From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – The tear of a woman bears all the pains of the world. I do not remember the movie where I heard this, but I do remember how this quote struck me. March is Women’s History Month, so I would like to highlight some of the women who have made great contributions to our diocesan church quietly behind the scenes and on the world stage.
We already read about Madame Felicitê Gireaudeau in earlier columns, who was a towering figure in the early Catholic community in Natchez – known for her acts of charity and resilience. In the 1840s, Bishop John Joseph Chanche invited the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul affectionately called the Sisters of Charity, to establish an orphanage for girls in Natchez. The Sisters arrived in 1847 and began St. Mary’s Asylum, which took in girls whose parents had either died or could no longer care for them.
The Sisters were known for their distinctive white cornettes and for the acts of charity they performed throughout the community. Antoinette Thomas, who served in the diocesan tribunal for many years, grew up with the Sisters and often was called upon to iron the cornette with a bucket of starch applied with a paint brush.
It would require a tome larger than Aquinas’s Summa to describe the enormous contributions made to the diocese by these and countless other Sisters throughout the history of our diocese – Mercy Sisters, Carmelites, Dominicans, Ursulines, Holy Spirit Sisters, and a myriad of others. We will save that for another time.
Of course, Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, comes to mind in a large way due to her tenacity, grit and grace. She inspired people all over the world because she saw them, challenged them to be the best person they could be, and loved them.
Sister Thea’s canonization cause continues to gather steam. Here is a beautiful quote that encapsulates her faith: “We unite ourselves with Christ’s redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God’s healing, God’s forgiveness, God’s unconditional love.”
Some may not know that Sister Thea obtained her doctorate in letters from Catholic University of America in 1972. Her dissertation was on St. Thomas More entitled: “The Relationship of Pathos and Style in a Dyalogue of Comforte Agaynste Tribulacyion: A Rhetorical Study.” That is quite a topic and included studies in the Olde English style. She spent time researching this topic at Oxford University in England.
Sister Thea also was an expert on William Faulkner, speaking and appearing often at the annual Faulkner Conference in Oxford. We frequently think of religious women as kind-hearted women who came among us to serve in schools and parishes. We do not realize how highly educated these women were and are.
In 1982, Sister Anne Brooks, SNJM, obtained a doctor of osteopathy (DO) degree and set about to find a place to serve the underserved in America. She settled on starting a clinic in 1983 in Tutwiler, Mississippi, one of the poorest areas in the United States. The small Delta town’s water tower is painted with “Welcome to Tutwiler, Mississippi: Where the Blues Was Born.”
Dr. Brooks, a true osteopathic physician who embodies the holistic approach to medicine, has given that corner of our diocese a place where people on the margins can receive quality health care. An average year for her included seeing over 8,500 patients where one out of three live in poverty and seven out of 10 walk in the door with no way to pay for care.
She retired in 2017 after securing a partnership for the clinic with the local hospital, Tallahatchie General in Ruleville.
Sister Trinita Eddington, OP, has served her entire 60-plus year vocation as a Dominican here in Jackson at St. Dominic Hospital. The following information from the St. Dominic website gives an account of her ministry.
“Sister Trinita’s nursing background began in 1953 when she enrolled in the St. Dominic School of Nursing after making the profession of vows. With this, Sister Trinita began fulfilling her dream to care for the sick. She became a registered nurse in 1957.”
She helped establish St. Dominic Community Health Clinic for the homeless in Jackson. “treating hundreds of low-income and homeless individuals in the Jackson area through the St. Dominic Community Health Clinic. In addition to providing medical care as a nurse practitioner, as clinic director, Sister Trinita is also responsible and accountable for the overall administration, direction and operation of the clinic.”
Our diocesan chancery and Catholic Charities are filled with extremely competent and dedicated lay women of faith who everyday quietly leave their mark on this corner of God’s kingdom by serving as true disciples of Christ. I cannot name one without leaving out dozens. They serve tirelessly through challenges and adversity to achieve great things – often with a tear bearing the pains of the world. Pray for us.
(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)