosted a farewell party for Jason at the home of our president, Jon Fairbank and his wife, Sue. We got to meet Jason’s wonderful mother and father and the rest of his great family. Jason was off to the seminary at St. Ben’s for two years and then Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans for four years culminating in becoming Father Jason Johnston six years later.
The power of the ordination liturgy is profound. The ordinandi is vouched for as to education and character by a priest involved in formation, makes his wish for ordination known to all, promises obedience to the bishop, receives the grace of the Litany of the Saints prayed by all present, is ordained by the laying on of hands by the bishop followed by his now brother priests, invested with stole and chasuble, has hands anointed by the bishop and is again welcomed by brother priests with a fraternal kiss of peace.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows and after what has just transpired is as rich and compelling as can be. I can’t imagine anyone present not being profoundly affected. I certainly was.
I went to Vicksburg with Carol for Father Johnston’s first Mass because we had known him more than six years and had just met Father Le although the beauty of his Vietnamese family and the dresses of the Vietnamese ladies was compelling. St. Paul’s outdid itself. I was so proud to say it’s where I grew up. Father Tom Lalor’s greeting and welcome were perfect. Father Jason had not one flaw in his Mass celebration.
As was the case at the ordination, the music and choir was exciting and the myriad seminarians carried out their tasks with attention and liturgical sense and touch. The homily by Father James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary, was superb in both content and delivery. It would be great if copies could be available. It was that good.
I can only contrast the power of the ordination on Saturday and the beauty and grace of the first Mass on Sunday with the pettiness, cynicism and silliness of our materialistic world and particularly our bankrupt politics. As Father Wehner and the psalmist pointed out in the homily and scripture, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”
If ever the Holy Spirit is needed, it is now. If ever we are called to renew the face of the earth, it is now. Only if we as lay people understand and accept that this task is ours as well as that of Bishop Kopacz, our priests and consecrated religious will we be able to renew the face of the earth.
As Father Wehner so eloquently preached, with the new beginnings of Father Jason Johnston and Father Joseph Le and the new influx of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, maybe, just maybe, we can all pull together and renew the face of the earth.
(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister who lives at St. Catherine’s Village and is a member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Is it the end or the beginning?

Millennial reflections
Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem.
It is over. The media has almost unanimously declared this most recent legislative session the worst in recent memory. Agencies that provide basic services after disasters, floods and tornadoes, are under extreme pressure to fulfill their mandate. Tax and budget cuts seem to be the answer to everything.  School districts merged, a large state controlled super district of the least performing schools is not an answer but another problem.
Most of this impacts people of color and is another resegregating the schools. The struggles of the last century taught us that separate is never equal. Now they can quibble over percentages and test scores, but the money is never there for the districts that need it most.
Then there is the fight over the Jackson Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. I realize that perhaps most of this paper’s readers live outside the limits of Jackson, and some may actually favor the state takeover of the airport, but with the current JMAA board and management the airport is doing well, and is in the black. Many say the fact that it is owned by the City of Jackson makes the move a blatant power grab.
I want to look at the effects of the huge tax cuts, trimmed down budgets, resulting in vital services not there for people who need them. The legislature despite the prosperity hype, seems determined to keep the poorest state in the Union, poor. Some of this is nothing but mean, like cutting food stamps, further restricting what people in need can purchase, and limiting the time period a person can be on the program.
The poor have been relabeled into the deserving and undeserving poor, and most are undeserving. Poverty is defined as moral failure. Getting needed services more and more requires legal intervention, by attorneys, not social work intervention. Proof of need becomes more difficult. If revenue is short, the poor suffer.
This is national. The reason so many bills resemble each other whether targeting the poor, immigrants or whoever often are crafted by the American Legislative  Exchange Council (ALEC). This group includes state legislators from all over the country. ALEC provides the framework, and they can adapt it to their particular ideology suited to their state.
There is a war against organized labor. The propaganda says that labor unions are un-American, yet it was the labor struggle of the last two centuries that gave us such things as the weekend, overtime and national labor laws to strengthen all workers.
Right to work is not right to work, but the right not to join or be forced to join a union. Workers work at the will of their employers. That puts them at risk. No one can survive on minimum wage. The national movement, “$15 and a union” has had, so far, two national days of strikes and rallies to increase the minimum wage.
Immigrant rights activists have killed more than 295 anti-immigrant bills introduced in the state legislature since 2000. Immigrants provide a huge labor pool in many labor intensive industries here in Mississippi. Many fell out of status for a number of innocent reasons, but are demonized and dehumanized. This keeps the poor divided.
As we settle into another year of being at the bottom of most everything, how should we look at this? Some are quite content with the way things went. Others are not. Their reaction runs a range from quiet desperation to speak up and show out. Those of us who see the poor as human beings needing help, have found another voice.
Especially for us Catholics this Argentine Pope is shaking things up. He is telling his clergy to get down in the slums with the poor. “Smell like the sheep.” In many addresses he has blasted elitism in any form. Even more he has gone to  the slums  himself. Demonstrating respect, compassion and mercy to believer and unbeliever alike.
Since Pope Francis inaugurated this Year of Mercy there have been beautiful expressions of this by parishes and communities across the country. We see that here in Mississippi, from one end to the other. We have a  healthy tradition of compassion, charity and helping those in need. We need to do more of it. With all the negative rhetoric, we need to drown it out, by living that old  song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

