Elizabeth Smart to speak at annual Charities Journey of Hope

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Abducted at age 14 from her Utah family home in 2002 in a kidnapping that drew national media coverage, Elizabeth Smart spent nine months in captivity and had no idea if she would ever see her parents, siblings and friends again.

Very close to parents who brought her up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Smart leaned hard on her faith during her ordeal.

“I was raised believing the family unit was forever,” she said. “Even if I had died while in captivity, there would still be a brother or grandparent – my family would still be a family. Conversely, if I got home and learned one of my parents had died, I knew I would see them again one day, and we would still be a family. That was a very large source of comfort to me.”

Now 34 and married with three small children, the national bestselling author will sign copies of My Story and Where There’s Hope at Bravo Restaurant of Jackson at a meet-and-greet from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 13. She’s the keynote speaker the following day at the annual Journey of Hope luncheon, presented by Catholic Charities, Inc. at the Jackson Convention Complex.

In addition to being a devoted wife and mother, Smart is president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which focuses on fighting sexual exploitation, advocacy, and prevention education. Not surprisingly, she is quite passionate about using her platform to help young girls and women who may not realize they are at risk.

Smart, however, was hardly ready to discuss what had happened to her in the immediate aftermath. And while it took the case against captor Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, a whopping eight years to go to trial, a silver lining of having to testify in open court about what she endured was Smart deciding she was ready to go public with her story and begin her advocacy.

“I initially swore I would never do a book, a movie,” Smart said. “When I first got home (in 2003), I didn’t really understand what therapy was. In the first 48-72 hours I was taken to a children’s advocacy center where I was extensively interviewed by two middle-aged male psychiatrists.”

“They were very religious and good at their jobs, but I’d been abused – a lot – for nine months in just about every way you can imagine by middle-aged men who used religion to manipulate. Speaking to men so graphically about being raped was horrific, devastating. When I got out of that room, I thought, ‘If this is what therapy is, I don’t ever want to do it again.’

“Looking back, those men were investigators gathering evidence, and they were doing their jobs. They weren’t therapists, and I believe in therapy 100 percent,” Smart said. “After the trial, I realized my story deserved more than a list of ‘bullet points.’ I knew there was value in it because what I went through could help people understand and change, provide some amount of hope in their lives. That’s what pushed me to tell my story, to become involved in pieces of legislation.”

Smart will bring a message of situational awareness to her audiences in Jackson, as well as one of deep, abiding faith for young girls and women who’ve suffered.

“My favorite campaign that we do for the Elizabeth Smart Foundation is ‘We Believe You,” which is in support of victims knowing we believe them,” she said. “If you doubt their story, that can set the trajectory for whether they pursue healing in a positive or negative way: ‘If Mom didn’t believe me, no one will.’ It’s a poison that can kill you from the inside out.

“I want females to know they’re daughters of God, and that He loves them more than they can ever imagine. I want them to recognize that everything taken away from them and everything that caused them distress can be healed,” said Smart.

Journey of Hope luncheon: Tuesday, Sept. 14 from 12-1 p.m. at the Jackson Convention Complex. Elizabeth will speak for 30 minutes and will be followed by Johanna Beeland of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, who will speak on human trafficking in our state.

Human trafficking prevention and victim services to be featured at
Journey of Hope

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Human trafficking, including the kind of torture and suffering Elizabeth Smart went through for almost a year, is real, and happens right here in Mississippi. It takes great courage and trust to speak up after being traumatized, but valuable and completely confidential resources are always available.

“In order to prevent human trafficking, communities must rally together and be made aware that it exists,” said Wanda Thomas, executive director of Catholic Charities, Inc. (CCI).

“We want to make certain that children, youth, parents and at-risk adults in our cities are educated. It is important to bring awareness through factual details of what trafficking looks like. Furthermore, we want to provide education as it relates to recovery after rescue.”

CCI’s victim services program furnishes trafficking victims with shelter, food, medical attention, clothing, counseling, legal information and assistance with crime victim compensation. The Healing Hearts program, also a service of CCI, offers specific trauma counseling for both young girls and adult women.

“For our youth, we have Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT),” said Lakeisha Davis, CCI community service program director. “TF-CBT is especially sensitive to the unique problems of youth with post-traumatic stress and mood disorders resulting from sexual abuse, violence or grief. We move at the pace of our client, and no process is rushed or has a time limit. We are here as long as it takes.

“Our women also receive intense trauma therapy. Again, we know and understand that trauma is real and healing hurts. Our last phase is reprogramming, where we rewrite the story with our client, teaching our client to reconnect with others, to develop social skills, and we allow her to mourn the losses from those years spent in survival mode. We believe in validation, acceptance and, most of all, healing.”

