Homegrown Harvest event celebrates, supports
diocesan seminarians

A ticket admitting two to the Homegrown Harvest Festival is $100. The event includes a silent auction and a sit-down meal served by the Knights of Columbus 9543 at St. Francis of Assisi in Madison. To purchase tickets, to view sponsorship levels for this year’s event, or to make a donation to seminarian education, visit: https://bit.ly/HGHarvest2022.

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Once he was named vocation director for the Diocese of Jackson, Father Nick Adam went right to work on developing a grand plan to get seminarians acquainted with parishioners from all over the diocese.

That dream became the Jackson Seminarian Homegrown Harvest Festival, now in its third year and set for Saturday, Oct. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Madison. The event includes a sit-down meal, a silent auction and a seminarian presentation.

“I knew we needed to raise money to support the education of future priests,” said Father Adam. “But I wanted there to be an event where we came together to ‘see’ what was happening with our vocation program.

“Homegrown Harvest began with a vision of an event to celebrate our faith and the future priests of our church, and this year we are going to ‘see’ that we have nine seminarians. That’s four more than we had just this past May.”

Seminarian education is hardly inexpensive. Bishop Joseph Kopacz estimates that education plus room and board for each year of college seminary and theology is in the $40,000 range per student. Then there’s travel, summer assignments and summer formation programs for the seminarian, bringing to cost per student much closer to $50,000 annually.

“The Homegrown Harvest is becoming the featured event to celebrate the gift of priesthood, to encourage vocations, and to personally invite candidates for seminary discernment and formation,” Bishop Kopacz said. “It is also an opportunity to build up the community of parents, family members, friends and supporters of priestly vocations.”

It might make sense to guess that most seminarians are in their early twenties, though this season’s group of nine ranges from early twenties to early fifties. For older seminarians, the discernment process is different because of their station in life, as well as the role parents play in the life of a fifty-something seminarian compared to that of a teen who may hear the call and look to his parents for guidance and encouragement.

The third annual Jackson Seminarian Homegrown Harvest event will take place on Oct. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Madison.

“I always tell young men that my job is to discern with them,” Father Adam said. “Seminary is not the end; it is a resource for young men to discover whether the Lord is calling them to priesthood. If a young man has the desire and the maturity to enter into the seminary and use the resources there for a couple of years to discover whether priesthood is for him, then he should go.”

Father Adam and the diocese have started a new initiative called POPS (Parents of Priests/Seminarians/Sisters) which works alongside the Homegrown Harvest Festival.

“Just like we are using the festival to build community and prayerful support for our seminarians,” Father Adam said of POPS, “we want to make sure we are directing resources toward parents who have made a great gift to the church by supporting their sons and daughters who are pursuing a religious vocation.”

Bishop Kopacz, though, is quick to point out that Father Adam and other vocation directors are not recruiters.

“At times (the vocation director) is directing a young person to consider the beauty of marriage, religious life, or single way of life for a time — or for a lifetime — in service to the Lord,” he said. “Ultimately it is a matter of recognizing one’s gifts and talents for one’s own good, the good of others and the glory of God. This is the gift of our Baptism that, properly nurtured, is the foundation for all vocations.”
Father Andrew Bowden, associate pastor at St. Richard in Jackson since June, said he began thinking of the priesthood at a young age.

“For most of the time I was in middle school and high school I was about 90 percent sure that it was what God was calling me to,” he said. “But I would not say that this is the norm. I locked in mentally, becoming sure that this was what God was calling me to, during my first year in the seminary.

“People today tend to try to distract themselves from what God asks of them. Ultimately this only causes greater dissatisfaction. It is never too early nor too late to start asking God what He wants you to do and to encourage the people around you to do the same. God is the source of our joy, so the greatest joy will be experienced in doing what He asks us to do.”

As Bishop Kopacz points out, presentations, prayer services and conversations are ways of planting seeds that God can bring to fruition in the years ahead. In addition to donating generously, plan to have a nice meal at the Homegrown Harvest Festival and get to know the current crop of seminarians. You may never know what impact you could have on their journey.

Journey of Hope event to highlight addiction,
recovery and healing

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Known nationally for his business books and Ted Talks, Oxford native David Magee seemingly had it all before his beloved son William – who lettered in track at Ole Miss and attended Honors College – died of an accidental drug overdose in 2013, a year after graduation.

But it wasn’t just William who was hurting at the time of his death.

David Magee

“I had to go look at what happened in our family,” Magee said. “How did what looked like a picture-perfect American family chasing the dream get completely shattered?”

Author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Dear William, Magee is the keynote speaker at this year’s Journey of Hope luncheon, set for Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Jackson Convention Complex. Much more than simply a tribute to his late son, Dear William is a brutally honest look at a family that had been in crisis for many years.