New basketball coach

MADISON  – Tyler O’Hara, who has coached the St. Joseph middle school basketball team for eight years, has been named head varsity basketball coach for St. Joseph High School. O’Hara, 31, who currently teaches 12th grade English and handles discipline at the school, will take over a team that went 24-4 this year – winning the district tournament and making it all the way to the third round of the state playoffs.
“I’m honored that principal Doug Jones and athletic director Todd Lott have entrusted me with the future of our basketball team,” O’Hara said. “We have a great group of athletes at our school, and I look forward to building on the success we have had with our basketball program.”
O’Hara will take over from former basketball Coach Nick Stamps, who resigned at the end of the 2015-2016 season. O’Hara will continue to teach English classes while also taking care of his basketball coaching responsibilities.
O’Hara, a New Orleans native, has a bachelor’s degree in English from Millsaps College. Lott said   O’Hara brings a lot of valuable experience to the coaching position – including his familiarity with the school’s student athletes and a strong, passionate love for the game of basketball.
Jones said he also has been impressed with O’Hara and what he brings to the table. Jones said that O’Hara’s knowledge of basketball and his desire to help students become better players and student athletes will keep a strong basketball program headed in the right direction.
“This is a great move for our school, our athletes and Coach O’Hara,” Jones said. “Tyler’s dedication to his players, to our students and to our school will make an already great athletic department and academic institution that much stronger.”

Virden earns scholarship

GREENVILLE – Virginia Virden, a senior and member of the National Honor Society (NHS) at St. Joseph   School has been named one of 300 national semifinalists in the National Honor Society Scholarship program. Virden was chosen from more than 25,000 applicants and will receive a $1,500 scholarship.
“Virginia has been a vital part of the St. Joseph family since she began in her seventh grade and we are sorry to see her go, but definitely wish her the best,” said Missi Blackstock, NHS advisor
High school seniors who are members in good standing of an active NHS chapter are able to apply for an NHS scholarship. Finalists are selected on the basis of their leadership skills; participation in service organizations, clubs, and other student groups at school and in the community; and their academic record.
While at St. Joseph, Virden has been president of the National Honor Society, class vice-president, Wendy’s Heisman school winner, Secretary of Mu Alpha Theta, Mississippi Scholar, Guaranty Bank’s Guaranteed Achiever, on the Mayor’s Youth Council, St. Joseph STAR student, along with being captain of the cheer squad and won awards in tennis and soccer. This fall she plans to attend Southern Methodist University to study political science.