Johanna Beeland, deputy director of engagement and human trafficking manager for the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, will speak at the Journey of Hope luncheon about helping trafficking victims recover with hope and dignity.

“We have an interactive services map and potential access to the crime victims’ compensation fund,” Beeland said. “We encourage all victims, or anyone who may know of someone being trafficked, to report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“Tips can be reported anonymously, 24/7, and are directed to local authorities on the ground, like our office, in real time, to ensure quick and timely responses to possible victims. I’ll also be sharing information on the signs that you or someone you know is being trafficked, and how to report trafficking.”

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text the word INFO to 233733. For more information on victim assistance at the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, visit www.AttorneyGeneralLynnFitch.com. Visit Catholic Charities Inc. at catholiccharitiesusa.org.

O’Connor pens book on his priesthood

By Joe Lee
MADISON – When Father David O’Connor was ordained to the priesthood in his native Ireland in 1964, he volunteered to minister in the United States and Mississippi in particular. That wish was granted and then some, as O’Connor was assigned to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Meridian mere weeks after the murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodwin in nearby Neshoba County.

His transition to a foreign and quite turbulent new work environment is one of many fascinating stories that fill the pages of A Priestly Pilgrimage: The Experiences of a Diocesan Priest in Times of Change and Challenge.

“It’s an autobiographical narrative told through the sub-stories of an evolving theology, ministry skills development, cultural transitions, and programs that were responsive to the pastoral needs of God’s people,” O’Connor said of the book. “It will take the reader from my childhood and formative years in Ireland through my fifty-five years in the priesthood, and places special interest on the impact of Vatican II, which changed the context and vision of the Catholic Church.”

Written in an engaging, conversational style, A Priestly Pilgrimage devotes chapters to O’Connor’s years in Meridian, Oxford, Greenwood, in Diocesan administration, and in Natchez (where he pastored for two different stretches before retiring there in 2019). Amid his Mississippi assignments he returned to Ireland for several years in the 1970s to help recruit Irish seminarians for the priesthood in this state, he served seven years in pastoral ministry in his home diocese of Limerick in the 1990s, and he served four years as development director for St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison just after St. Joe moved to its present location.

NATCHEZ – Father David O’Connor’s new autobiographical narrative, A Priestly Pilgrimage is available in paperback.

Through it all, O’Connor brought organizational skills, leadership, work ethic, compassion, and a gentle good humor to all around him. He reached across racial and interfaith lines to make countless friends and important connections all over Mississippi, and to this day he is a regular at a coffee shop in Natchez where he enjoys discussing current events and sports with his buddies.

Charles Nolan, with whom O’Connor became acquainted while pastoring in Natchez in the mid-1980s, said of A Priestly Pilgrimage, “(It’s) the story of an Irish farm boy who grew up and prepared for the priesthood in pre-Vatican II Ireland, began ministry in a pre-integration Mississippi parish, met the challenges of a rapid changing Mississippi society and church with an open, enquiring mind, developed a challenging and now often-accepted style of leadership, responded to very diverse ministry appointments and challenges, fortunately documented well his years in ministry, and at retirement, wished to continue ministry by sharing the journey and some of the wisdom accumulated along the way.”

A Priestly Pilgrimage is published by Ronnoco Press and will be available in paperback in July. Find Father O’Connor on Facebook by searching David O’Connor, and watch for his book talks at weekend Masses in Natchez, Greenwood, Meridian and Oxford in the coming months. Copies will be on sale in the offices of St. Mary Basilica, Assumption Church and Holy Family in Natchez, and at Locus Benedictus of Greenwood. To reach Father O’Connor directly, email him at doconnor@cableone.net.

Monsignor pens new books, vowing to keep busy in 2020

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Already the author of four books, including Saltillo Mission, his tribute to the humanitarian efforts of his friend and mentor, the late Father Patrick Quinn, Msgr. Michael Flannery vowed to do something productive while quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

Instead of simply working on his next manuscript, he completed and published a whopping four new titles through Covenant Books, a Christian publishing house based in South Carolina. All four titles weave fiction with history and matters of faith and spirituality, an approach that plays to Msgr. Flannery’s strengths as a storyteller.

“When I taught religion,” he said, “I felt the best way to do it was to tell stories and bring them to life for the kids. But these books aren’t just for children; they’re for parents and grandparents, too.”
Here’s a look at each:

MADISON – Pictured are books by Msgr. Michael Flannery. He stayed productive while quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

The Chalice of Limerick explores a dark, dangerous period in the history of the Irish people and uses a chalice belonging to Bishop Turlough O’Brien and cared for (after Bishop O’Brien was hanged) by Father James Kelly to represent the lengths the Irish people would go to defend their Catholic faith from persecution, as well as the resilience they showed in surviving the Irish Potato Famine. A story of hope, bravery and loyalty, the book’s message underscores the true value of our beloved Catholic symbols, such as the chalice.