The long, hard gaze into the mirror began with Magee himself, who was adopted and unaware of his birth parents’ identity until well into adulthood.

“I lived a great life in this wonderful university town,” he said of Oxford. “We knew everyone and could walk to the Square. But my house was very dark because there was a lot of depression and emotional pain inside me.”

“I did not know who I was, and the lack of sense of identity was something I didn’t deal with well. I tried to pretend it wasn’t there with alcohol and prescription Adderall.”

In addition to losing William, Magee and his wife, Kent, nearly lost their son Hudson to an overdose. Magee’s infidelity led to divorce before he and Kent remarried. But as facing their fears put them on a successful path to recovery and healing, Magee consulted his family about going public with everything they’d gone through in hopes of benefitting those in crisis.

“It took some years, but I had their blessing to do it – Kent, Hudson and our daughter Mary Halley,” he said. “The strength of Dear William is not that we lost him, but that we found joy and recovery together. The book applies to families who feel like they’ve lost something; they can get joy beyond what they ever imagined. It also applies to communities. We look around and see despair, but it is doable. You must have a plan and work hard to execute it.”

Author, David Magee of Oxford is the featured speaker at Catholic Charities Journey of Hope event on Sept. 19 and 20 in Jackson. Magee is the author of Dear William: A Father’s Memoir of Addiction, Recovery, Love and Loss. (Book cover courtesy of author)

What would Magee, who is helping launch the William Magee Institute for Student Well Being at Ole Miss, tell his twenty-one-year-old self?

“To believe in yourself,” he said. “The self-doubt is so poisonous. When you’re going through a hard time, it’s easy to point fingers at others. The twenty-one-year-old me had all these dreams of the American family I would have, and I coached my three children in most every sport they played. I taught Sunday school. I was on the City Council in Oxford.

“I was checking all the boxes,” he continued, “but rather than having a strong faith foundation and a strong belief in myself, I had a lot of self-doubt. I wish I could tell that version of me to get some counseling. I could have saved myself and my family a lot of pain and grief.”

Magee will have a strong message for parents at the Journey of Hope luncheon.

“Their own fears will often get in the way of raising their kids,” he said. “We want our children to have the best of everything. If warning signs flare up, the parents may fear that if they do ask for help – such as counseling – they may be labeled.

“A lot of kids have lost their joy. A lot of them tell us, ‘I’m making A’s, I’m on the sports teams, I’m on the homecoming court. Why do I feel so bad?’ We should worry about exposing them to what will help them, such as a good education. Faith is a big, positive part of their joy, while misuse of alcohol and substances steals that joy. We must do a better job of educating parents in navigating that path.”

Journey of Hope – Table Captain

Meet and Greet at Sal & Mookies

Sister Thea Bowman School welcomes new principal

Christopher Payne

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Succeeding a legend like Shae Goodman-Robinson would be a daunting task to some, but for Christopher Payne, the incoming principal of Sister Thea Bowman School, it’s a comfortable fit as well as an opportunity to continue paying forward the many life lessons he learned from his mentor.

A graduate of Mississippi State University, Payne has spent the last seven years teaching social studies and technology to Sister Thea Bowman students in grades 3-6. A native of Jackson, he graduated from Jim Hill High school and knows the city and its challenges well.

“In my first year, I noticed a student whose behavior was changing. He was more aggressive around others and a bit standoffish,” Payne said. “I’ve seen boys do that and felt I needed to have a heart-to-heart with him. He started talking about what was going on at home, his relationship with his parents, and he broke down and cried.”

“I started sharing some of my experiences from the past, and he hugged me and said he hadn’t had anyone to talk to. That was the moment I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is the impact I can have on these students’ lives.’”

In the short term, Payne says that while Sister Thea Bowman School already has a safe, loving, Christ-like environment, he wants to bring it “times ten” and immediately increase enrollment.

“I want to help guide the school to be one of the premier Catholic schools in Jackson,” Payne said. “Sister Thea Bowman is up for canonization, and we look forward to our school being known as ‘Saint’ Thea Bowman Catholic School. Having at present a prominent African American student body, I’d like to see kids of all races at our school. That’s what Sister Thea wanted: harmony among all groups.”

(Sister Thea Bowman School is now enrolling grades PreK-3 through sixth grade. Interested persons may contact the school at (601) 352-5441. Financial contributions to Sister Thea Bowman School as well as donations of your time and talents are greatly appreciated. Visit theabowmanschool.com to learn more.)