Stock market winners

VICKSBURG – Most people consult their financial advisors for investing tips and strategies. Now we might just start asking our students. St. Aloysius School seniors Cass Hudson, Lofton Varner and Lyndsey Cowart were named second-place winners in the spring senior division of the Mississippi Stock Market Game.
“I am so excited that we did so well,” Hudson said. “We were fortunate to have a good group that took the time to research stocks at low prices that had signs and the potential of rising quickly. We gambled choosing these risky stocks, and it paid off in the end.”
The simulation is a learning tool about the free enterprise system for students in grades four through 12th. The program enables students to invest a hypothetical $100,000 in the stock market over a 15-week period. Winners are determined on the percentage return above or below S&P 500 growth. St. Al school outperformed the S&P by 18.2 percent and grew their portfolio to $128,712 during the 15-week session.
Varner and Cowart both said the competition was a fun experience. “It took some time to research which company was the best to invest in,” Varner said. “We learned many things about the stock market, and we got lucky that our investments turned out the way we hoped they would.”
Cowart said she’s looking forward to putting her newfound knowledge to use in the future. “Although the competition was fun, it was also a bit challenging figuring out what stocks were the best ones to buy,” she said. “It really helped me learn how the stock market works and some things to look out for if I ever want to invest my own money into the stock market.”

St. Joseph School summer camps
MADISON St. Joseph School offers the following camps:
Soccer:  May 31-June 3, from     8 a.m. – noon, for Pre K4-6th graders. Cost is $125.
Baseball: June 6-9, from 9 a.m. – noon. Cost is $125.
Football: June 13-16, from 8:30 a.m. – noon, for second-eighth graders. Cost is $135.
Dance: June 20-23, from 9 a.m. – noon, for first-sixth graders. Cost is $100.
Cheer: July 18-21, from 9 a.m. – noon, for first-sixth graders. Cost is $100.

Encuentro retreat focuses on mercy

By Elsa Baughman
GREENWOOD – At the beginning of his presentation on the mercy of God, Juan Pablo Chavez told those who attended the Encuentro, sponsored by the Office of Hispanic Ministry, that sometimes we act like the characters in the Bible, in particular the Prodigal Son, when he left, in the steps he took before leaving his family, and when we tell God to give us what is ours, “and to hurry,” he said. “We are alike in the way we squander our life, when we waste our time.”
But, he added, “you are here today because you want to experience the mercy of God, you want to be healed  you want to change and be sent to be merciful to others.” These were the three points covered in the theme of the day, “God calls us, heal us and sends us to proclaim his mercy.”
The retreat, held Saturday, April 30, had all the necessary elements for a party, said Chavez, because at the feast there were guests, a tablecloth which meant that it was a special moment to celebrate, flowers that were a sign of joy for those who were sad, there was a light to illuminate the dark areas of the souls of those present, and there was the Word represented by the Bible.
Chavez pointed out that the theme of the retreat was based on the three parables of mercy – the Prodigal Son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep – which according to him are the heart of the gospel because they accentuate the mercy of God.
“The parable of the Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32 – is the story that best explains the heart of God and describes in a beautiful way his love and mercy,” Chavez said. To illustrate this parable he showed the famous painting by Rembrandt, “The return of the prodigal son,” explaining the details of the painting.
He also spoke about the different possibilities that we, with our attitude, our behavior, can be like the father, or the older son, or perhaps the servant. “We all have a place, a space in this parable,” Chavez said.
While he was explaining the meaning of the embrace of the father to his son, who had returned repentant and asking forgiveness, Chavez asked the priests who were present to embrace each participant, “to represent the Father who wants to embrace you through the arms of this priest, to experience the love of a Father who does not accuse you, who forgives you and to receive his mercy,” he said.
Reading the passage in Luke 13, which recounts the story of Jesus when he was teaching in the synagogue and healed a sick woman who had been humpbacked for 18 years. Chavez explained that the message of this story is that to God it does not matter how long you have suffered or have been sinning.
“What Jesus did physically in that woman he can achieve with you spiritually,” he noted. “He can straighten all those things that are crooked in your life – your bad habits, laziness, addictions, ambition, overindulgences – flaws that don’t let you be upright. He can return the dignity and freedom to any physical or spiritual situation in which you may find yourself,” he said.
Meditating, with a soft voice, Chavez told the participants, “Today Jesus invites you to remove that hump and to be touched by his sacred hand to be healed,” and encouraged them to approach the table to touch the Bible – the Word of God – so He could cure that hump that shame them. “At the beginning He gave you a hug and now He wants to touch you to heal you because to serve the Lord you have to be healed,” he said. “The joy is a sign that God has healed you.”
Chavez noted that the message of the parables of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7) and the lost coin” (Luke 15:8-10) is that God is not going to stop pursuing us until he find us, Chavez said. “And God not only welcomes sinners, he seek us out like the woman look for the coin she has lost and the shepherd went out looking for his lost sheep. Both invited their friends to celebrate what they had found, Chavez said. “Similarly, there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”
Ending, a group represented the parable of the workers in the vineyard to illustrate where the Lord is calling us. Chavez said that there are many ways to work in the vineyard of the Lord – praying and being obedient to the hierarchy of the church, to do what He wants us to do, not what “I want to do” and specifically to search for those who are lost and prepare a feast for them.
The retreat concluded with the Eucharist concelebrated by Bishop Joseph Kopacz and several priests.