The Holy Grail is allegedly the cup Jesus used the night of The Last Supper. Many books have been written about where the Holy Grail might be, and a major Hollywood film a generation ago, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” included the search for the cup as a significant part of the plot. In a previous book, Padre’s Christian Stories, Msgr. Flannery penned an inspirational story about the Holy Grail, and in One View of the Holy Grail, he takes a new and creative approach to what might have happened to the mythical cup.

In The Emerald, young Adolfo Rodriquez finds a rare and valuable stone in his native San Pedro, Coahuila, Mexico. As Adolfo learns, the emerald is rare and valuable because of the powers and opportunities it affords him — such as being the first from the village of San Pedro to attend college, where he earns a master’s degree in engineering. Adolfo goes on to do great things, including bringing a wind turbine back to the village, which greatly improves the lives of the people there.

A first-person work of fiction, In Search of My Twin is seen through the eyes of William Musgrove. After he and his twin brother, Joseph, survive a deadly car crash that takes the lives of their parents when the boys are only two days old, they become wards of the state and are separated. William is especially intrigued to learn, as he grows up, that he actually has a twin brother, and his generation-long search to find Joseph takes him on a path that mirrors the close relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(All four new releases by Msgr. Flannery are available in paperback and digital formats through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and www.covenantbooks.com. Signed copies are also available for purchase at St. Francis of Assisi in Madison, located at 4000 W. Tidewater Lane, (601) 856-5556)

Monseñor Flannery – Padre Miguelito – brinda sabiduria en libros

Por Joe Lee
JACKSON – Monseñor Michael Flannery ya es autor de cuatro libros más, donde se incluye La Misión de Saltillo (Saltillo Mission), su tributo a los esfuerzos humanitarios de su amigo y mentor, el difunto Padre Patrick Quinn.

Monseñor Flannery, Padre Miguelito, como es conocido por algunos en la comunidad Hispana Flannery, prometió hacer algo productivo mientras estaba en cuarentena durante la pandemia de coronavirus de 2020.

En lugar de simplemente trabajar en su próximo manuscrito, completó y publicó la friolera de cuatro nuevos títulos a través de Covenant Books, una editorial cristiana con sede en Carolina del Sur. Los cuatro libros tejen ficción con historia y asuntos de fe y espiritualidad, un enfoque con el que juega Mons. Flannery y una de sus fortalezas como narrador.

“Cuando enseñé religión a los niños”, dijo Mons. Flannery, “sentí que la mejor manera de hacerlo era darles vida contándolas como historias. Pero estos libros no son solo para niños; también son para padres y abuelos”.

Aquí hay un vistazo a cada uno de estos libros:
El Cáliz de Limerick
Este libro explora un período oscuro y peligroso en la historia del pueblo irlandés y utiliza un cáliz perteneciente al obispo Turlough O’Brien y cuidado por el padre James Kelly, después que el obispo O’Brien fuera ahorcado, para representar cuan largo los irlandeses iban a defender su fe católica de la persecución, así como la resistencia que demostraron al sobrevivir lo que se conoce como La Gran Hambruna Irlandesa de la Patata (papa). Este es una historia de esperanza, valentía y lealtad; el mensaje del libro subraya el verdadero valor de nuestros amados símbolos católicos, como es el cáliz.

Una vista del Santo Grial
El Santo Grial es supuestamente la copa que Jesús usó la noche de la Última Cena. Se han escrito muchos libros sobre dónde podría estar el Santo Grial, y una gran película de Hollywood de hace una generación, Indiana Jones y la última cruzada, incluyó la búsqueda de la copa como una parte importante de la trama. En un libro anterior, Historias de un Padre Cristiano (Padre’s Christian Stories), Mons. Flannery escribió una historia inspiradora sobre el Santo Grial, y en éste Una Vista al Santo Grial (One View of the Holy Grail), adopta un enfoque nuevo y creativo de lo que podría haberle sucedido a la mítica copa.

La Esmeralda
En el libro La Esmeralda, el joven Adolfo Rodríguez encuentra una piedra rara y valiosa en su natal San Pedro, Coahuila, México. Como aprende Adolfo, la esmeralda es rara y valiosa debido a los poderes y oportunidades que le brinda, como ser el primero de la aldea de San Pedro en asistir a la universidad, donde obtiene una maestría en ingeniería. Adolfo continúa haciendo grandes cosas, incluido el traer una turbina eólica de regreso al pueblo, lo que mejora enormemente la vida de las personas allí.