Robinson reflects on years at Sister Thea Bowman school

Shae Goodman-Robinson

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Something especially meaningful dawned on Shae Goodman-Robinson as she drove to Sister Thea Bowman School one morning near the end of her thirteenth and final year as principal.

“I told my parents that I started at Sister Thea Bowman in kindergarten when it was Christ the King School, and here I am retiring there as principal,” Robinson said. “What a beautiful full circle of how God puts you in places to pay it forward.”

In the midst of an emotional few days of saying goodbye to students, parents and her employees, Robinson reflected on the many pay-it-forward moments she’s had in more than four decades of being an educator.

“I’ll miss the children and the face-to-face contact with them,” she said. “It put a smile on my face, whatever may have been on my mind at the time. Kids will tell you what they see, in their honesty and love for you. ‘I love your hair, Ms. Robinson. I love your dress, Ms. Robinson. I love your shoes, Ms. Robinson.’ I will genuinely miss that. It’s kept me going all this time.”

Sister Thea Bowman, whom Robinson met two years before her death in 1990, had a profound impact on the way approached her calling.

“Her legacy was, ‘I try,’ and one of my favorite Sister Thea sayings was, ‘I know God is using me in ways beyond my comprehension,’” Robinson said. “As principal, I tried to make sure the students understood the importance of education, and that they took responsibility each day. I tried to make sure they understood that everything comes full circle regarding academic education and spiritual growth.”

A kindergartener in the early 1960s, Robinson recalls her parents earning approximately $200/month but insisting on paying a tuition bill of $32/month to send all three of their children to Christ the King School.
“They believed in the importance of the education we were getting at Christ the King,” she said. “All of that propelled me to want to come back to the school and help pay it forward.”

Another full circle moment is the friendship and work relationship Robinson has had with her successor, Jackson native Christopher Payne, who has taught at Sister Thea Bowman school for seven years and will serve as principal beginning this fall.

“I worked with his grandmother at Bailey Alternative School back in the 1980s, and I told Chris that I remember when his parents got married and when he was born,” Robinson said. “He attended my children’s birthday parties – I remember him as a toddler and growing up. My daughter went to Mississippi State, and so did he.”

“When I heard Chris was in education I talked to him, and when he said he wanted to teach, I offered him an open position I had. Once he got here, I saw leadership skills. He was not a teacher that raised his voice. He was always mild-mannered, and the kids loved him.”

“Shae was the main reason I ended up at Sister Thea Bowman School,” Payne said. “I wasn’t even sure teaching was my calling, but she saw something in me. She said to me, ‘You aren’t just here to work for the students; you’re here for the parents, your co-workers, the church and the community. She has instilled in me the bigger picture, that what happens outside the classroom matters most.”

Robinson will certainly miss her cherished interactions with the many students she mentored at Sister Thea Bowman School, but she has no doubt the right person was selected to succeed her.

“There was never hesitation when I asked Chris for help. He was always ready to help, and he volunteered to do things he saw that needed to be done without me having to ask,” Robinson said. “He has the personality, intelligence and another level of ideas that can take Sister Thea Bowman School to another level.”

(Joe Lee is the Editor-in-Chief of Dogwood Press, a small but traditional publishing house. He is a regular contributor to Mississippi Catholic and a parishioner of St. Francis Madison.)

Click here for accompanying story on incoming principal – Christopher Payne

Sister Dorothea, rather ‘wear out than rust out’

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Growing up an hour from Chicago, Illinois, long, cold winters were a way of life for Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth as well as an opportunity to enjoy sports that most Mississippians may never experience.

“We went ice skating, sledding and snowmobiling,” said Sister Dorothea, a registered dietician and a 2017 recipient of the Catholic Health Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her ministry at St. Dominic Health Services. “Later, I snow skied in Utah and Colorado when meetings would take me to that part of the country. I’ve gone dog sledding out there.”

MADISON – Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth and Bishop Joseph Kopacz share a laugh at the opening of the Clarence and Sue Smith Rehab Center and Tuscany Skilled Nursing Center at St. Catherines Village in July 2019. (Photo by Joanna King)

The broken neck Sister Dorothea suffered on Palm Sunday in 2015 brought an end to the sledding and snowmobiling the beloved Dominican Sister still enjoyed by then, but in no way did it put a stop to her desire to remain active.

“My broken neck wasn’t from skiing or dog sledding,” she said. “I was at the chapel at St. Catherine’s Village. I got out of a chair, lost my balance, fell back and hit my neck on the back of a padded chair. I had no pain when I stood, but as I drove back to the convent, I felt a lump in my throat and decided to go to the E.R. and have it checked out.”

Sister Dorothea, as she would learn, had torn a ligament in her neck. She had surgery that night and left the hospital the next morning wearing a neck brace.