In Memoriam: retired Deacon Sam Baker

JACKSON – Deacon Sam Milton Baker, 94, died Sunday, May 15, at home after having suffered a stroke. Funeral services were held Saturday, May 21, at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.
Deacon Baker was born Dec. 13, 1921. He was raised by two loving and doting parents, Sam and Pearl Baker. Deacon Baker spent most of his developmental years living and attending church in South Jackson.
He enrolled in the business program at Tougaloo College in 1940, but had to take a break to answer the call to military service during World War II. He served overseas in the European Theater of Operations earning the rank of Technical Sargent.
During his enrollment at Tougaloo, he met and immediately fell in love with Barbara Justine Willis, who became his wife of 71 years. Prior to their marriage on Aug. 18, 1942, he converted to Catholicism. The couple had four children, Carlyle (deceased), Sandra, Rhenolda and George. Upon his discharge from the military, he worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. In 1952, he started working with the U.S. Postal Service where he served for 13 years as a letter carrier.
He was the first African-American to serve as district director of the Small Business Administration (SBA) from 1966 to 1978. During this period, he received numerous awards including Man of the Year by the National Business League in 1974. He retired, the first time from SBA in 1978. That same year he was appointed vice president of commercial lending at First National Bank of Jackson. He retired a second time to return to SBA as director of the Mississippi District of Southeastern Region. In 1991, Deacon began serving on the advisory board at St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital and was later appointed to its Board of Directors.
He was ordained a permanent deacon at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle on July 11, 1982, serving at both Holy Ghost and the Cathedral. He retired from active ministry in 2008.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara Willis Baker; his parents, Sam and Pearl Baker; one son, Carlyle J. Baker; one grandson, Mario Baker. He is survived by his daughter, Sandra Baker of Stone Mountain, Ga.; two sons, Rhenolda (Barbara) of Jackson; and George (Nita) Baker of McKinney, Tex.; daughters-in-law Sarah Elizabeth Baker of Carrolton, Tex., and Mary Baker of Albuquerque, NM; niece, Lula B. Henry of Chicago, Ill.; a devoted grandson, Rodric, who served as his caregiver; thirteen grandchildren, numerous great grandchildren and a host of beloved nieces, nephews, cousins, relatives, friends and his Holy Ghost Church family.

Welcoming Father Johnston, Father Le to brotherhood of priests


JACKSON – Bishop Joseph Kopacz ordained Jason Johnston and Joseph Le to the Priesthood Saturday, May 14, during a 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.
During the two-hour liturgy the men were ordained, promised loyalty to Bishop Joseph Kopacz and his successors, were anointed with Chrism Oil and allowed their fellow priests to call down the Holy Spirit upon them. Father Johnston is a Vicksburg native while Father Le was born in Vietnam. In the center section of this week’s Mississippi Catholic, read more about Fathers Johnston and Le in personality profiles on pages 10-11, see more photos from ordination and their first Masses on pages 12-13 and learn where they will be serving for their first assignments on page 7.
On Saturday, June 4, six more men will be ordained in the Cathedral during a 10 a.m. Mass. The six will become permanent deacons for the diocese. Their stories and photos will appear in the June 10th edition.
Seating for this Mass will be limited. There will be reserved seating for the men’s families only. Each deacon will also have a celebration in his home parish.