En busca de mi Gemelo
Una obra de ficción en primera persona, En busca de mi Gemelo (In Search of my Twin) se ve a través de los ojos de William Musgrove. Después de que él y su hermano gemelo, Joseph, sobreviven a un accidente automovilístico mortal que cobra la vida de sus padres cuando los niños tienen solo dos días de edad, se convierten en pupilos del estado y son separados. William está especialmente intrigado al saber, a medida que crece, que en realidad tiene un hermano gemelo, y su larga búsqueda, de una generación, para encontrar a José lo lleva por un camino que refleja la estrecha relación entre el Padre, el Hijo y el Espíritu Santo.

(Los cuatro nuevos lanzamientos de Mons. Flannery están disponibles en formato de bolsillo y digital, sólo en Inglés, a través de Amazon, Barnes and Noble y www.covenantbooks.com. Las copias firmadas también están disponibles para su compra en St. Francis of Assisi en Madison, llame al (601) 856-5556.)

There’s no place like Nome

By Joe Lee
MADISON – In preparation for his retirement in June 2019, Msgr. Elvin Sunds purchased a pickup truck and a travel trailer with an eye on visiting national parks around the country. Aware of this, Bishop Joseph Kopacz alerted Sunds of ongoing pastoring opportunities in the small Alaskan town of Nome, should he want to venture that far. This year everything came together to make that road trip (actually an air trip) a reality.

“The bishop in Alaska has a real priest shortage up there, and congregations can go without Masses for long periods of time,” Sunds said. “I agreed to fill in for the pastor of St. Joseph Church in Nome for three weeks so he could visit his family in India.”

Sunds, who fills in at St. Francis of Assisi in Madison, flew out of Jackson on April 13, leaving behind muggy conditions and temperatures in the low 80s. He knew to pack a lot of clothing he would never use this time of year in Mississippi.

“Nome has a population of less than 4,000 and is a little over 100 miles below the Arctic Circle,” he said. “When I arrived, there was two feet of snow on the ground and temperatures were in the teens.
“The area is incredibly beautiful. It has mountains, valleys, tundra, coastal waters, rivers, lakes, and an abundance of wildlife. The scenery is particularly stunning in snow. It was a major site of the Alaskan gold rush of the early 1900s. Today gold mining is still the major industry.”

How utterly vast is Alaska? The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins in Anchorage and finishes a jaw-dropping 1,049 miles later in Nome. To reach his destination, Sunds flew to Dallas, across the country to Seattle, then to Anchorage before a 90-minute flight (covering 540 miles) to Nome. He found the people to be friendly and warm, despite the many layers of dress.

“About half the people of Nome and St. Joseph Church are Eskimo and half are of European descent,” he said. “Life is simple, and people live simply. A lot of them are grateful for Mass being available, even once a month.”

“Houses are small and well-insulated because of the cost of heating. Winter temps often reach more than 30 below zero. Food and supplies are expensive because everything must be flown in. Fuel oil and gasoline is brought in by barge twice a year. Snowmobiles and four-wheelers outnumber cars and trucks, and all must be brought in by barge.”

The average attendance for the three weekends Sunds celebrated Mass at St. Joseph was 25, down due to COVID. Remarkably, the tiny parish serves three mission churches. The community of Teller is 71 miles from Nome by dirt road and impassable from October through May because of snow; they have Mass weekly from June to October.

Then there’s Kotzebue, 180 miles away by plane and offering Mass once a month. Finally. St. Joseph serves Diomede, an island 130 miles out on the Bering Sea and one mile from Russian territorial waters. Diomede has Mass twice a year since the island is only accessible by helicopter.

“What attracted me to the Jackson Diocese many years ago was Jackson being a mission diocese—only two percent of the population across the area was Catholic. The Diocese of Fairbanks is almost eleven times the area of the Diocese of Jackson, but most it is wilderness. It has 12,300 Catholics and only two active diocesan priests.

“There are sixteen other priests serving the diocese who are either members of a religious order or on temporary loan from other dioceses. This was a whole new experience of mission diocese.”
Sunds said his volunteer pastoring in Alaksa has given him a better understanding of the mission work of the church outside Mississippi and a deeper appreciation of the work of our own diocese. And he didn’t lose his sense of humor while pastoring in The Last Frontier.

“The only way to Nome is by plane or dogsled,” he said. “While all roads may lead to Rome, no roads lead to Nome.”

Some parishes, schools still recovering from rare winter storm

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – As the week of Feb. 15 unfolded, students all over the Diocese of Jackson jumped for joy at the possibility of a snow day or two as well as having the Presidents’ Day holiday off. But in parish offices, priests and staff had to make urgent decisions as a once-in-a-generation winter storm turned the Deep South into a rare deep freeze and left a trail of damage in its wake.