“I didn’t need rehab, and I thank God and the doctor for the surgery,” she said. “It was a miracle. I had an assistant whose mother is a paraplegic after being injured in a tornado. Another assistant, when I was a dietician, was broadsided in a car accident and died from a broken neck. I said, ‘The Lord has something for me to do.’”

There would be no more snowmobiling, no more daydreams of skydiving. But Sister Dorothea remains active to this day, walking often and gardening the lovely expanse behind the convent every chance she gets. She’s quick to offer gentle encouragement to those who find it difficult to cope with the aging process.

“I was not depressed. It was the reality of it,” she said of the Palm Sunday fall. “I knew God had intervened. God has plans. There’s a reason for everything. We’re not as young as we used to be, and when I’m asked by people, ‘You’re really still working?’, I say, ‘I’d rather wear out than rust out.’

“My mantra is to have everything in your life in balance, everything in moderation. Good exercise, good nutrition, good rest and prayer.”

For Senior Wellness Resources – Click here

Leap of faith fuels diving adventure

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Former President George H. W. Bush might be the first person that comes to mind when one thinks of skydiving late in life.

Our country’s 41st president, Bush passed away in 2018 at the age of 94. A Navy pilot during World War II, he jumped from an airplane in 1999 to commemorate his 75th birthday. He enjoyed the experience so much he did so again on birthdays in 2004, 2009 and, remarkably, in 2014 – at the ripe old age of 90.

“It’s vintage George Bush,” said spokesman Jim McGrath to Fox News after Bush’s skydive in 2014. “It’s that passion for life. It’s wanting to set a goal, wanting to achieve it. I’m sure part of it is sending a message to others that even in your retirement years you can still find challenges.”

At age 83, Lois Booth of Sacred Heart Canton fulfilled her bucket-list item to skydive. She is pictured here with her grandchildren after her skydive over Thanksgiving in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Lois Booth)

Adventures in parasailing
Lois Booth didn’t make the national news after her skydive last Thanksgiving. Neither did Rita Martinson, her neighbor at St. Catherine’s Village in Madison. But the motivations for both – and their shared sense of accomplishment afterward – were comparable to those of our nation’s late Skydiver-in-Chief.

“My identical twin sister and I went to Orange Beach, Alabama, two years ago and parasailed. I loved it and she did, too,” said Booth, who grew up in Drew, Mississippi, became Catholic a year ago, and is a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Canton.

“The exhilaration I felt as we lifted off the back of that boat had me squealing like a teenager,” she continued. “I think we were 3,000-4,000 feet up. We were in the air about five minutes. There were six of us on the boat. You go off the back of the boat, and land on the back of the boat. I learned from parasailing how to land while skydiving.”
She also began thinking about skydiving for the first time that day.

Fascinated with flying
Rita Martinson, who served District 58 in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1992-2016, is a long-time parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Madison. A native of Gloster, Mississippi, she thinks she has adventure in her blood.

“If you’d been raised in a little town like Gloster, you’d have it in yours, too,” she said of her formative years. “We lived in our imaginations.”

Always fascinated with flying, Martinson received her fixed-wing pilot license in 1965 and became certified to fly glider aircraft several years later. The move to parasailing probably wasn’t a surprise to anyone who knew Martinson and her late husband, Billy, who encouraged her and went along on her flights.

“Every chance I got, I flew,” Martinson said. “I was fascinated with hot-air balloon rides and rode in them. The next thing was to jump out of a plane. Billy and I joined several flying clubs. One was a Cessna club.”

In learning about flying a glider, Martinson became well-versed in thermals, or the combination of warmth provided by the sun and the ground that’s necessary to keep the lightweight craft aloft. As the sun warms the ground, the ground warms the air directly above it. This provides lift for the glider, which counters the natural sinking tendency of the plane.

“The higher you could get in one of those thermals, the longer you could stay up,” Martinson said. “The worst thing I ever experienced was actually a dream I had, where I pulled the rope too soon and couldn’t get the plane high enough to have altitude to land. That put the fear of the Lord in me for a while.”

Martinson and her husband went to Puerto Vallarto, Mexico, seven or eight times to parasail. In keeping with her lifelong sense of adventure, Martinson began to consider jumping out of a plane, thinking it would be fun.

“I’m in New Orleans often and found a skydiving club in St. Tammany Parish. I made sure they had precautions and safety measures,” she said. “Billy was still living when I made my first jump.”

Religious experience
Booth’s skydive took place last Thanksgiving in Raleigh, North Carolina. She relished the opportunity to go with her grandchild.

