Grounded in faith

By Lora Beth Barrett
SALTILLO – Just as Jesus says in the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time’s Gospel reading from the book of Luke, “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you,” so has the faith of the descendants of the St. Thomas Aquinas Church in the Saltillo community.

On Oct. 9 on a beautiful, sunny day, members of the Catholic community gathered to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.

The first structure, as a wooden framed church, was built and was dedicated on May 7, 1922, by Bishop John Edward Gunn. St. Thomas became a mission church of St. James the Greater parish of Tupelo in 1963 when Father Paul Gillis was priest. In 1966, a brick church was built to replace the original church. Tragedy hit this faith community when the church burned to the ground in the early morning hours in late April of 2009.

SALTILLO – The St. Thomas community celebrated Mass outdoors on the site of the former structure destroyed by fire in 2009. (Photo by Carrie Barrett)

The only items that were saved from the fire include a votive candle stand, a holy water font and Consecration bells. Father Tom Lalor was the priest of the St. Thomas mission at the time of the fire. Since this tragedy, the members of this faith community have continued to remain strong in their faith.

The community continued to worship in Marie Barrett Hall. The small chapel was built when Father Lincoln Dall was priest. Today, this faith community continues to worship together. Each fall the community celebrate the “Blessings of the Graves.” In the spring, this faith community celebrates Easter with a potluck dinner and Easter fun and games. The community continues the traditions and stand together in faith just as their ancestors did over 100 years ago.
Mass was celebrated under a tent in the area where the 1966 structure used to stand on Sunday, Oct. 9. The altar was placed in the general location as the previous structure. Mass was celebrated by Father Tim Murphy and Father Henry Shelton. The St. Thomas choir, under the leadership of Lailah Valentine, provided music for the Mass.

A potluck was served after the Mass celebration by the members in attendance. Entertainment was provided by the Gusmus Grass, a bluegrass band, made up of several members of the congregation. Games were played by the newest generation of the community and lots of love, laughter, and conversation was shared among the congregation.

Both Father Tim Murphy and Father Henry Shelton left everyone in attendance with a lasting impression on the day’s events. Father Tim Murphy concluded his homily in comparison to the community’s ancestors, “Just as they came with two mules of the earth, so did their faith remain and grow. Just as yours will continue in future generations.”

Father Henry Shelton shared reflections of his experiences. He concluded by reminding us of the cemetery filled with generations of family members in the community who have gone before us. He stated, “It is the belief of the Catholic church that when we receive the Eucharist all of our loved ones are gathered around and sharing it with us.”

The community will continue to thrive as they worship together with the compassion, joy and love celebrated on this glorious day. God Bless this community!

(Lora Beth Barrett is a second-grade teacher at Dorsey Attendance Center outside Fulton, Mississippi. She enjoys singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school and growing her faith within her church family and work family. She spends her free time with family, reading and anything art related.)