In addition to a loss of power at St. Michael of Vicksburg and a solid sheet of ice in the parish parking lot, a window in the cry room was broken. St. Mary Basilica of Natchez was hit especially hard, creating the need for a noon Mass on Sunday, February 21, after harm to the sanctuary.

JACKSON – Leah Clark, a senior at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison, helps unload cases of bottled water on Thursday, March 4, for the Carmelite nuns in Jackson. The Carmelite Monastery in South Jackson has been without water since the ice storm that hit Mississippi last month. When St. Joe students learned Tuesday, March 2, about the need for water at the monastery, leaders of the St. Joe chapter of Quill & Scroll International Honor Society for High School Journalists sponsored a bottled water drive. In the span of one day, the drive collected and delivered to the monastery 26 gallon jugs of water and more than 40 cases of various sizes of bottled water. (Photo courtesy of Terry Cassreino)

“We have removed a lot of ceiling tiles in St. Therese Hall as well as sections of flooring on both levels,” said Father Scott Thomas on the St. Mary Facebook page late that week. “The extra Mass time is because an entire aisle will be blocked off, making every pew section on that aisle unavailable. Additionally, the elevator does not work due to water damage. It will be out of commission for a while as it is being repaired.”

Father Scott added in the social media post that nothing of historical value at St. Mary was lost, but water damage – or loss of water – swiftly became a serious problem in Jackson.

“We had no structural damage and no water pipes that burst, but we were out of school for four days,” said Jennifer David, principal of St. Richard Catholic School. “One positive from COVID is that we went right to our virtual plan and won’t have to make up any days.

“The water is less than ideal, but we are making it work. We have two amazing maintenance men who have kept our facilities running. We have sink water but don’t have good pressure in the toilets. Our first day back in classrooms for traditional learning was Feb. 26.”

In addition to parents donating bottled water and hand sanitizer, the school purchased sixty-five cases of bottled water. St. Richard was also helped immeasurably by Adcamp, Inc., a Flowood company that donated two 1,000-gallon water trucks.

“That’s been a lifesaver,” David said. “Without that, we couldn’t have kept the school running like we did.”
Another group hit especially hard in Jackson was Carmelite Monastery, where Carmelite nuns have lived for seven decades. Without water at their Terry Road location, the nuns resorted to boiling melted snow for water and – once the snow was gone – collecting rainwater. The journalism department at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison is one of many groups who have answered a call to help the sisters.

As arctic air plunged into the region and brought accompany bands of snow, sleet, and freezing rain, Msgr. Michael Flannery found himself celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass in front of exactly of one parishioner that morning – even the parishioner that livestreamed the service did so from home. And that was before the power went off in the neighborhood where St. Francis of Assisi is located.

“The neighborhood was without electricity for sixteen hours,” Msgr. Flannery said. “A utility pole split, and power wires were on the ground. Because of the driving conditions and weather, we cancelled the evening Ash Wednesday Mass and gave ashes to parishioners at that weekend’s Masses.”

Though there was extreme cold in the northernmost reaches of the Diocese – with record-breaking single-digit temperatures and below-zero wind chill readings – most of the precipitation came in the form of snow.

“Desoto County’s 911 system was down for a large part of a day due to a power outage,” said Laura Grisham, communications director for Sacred Heart Southern Missions, which serves six parishes and two schools in Desoto, Tate, Tunica, Marshall, and Benton counties. “Most areas in Desoto, including Walls, Horn Lake, Southaven, and Olive Branch, cumulatively had around ten inches of sleet and snow.”

Several Masses and all but one Ash Wednesday service, Grisham added, were cancelled during the week of Presidents’ Day. Both Sacred Heart and Holy Family Schools went immediately to virtual learning for the week. The monthly Mobile Food Pantry at Landers Center in Southaven was also cancelled.

Not surprisingly, temperatures around the Magnolia State (and all over the Southeast) roared back into the 60s and 70s, melting all traces of ice and snow and sending students back to their classrooms for the final weeks before spring break. Repair work is underway at parishes which sustained damages and, as usual, the people of Mississippi are displaying their inherent generosity toward those less fortunate.

“Our morning announcements serve as a reminder that we need to think about all the people in Jackson who don’t have water in their homes,” David said. “We’ve been praying for them and the people in Texas.”

(Editor’s note: As of press time on Tuesday, March 9, the Carmelite Sisters now have running water. The pressure is low but they can now at least flush toilets. Sister Jane Agonoy still welcomes donations of drinking water, since the city of Jackson is still under a boil water notice. She can be reached at (601) 373-1460.)