“I was tethered to an ex-Marine I met that morning,” she said. “He was delightful. I watched them pack the parachutes, and I had all the confidence in the world in him. There were 14-15 people on the plane, and when the green light by the door goes on, it’s done. There’s no turning back.”

“The most uncomfortable part is that once you jump, you freefall several thousand feet. It’s hard to breathe. Once (the ex-Marine) deployed the parachute, we sat upright, and it was absolutely beautiful. It was late afternoon, and the sun was getting ready to go down. It was a religious experience.”

“This was a drop of 13,000 feet,” Booth continued. “It was quiet and calm. You could not hear anything. It was about as serene as I have ever been. I told a friend that I soared like an eagle and landed like a feather. A lot of the people on the plane were true parachutists. One woman was making her fourteenth or fifteenth jump.”

Rita Martinson of St. Francis Madison, took her first skydive in November 2017 with grandson Eric McKie. She plans to ‘step out on faith’ in another dive on her 85th birthday on Sept. 11. (Photo courtesy of Rita Martinson)

Booth, who turns 84 in June, considered the skydive a bucket list item. Although she has no plans for another jump, the overwhelmingly positive first experience is something she’ll always carry with her.

“I think being able to step out of the box at this age is important, both to keep yourself up and running and interested – and interesting,” she said. “The pandemic took its toll on everybody, and I’m no exception. That was one more reason I needed to prove to myself that I could still do anything I wanted to do.”

“Sock it to me”
Martinson’s jump took place in November 2017. Like Booth, she went airborne with a grandchild.

“First, you don’t jump – you walk out of the plane,” she said. “Eric, who had jumped once before, was tethered to someone else. We were asked if we wanted to do any loops or twirls. I said, ‘Sock it to me.’ We were up at 11,000 feet when we jumped. It made me a little dizzy, but it’s fun to know what it’s like, and that you can do it.”

Martinson, who will celebrate her 85th birthday on September 11, will do what President Bush did on his 85th birthday – step out on faith and watch the world as she knows it come into focus while she floats back to earth.

“People who are afraid to take a chance never get to see what they can do,” Martinson said. “It helped me and our children that Billy always urged us to get out there and take risks. He did that, too.”

“I would like others to know that there are no firm boundaries keeping them from at least trying to do new things. There is so much to gain by at least giving it a whirl. I only wish there were more time to do more.”

(Joe Lee is the Editor-in-Chief of Dogwood Press, and member of St. Francis Madison.)

Charities seeks foster families for refugee children

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Can you imagine meeting your future foster son or daughter at a soccer match?
That’s what happened to Joey Luse of Brandon and his family, as the young Afghanistan native who joined them and one of Luse’s biological sons were on the same travel soccer team. After inviting the teen to their home a couple of times and getting to know him, the family held a surprise birthday party for him and popped the question on their minds.

“We said we wanted him to be part of our family as long as he wanted,” Luse said. “It was a little awkward at first, but as we were getting to know him, he said, ‘I am really glad to be here. I miss being part of a family.’”

Luse is one of many Jackson-area parents who’ve had teens from The Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program (URM) placed in their homes. URM, through funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, places minors in therapeutic foster homes, group homes, or independent living arrangements appropriate to developmental needs. All URM youth must enter the legal custody of the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services prior to their eighteenth birthday.

“The URM program has been active for more than thirty years in Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties,” said program director Ebonye Debose-Moore. “The goal is to assist unaccompanied refugee minors in developing skills to enter adulthood and achieve economic self-sufficiency. Our services include youth therapy, cultural orientation, translation services, assistance with obtaining U.S. residency and more.
“We place teens from age fifteen until their seventeenth birthday. They can remain in our program until age twenty-one. The minors come from many countries, including Haiti, the Sudan, Guatemala and Honduras. Some are victims of human trafficking. Some are victims of political persecution. There has been no information released at this time regarding Ukraine, but it’s a possibility we may receive referrals from there.”

The foster parents, who go through a URM training program, have varying backgrounds. Carol O’Connor of Jackson is a first-time foster parent. A former educator with the Jackson Public School District who once lived in Ethiopia, O’Connor has had a foster son from Eritrea (a country north of Ethiopia) with her since Thanksgiving 2020.

“During the pandemic I felt I wanted to do something of value,” O’Connor said. “An Ethiopian friend suggested I contact Catholic Charities, and I went through the training and got certified.”
Her foster son, though argumentative at first, became comfortable with O’Connor’s parenting style over time.

“He had a rough upbringing, spending time in a refugee camp. There’s no biological family he’s in touch with,” O’Connor said. “But he’s a cheerful person – I can tell when he’s up first thing in the morning because he is singing – and he has calmed down over time. He is now in twelfth grade. It has been really a worthwhile experience for me.”