Father spreads joy of own priesthood to others hearing call to religious vocations

Editor’s note: National Vocation Awareness Week, celebrated Nov. 1-7, 2020 is an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations. This edition is dedicated to those “hearing the call.” Please read about all of our seminarians on pages 8 and 9; and keep them in your prayers.

By Joe Lee

MADISON – Father Nick Adam, who moved into the role of Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Jackson in early 2020, offers an interesting take on how he viewed studying for the priesthood before beginning his seminarian journey over a decade ago.

“I always thought seminary training looked like something from a movie: a bunch of sad-looking men marching in formation or falling to their knees constantly,” Father Adam said. “Really, it is a vibrant community of believers who are seeking to live their faith in a way that is joyful and life-giving.”

Recently a parish priest at St. Richard of Jackson, Father Adam’s sole focus is now on cultivating more vocations among Catholics in Mississippi. The Homegrown Harvest Gala and Fundraiser took place for the first time in October and, with the help of a $25,000 matching grant from the Catholic Extension Society, brought in $100,000 to support seminarian tuition costs.

“The live-streamed event featured videos I produced while visiting our seminarians and included a keynote presentation from Rev. James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans,” Father Adam said. “Priests from India, Ireland (and many other countries) have served us so well, and I believe the best way to thank them is to produce an abundance of ‘homegrown’ vocations.”

At present, six seminarians are studying to be priests for the Diocese of Jackson. Their hometowns include the Mississippi cities of West Point, Brandon, and Philadelphia, and Father Adam says he’s ‘in the thick’ of the recruiting season – though he’s hardly knocking on doors asking for donations.

“With this large fundraiser in the books, I am moving toward more personal interaction with men who are wrestling with the Lord’s plan for them,” Father Adam said. “I am taking small groups of these ‘discerners’ to the seminary so they can see what studying for the priesthood really looks like. These personal tours are my best way to encourage men to ‘be not afraid’ and to courageously discern the priesthood.”

“Father Nick had a great seminarian experience and has a great love for formation,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz. “He wants to stir the flame in those who aspire to the priesthood. His is an integrated position: vocations director, and director of seminarians. He is unleashed in vocation ministry, a ministry that needs someone like him, and I saw the love he had for it.”

“He talks with the seminarians regularly – right now they’re Zooming – and will accompany them on their journey. I’m excited about him serving full-time in this ministry. When folks are interested in marriage, he won’t take it personally and will go on planting seeds. Ninety percent of his energy is in relationships and those he encounters in vocation.”

Rhonda Bowden, director of liturgy and pastoral care at St. Jude parish in Pearl, worked alongside Father Adam on the Homegrown Harvest campaign and has watched him mentor her son, Andrew, a student at Notre Dame Seminary of New Orleans who will be ordained a priest in spring 2022 (see accompanying story).

She feels strongly about the need to grow priests within the Diocese of Jackson as well as parents being open to their children entering religious life. That sentiment is shared by Msgr. Michael Flannery, who believes the secret to vocations lies not in creative fundraising but in the home.

“That is where the seeds are sown and fostered by family prayer. It is not a question of money – if we had vocations we would find the money to sponsor them,” Flannery said. “I believe Father Nick is a tremendous choice as a vocation director. He is charismatic and relates very well to the youth ministry. He is doing everything he can (to bring in new seminarians).”

Adam, now in a wonderful position to mentor those who will follow in his footsteps, remains grateful to Father Frank Cosgrove, his priest at St. Patrick of Meridian when Adam worked full-time in television.

“I had stopped attending Mass while in college (at the University of Alabama) because I thought I knew everything, as college kids tend to think,” Adam said. “I went to Mass at St. Patrick about a year and a half after moving to Meridian. The feeling I had while sitting in the pew was like returning home after a long trip.”

“I just felt peace and contentment, and from that point forward I think the seed was planted for the priesthood. That really became solidified in me once I started speaking with Father Frank, who gave me a wonderful example of priesthood and always encouraged me to be open to the call.”

“Father Nick is a servant priest and exudes being a regular guy,” Father Cosgrove said. “He runs. He plays basketball. He puts on jeans and helps builds Habitat houses. He’s living a prayerful life – God works through that. He will make a great vocations director because of the joy of his own priesthood.”

JACKSON – In 2019, Father Nick Adam and Seminarian Tristan Stovall speak to St. Richard School sixth graders about the joy found in the journey to priesthood after playing a heated game of dodgeball during Vocation Awareness Week. (Photo courtesy of Father Nick Adam)

Bowden values friendship and mentorship of Father Adam

By Joe Lee

MADISON – While the seminarian journey is lengthy and demands commitment, discernment, and personal growth, the rewards are many. A true highlight for Andrew Bowden, a student at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, was being mentored by Father Nick Adam, director of vocations for the Diocese of Jackson.

“I have been thinking about the priesthood for about as long as I can remember,” Bowden said. “I first got to know Father Nick in 2013 when he was assigned to St. Jude (in Pearl), my home parish, as a seminarian for a summer assignment. I remember working with him on how to be an altar server.

“Then, while Father Nick was in theology at Notre Dame, I was at St. Joseph Seminary College (in St. Benedict, Louisiana). Guys studying for the same diocese are often called ‘diocesan brothers.’ The sense of fraternity among brothers even at different seminaries is desirable. It was always pleasant to visit with guys further along during my first few years of formation.”

The friendship and mentoring from Father Nick deepened once the former St. Richard parish priest moved to his new position earlier this year.
“Father Nick quickly made sure that the seminarians were getting sufficient and equal financial support from parishes and Knights of Columbus councils around the state,” Bowden said. “He updated paperwork in our files. He has shown my diocesan brothers and myself an incredible amount of support and care.

“I had the pleasure of staying in the parish he took up residence in during the summer when he was appointed full-time vocations director. This allowed me to get to know him even better. Toward the end of the summer, I had to quarantine in isolation. Father Nick made a point of regularly coming to check on me and bringing me the Holy Eucharist.”

Bowden, on track to be ordained to the transitional diaconate in spring 2021, will be assigned for several months to a parish of Bishop Joseph Kopacz’s choosing before returning to Notre Dame for his final semester and a half. He will be ordained a priest in spring 2022.

“One of Father Nick’s qualities that I seek to emulate is his reverence and joy in the liturgy,” Bowden said. “Reverence and joy are both appropriate and even necessary but can be difficult to balance. I believe he does this exceptionally well.

Seminarian Andrew Bowden

Parishes postpone and cancel events due to COVID-19

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Parishioners at St. James Parish of Leland were greeted in a recent church bulletin with this sobering news regarding their annual parish fair:

“The council felt that it was in the best interest of the community to postpone the upcoming fair. Without it, we will have substantial loss of income. Discussion was held regarding ways to offset this loss. Any contributions will be greatly appreciated. Please mark your contributions ‘Parish Fair.’”

A tiny Mississippi Delta town with a population of less than 4,000, Leland is in an economically-depressed area to begin with, and this month’s cancellation of St. James’ biggest annual fundraiser — which debuted in 1933 — was not an easy decision to make. While health and safety concerns came first, the loss of the event puts the parish in a significant financial hole.

“We (usually) serve about 800 spaghetti plates with meatballs, all homemade by the ladies of the church from a very old recipe,” said Debbie Ruggeri, St. James Parish secretary. “They’re served in the parish hall, where we also have a silent auction. The outside booths — a ribeye booth, a ham booth, a bingo booth, and teddy bear and fishing booths for children — usually handle about 1,000 people. Everything is donated.”

Raffle tickets are also sold, and those who purchase the highest-priced $100 tickets are competing for a $10,000 grand prize. Not only are the loyal parishioners of St. James missing the badly-needed fellowship opportunities amid the pandemic, the gaps in the parish budget will be felt for some time.
St. James is not alone. At St. Joseph of Gluckstadt, Germanfest has been a September staple since the 1980s and draws crowds of 10,000. Attendees drive in from neighboring states as well as all corners of Mississippi.

“The family-oriented festival is best known for its delicious German food, including bratwurst, shish kabobs, and homemade sauerkraut,” said Pam Minninger, St. Joseph lay ecclesial minister. “Visitors also look forward to participating in the beer stein-holding contest and authentic German Folk music and dancing.”

“A significant amount of the proceeds is donated to local charities. Hopefully we will be able to absorb the shortfall and still be able to support some of these charities this year.”

With no way of knowing what the pandemic restrictions on large groups will be from month to month, St. James has postponed their parish fair until early 2021 and are having initial discussions about possibly having a modified event. Likewise, talks are underway at St. Joseph about cooking up a small-scale Germanfest.

“We are anticipating, at some point after the first of the year, possibly having some type of take-out bratwurst meal that folks can come by and pick up,” Minninger said. “That way they can get their ‘German food fix.’”

Cajun Fest at nearby St. Francis of Assisi in Madison is that parish’s largest fundraiser and features mouthwatering Cajun delicacies and lots of family-friendly fun. With an extensive facilities overhaul and building campaign underway, the cancellation of this year’s event (already delayed from May until October) will leave a deep shortfall in parish fundraising. St. Francis will go virtual, however, in an effort to make back at least some of the losses.