While it’s only O’Connor and her foster son at her home, Sandra Pugh of Hinds County has a biological daughter as well as the African foster daughter she has taken in.

“She has been with me two years,” said Pugh, who has served as a foster parent for over a decade. “There were cultural changes for her, but we have a similar faith. Language was not a problem. Once she got going in school, it wasn’t a large challenge – she’s a smart girl. She will be graduating high school and going on to college.”

“Because we’re Christians, we enjoy offering a better life and opportunity. It would be good if we had more parents volunteering, because we can make a difference in their lives. There are many of the same challenges you face in raising your own. Once the foster understands your culture, they blend in with your family.

“We’ve found that the biggest challenge is the language barrier,” Debose-Moore said. “The youth that come over speak several different languages, English often being their second or third choice. Once they get into the home, they start working on improving English skills. Most would love to be in foster homes where they are culturally matched. That’s not always possible, but we do our very best.”

Luse’s foster son works part-time in the restaurant business and will join his foster brother closest to his age at college this fall. While very close to his Jackson-area family, there is healthy, ongoing communication between the foster son and his biological family in Afghanistan.

“It takes commitment, and not just in terms of time,” Luse said. “There were adjustments we had to make – we didn’t have a fire evacuation plan – but if that’s the price to pay to help a young child get through high school, get a car, get a job, and plan a path to adulthood, it’s a small one. We’ve gotten as much or more from the relationship than he has.”

(If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent with Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program, please contact program director, Ebonye’ Debose-Moore at (601) 981-0725 or visit www.catholiccharitiesjackson.org.)

Diocesan lay minister, Minninger retires

By Joe Lee
GLUCKSTADT – Pam Minninger, who retired as Lay Ecclesial Minister (LEM) at St. Joseph Church of Gluckstadt at the end of January, has never forgotten the time she spent as a young child with her maternal grandmother at bedtime.

“I remember spending summer weeks with her in her small home,” Minninger said. “I would sleep with her, and we would kneel together beside her bed to say our prayers. Then she would tuck me into bed and get back on her knees for more prayer. I would wake up a bit later and she would be sound asleep, still on her knees beside the bed.”

Originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, Minninger moved to Mississippi in 1975 when she married her husband, Kerry. Residents of Gluckstadt, the couple have two kids and a pair of preschool-age grandchildren.

A fixture at St. Joseph for well over a decade, Minninger was hired as pastoral associate in February 2005 and appointed as LEM by Bishop Joseph Latino in March 2006. A LEM in lieu of a full-time pastor is not uncommon in a very small parish – which St. Joseph was at the time of Minninger’s appointment – and in that role she was responsible for the administration, educational, sacramental and charitable activities of the parish.

GLUCKSTADT – (Above) Bishop Joseph Kopacz and Pam Minninger walk through St. Joseph parish’s signature event – GermanFest – in 2017. Minninger served as LEM for the parish since 2006 and retired at the end of January this year. (Photo from archives)

“I worked very closely, first with Father Robert Olivier and then with Father Kevin Slattery, as Sacramental Ministers to make sure the sacraments were available to our parishioners,” she said. “We had approximately 90 families in our parish when I was appointed, but we began growing rapidly. We’re now at 700 families.

“In 2009 I appointed a building committee to work on design, financing and construction of a new church and education building. In September 2011, we moved into that new $3.1 million building. I am very proud of the fact that we paid off the note for our church in just over three years. We have an amazing parish family here at St. Joseph.”

Minninger’s presence and leadership have been felt on a diocesan level as well. She was the chairman of the continuing formation committee for many years and served more recently on the cathedraticum committee. She has worked with the vocations committee, interviewing candidates for the deacon-formation program. She is also a member of the ethics committee at St. Dominic Hospital.

“I worked with Pam fourteen years and have known her probably twenty-five,” said Father Slattery. “Pam, as the LEM, basically was the pastor at St. Joseph, and she’s a wonderful leader and great with people. As an administrator, she’s frugal and very good. She will be missed. But the parish has grown to the point where a full-time pastor is definitely needed.”

Though now officially retired, Minninger will continue with the administration and general work of the parish on a part-time basis until the new pastor is appointed and joins St. Joseph this summer. This means a transitional time for the parishioners, but they – like everyone else – are more than used to having to adapt after the last two years.

“When the churches shut down, we had people who were scared to death to be around anyone. We also had people thinking the pandemic was a bunch of baloney,” Minninger said. “It took a little while to get there, but people who needed to be in church in the early part of the pandemic could be there to worship, and those more cautious could be fed with spiritual communion through online services. Hopefully one of the blessings is that on a human level, I think we have re-learned how to take care of each other when we take the politics out of it.”

Minninger will also have more time in retirement to play with her granddaughters. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for her to come full circle and nod off while saying prayers with them. She’ll also have time to reflect on the many meaningful moments she’s had while affiliated with St. Joseph.

“One of the most profound moments I ever had, where I felt God right in the middle of it, was when a parishioner called me, not ready and willing to let go of the love of his life. They had been married over fifty years, and she was dying,” Minninger said. “I went to see them, and he and I sat there and talked. I was there when she passed, and I stayed with him until the coroner arrived.

“I’ve been in the back of the church during weddings and seen the looks on the faces of family and friends as vows are exchanged. The sacramental moments and special times in the lives of people I’ve been privileged to be part of gives you goose bumps all over. God has been there also. That’s why I did it as long as I have.”

GLUCKSTADT – Father Kevin Slattery and Pam Minninger open gifts at their going away party on Sunday, January 30 at St. Joseph parish. Minninger retired as Lay Ecclesial Minister for the parish at the end of January and Father Slattery moved as Sacramental Minister of the parish to St. John Crystal Springs and St. Martin Hazlehurst on Feb. 1. (Photo by Alicia Clifton Baladi)

Catholic Build continues to give families place to ‘call home’

By Joe Lee
MADISON – How hard has Habitat for Humanity/Mississippi Capital Area (HHMCA) been hit in 2021 by the ongoing COVID pandemic and the skyrocketing costs of building materials? The numbers are sobering.

“It cost $80,000 to build before. Now it’s $120,000,” said HHMCA executive director Merrill McKewen. “None of that (increase) was in our 2021 budget.”

That’s a whopping 50 percent leap, and over a very short period of time. When combined with COVID safety measures reducing on-site volunteers at builds from 15 at a time to only seven, McKewen and her board of directors faced serious challenges in keeping their tradition of bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope.
The way forward, at least temporarily, lies in touching up previously-built Habitat homes.

“This was an unusual year,” McKewen said. “We had a cluster of homeowners who wanted to live in recycled Habitat houses. Not much big stuff is involved in recycling them – not much gutting – we’re getting the home up to standards with electrical, painting, plumbing, and clearing the property.”

HHMCA hopes to close on five safe, recycled homes before Christmas. Among them is the annual Catholic build, located this year on Gentry Street off Bailey Avenue in west Jackson. Hard-working volunteers have spent several Saturday mornings on the property and will wrap up before Thanksgiving.

“I started volunteering on the Catholic builds about 12 years ago,” said Allen Scott, incoming HHMCA board president and a parishioner at Holy Savior of Clinton. “For several years that was my total involvement — a few Saturdays a year on the Catholic build.”

JACKSON – Arthur Ring, Allen Scott and Brett Fitzgerald work on rehabbing a ‘recycled’ Habitat for Humanity home for a family that needs a place to ‘call home.’ As COVID hit and construction prices skyrocketed, Habitat has had to limit the number of volunteers and are now rehabbing homes to save on costs. (Photo by Callie Ainsworth)

“The staff at HHMCA asked me to chair the Catholic Build committee for a couple of years. When I met the families that were going to live in the houses – especially the children – and saw how happy they were, it just gave me a real feeling that I was helping somebody.”

The Catholic build tradition goes back more than three decades, as parishes in Jackson, Pearl, Madison, Clinton, Gluckstadt and Canton have all contributed monetarily as well as providing volunteers.

“HHMCA informs us of the amount that will be needed to do the work, and in turn we ask our parishes to contribute at the level that is feasible for them, depending on the population of the parish community,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz.
“Most parishioners are familiar with the annual project and the invitation to contribute and respond generously. The Habitat for Humanity organization is a trusted brand, and all know that the prospective homeowners are carefully screened to assure success with their lifelong dream of home ownership.”

“We don’t give houses away,” McKewen said. “But anyone, regardless of income, can apply with us for a home if they’re willing to do the work and pay for a thirty-year zero-interest mortgage. We function as a mortgage lender with a Christian attitude.”

What drives McKewen is getting people out of poverty and into safe homes, where they have greatly improved chances of putting roots down, learning marketable skills, attaining an education and, ultimately, giving back to the community.

In addition to the thorough vetting the homeowners receive before being approved, all help physically build their new Habitat homes. That sweat equity is crucial in developing the pride the owners have in their new residences, and it’s not uncommon to witness deeply touching moments when families take ownership.

“I would encourage all HHMCA volunteers, and anyone interested in the ministry, to attend a house dedication,” Scott said. “The new homeowners are so genuinely appreciative that it is hard not to feel their emotions. My favorite memory was a house on Greenview (in south Jackson) where the four-year-old ran into the master bedroom and shouted, ‘This one’s mine!’ I truly believe that anybody who ever volunteers one time and meets the family will be hooked.”