“We will host live the drawing of our annual raffle associated with Cajun Fest at 2 p.m. on October 4,” said Father Albeenreddy Vatti, St. Francis of Assisi pastor. “We chose this date because it is Feast Day for St. Francis, our patron saint. Annually, we celebrate this day with an event, A Taste of St. Francis. It is a time we can gather and celebrate the many cultures that make up our parish with great food and music.”
One of the more disheartening cancellations is the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration at Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksdale. Because of pandemic concerns, the small parish hasn’t yet reopened for services and, without the anniversary event, must find other ways to raise money to fund facility upgrades and insurance payments on the church building.

“It has been customary that a fun gathering with a cookout or soul food dinner is planned during the week of the anniversary,” said Father Raju Macharla, Immaculate Conception pastor. “In January the members met to plan a jubilant celebration, and plans were made for a Mass with a reception planned for Sept. 5 to coincide with Bishop Joseph Kopacz’s trip to Mound Bayou that evening.

“One of the highlights would have been to visit with former teachers, students, sisters, priests, and parishioners. We had already started reminding them to save the date and have received regrets and disappointments since the pandemic has occurred.”

Catholic Charities also lost their annual Journey of Hope fundraising luncheon to COVID-19, but the organization — thanks in part to the flexibility of keynote speaker Elizabeth Smart — is back on the calendar for early 2021.

“We’re still at the Jackson Convention Complex and set for February 25,” said Michael Thomas, Catholic Charities development director. “We would have seated ten to a table and will now seat six, but we will have more available tables. Everyone will wear masks to enter and exit unless the mask order has been lifted by then.

“At the meet-and-greet the evening before, we’ll have a book signing with Elizabeth, a paid event at 6 p.m. at a location that has yet to be determined. Her story covers so much of what we do at Catholic Charities in our counseling: kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, and abuse. She is wonderful to work with and has such a strong faith in God.”

Thomas said that a Peer to Peer social media campaign will launch Sept. 15 to begin recouping the loss of funding from this month’s Journey of Hope cancellation. Football coach Lou Holtz drew nearly 1,000 attendees in 2016, and hopes are high that Smart, who was abducted from her Utah family home in 2002 at the age of fourteen before being rescued nine months later, will pack the convention complex in February.

Ultimately, while some events can’t be recreated — Immaculate Conception will never have another seventy-fifth anniversary — many parishes and organizations are thinking creatively and trying to find silver linings in preparing for the future.

“We normally have our Bishop’s Ball each year, and this year we had a virtual event,” Thomas said. “It was a great success and touched more people than the usual ones. We had the live auction online a week before, and everything sold — we were shocked. Wanda Thomas is our new executive director and hosted the hour-long event on Facebook. We were faced with either no Bishop’s Ball or thinking of another way.”

Catholic Build 2019

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – As Inora Glass looked up from the tree and limb removal all around her on a steamy Saturday morning in October, she was covered in dirt and leaves and felt hot, sticky and fatigued.

She also felt exceedingly grateful. The mother of a seven-year-old daughter, Glass was hard at work with a dozen Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area (HHMCA) volunteers, putting in the sweat equity required of any Habitat homeowner as the group worked to restore and rebuild the home at 534 Cedarhurst Drive of Jackson that she will take possession of in January.

“We were out there since October,” Glass said. “We tore down the front porch of the house and two sheds in the back. We pulled roots from the ground and took limbs from the trees in front and along the back fence. It looks so much better now.”

The Cedarhurst home was designated by HHMCA for the annual Catholic build. Many Jackson-area organizations and parishes joined in, including St. Richard Jackson, St. Paul Flowood and St. Dominic Hospital. All made funding donations and the parishes contributed bottled water, breakfast, and labor at various times toward the project.

“The Catholic Build is such an important build each year. We count on the continued support of the churches and the Diocese to make the build possible,” said Merrill McKewen, executive director of HHMCA. “This year the Catholic Build is rehabbing a home in the Broadmoor area which is very important to our promise of 100 houses in five years. We are so grateful for their hard work and generous funding.”

Glass worked side by side with volunteers on Saturdays for more than two months. She even joined them at the Habitat warehouse on Mitchell Avenue to paint when the weather turned inclement on a Saturday in November. She had a front-row seat for all aspects of the construction of the home, as well as the extensive training she received from the organization that will help her as a homeowner in the future.
“It feels great. The overall experience is wonderful,” Glass said of her interaction with Habitat and the friendships she has made. “We will close on the house in January and move in. The volunteers and everyone at Habitat have been so kind. I will always thank them for coming out and making my dream come true for me and my baby.”

“Inora Glass has an incredibly beautiful spirit and is truly grateful for Habitat,” said HHMCA volunteer coordinator Kimberly Crowder. “Her spirit also reminds me of why I love doing what I do.”
For more information, visit www.habitatmca.org.