McKewen has high hopes for a smoother 2022 and plans to return HHMCA to the beloved Broadmoor neighborhood in north Jackson, where a number of the memorable homes built during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations have fallen into disrepair and been abandoned.

“We are changing the neighborhood and will be completely rehabbing those houses, as in gutting to the studs,” she said. “We are putting homeowners into homes for $650/month and getting people out of deplorable conditions where they were paying as much as $800/month.”

“This commitment has endured the test of time,” Kopacz said. “We want families to have a place to call home, and in the process see the restoration of the blighted areas of the City of Jackson, one house and one block at a time.”

Want to help Habitat?

“There are many ways to help in addition to volunteering on a worksite,” said incoming HHMCA board president, Allen Scott. “Pray for the families and the ministry. Encourage your parish council and finance committee to financially support HHMCA. Individual donations add up, so no gift is too small.”

“The volunteer crews have to be fed so meals have to be prepared and delivered to the home site. Basically, if a person wants to be involved, we can find some way to include them in a build.”

JACKSON – Pictured left to right: Arthur Ring, Allen Scott, Bo Bender, Demetrica Clincy (homeowner), Lechen Tyler (homeowner), Polly Hammett and Marc McAllister. The group stands outside of the home Catholic Build made possible for the family. (Photo by Callie Ainsworth)

The Power of One – the Sister Anne Brooks story

By Joe Lee
MADISON – A book you may have missed during the pandemic is the excellent biography of Sister Anne Brooks, The Power of One (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). Penned by Sally Palmer Thomason and Jean Carter Fisher, this brief but powerful read dives deep into the culturally transforming work a devoted Catholic nun did for the people of poverty-stricken Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, for over three decades.

This is the book cover of The Power of One: Sister Anne Brooks and the Tutwiler Clinic by Sally Palmer Thomason with Jean Carter Fisher. The book is reviewed by Joe Lee. (Photo courtesy of publisher)

That’s merely part of the story, however. Raised in Maryland by a high-ranking naval officer and an emotionally distant, alcoholic mother, Sister Anne (Kitty, growing up) learned early on that her parents wanted nothing to do with organized religion and even preferred their daughter not associate with neighborhood kids, let alone cultivate friendships.

So how did this young woman, after growing up in such an environment, develop such a deep, abiding faith? What empowered her to thoroughly immerse herself in serving the least among us in places so far from home?

As Sister Anne is still quick to point out, the kindness of people in her formative years can’t be overstated. The family of practicing Catholics across the street in Maryland – with a daughter to whom Kitty discreetly became close – were instrumental in her decision to devote herself to a life of service.

As a young adult, while teaching at a Catholic school and volunteering at a free medical clinic in Clearwater, Florida, Sister Anne was plagued with pain from rheumatoid arthritis. Not surprisingly, she was skeptical upon meeting a doctor who took a holistic approach to medical treatment and insisted he could cure her. But as Sister Anne would come to realize – and apply to her ministry the rest of her life – the holistic approach was very much about building trust.

The death of Emmett Till and the subsequent trial of those accused of his murder, which took place while Kitty Brooks was in high school, was a great motivation for her to serve in Tutwiler, Mississippi (just minutes from where the horrific crime occurred) once the opportunity presented itself in 1983. After relocating and seeing for herself the once-prosperous railroad town dying a slow, torturous death while its mostly black, largely uneducated population lived in squalor, she prayed long and hard for guidance.

The answer she received: it was time to go to medical school. At age forty.

Sister Anne Brooks eventually became Dr. Anne Brooks, DO (Doctor of Osteopathy), and spent more than three decades healing and building trust in black citizens who, when she arrived, still wouldn’t look white people in the eye. As she says, treating the whole person – the heart of the holistic medical approach – absolutely requires listening and earning one’s trust.

Now retired and living with her fellow sisters at St. Joseph’s Provincial House in Latham, New York, Sister Anne Brooks has a story that needs to be heard not just by Catholics, but most everyone in these trying times. Highly recommended.

(Joe Lee is the Editor-in-Chief of Dogwood Press, a small but traditional publishing house headquartered in central Mississippi. He is a regular contributor to Mississippi Catholic.)

Sister Anne Brooks, an osteopathic physician, holds a child at the Tutwiler Clinic in Tutwiler, Miss. With help from Catholic Extension she was able to open the facility 20 years ago to provide care to a community that had been lacking a doctor for many years. She is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. (CNS photo by Troy Catchings for Catholic Extension) (June 6, 2003)