Bishop Gunn chronicled experience during 1918 influenza pandemic and end of world war

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Rev. John Edward Gunn, a Marist priest and native of County Tyrone, Ireland, was appointed the sixth Bishop of Natchez by Pope Pius X in 1911. He was ordained a bishop at Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta where he was serving at the time on August 29 of that year.

Bishop Gunn was known as a brilliant orator and for having tremendous energy. He cultivated the diocese’s relationship with Catholic Extension to help in the building of chapels throughout the state. By the time of his death in 1924, almost every Catholic in Mississippi was able to reach one of these chapels for Mass at least once a month. Catholic churches grew from 75 to 149 during his administration, and Catholics grew in number from 17,000 to more than 31,000.

He also helped found St. Augustine Seminary with the Society of the Divine Word in Greenville for the formation of African American clergy in 1923. The seminary later moved to Bay St. Louis.

It is rumored that Bishop Gunn preferred Pass Christian to Natchez and had hoped to move the diocesan offices there.

Bishop Gunn’s 13 years of service to the Diocese were marked by the difficult four years of the first World War and the ravages of Spanish influenza.

ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps are on duty in October 1918 during the influenza epidemic. Mary Woodward reveals an excerpt from Bishop John Edward Gunn’s diary chronicling his travels to St. Louis in November of 1918 during the Spanish flu pandemic. (Photo/Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-01290)

Not only was he a gifted orator, but he was a fine chronicler of daily life as is proven in his diary. From his diary we find an interesting entry from Nov. 8-10, 1918, that is very relevant to today’s pandemic atmosphere. It also contains a noteworthy bit of information about the end of the war.

“I left [Nov. 8] for St. Louis to assist at the consecration of the new Bishop of Galveston, Bishop Byrne. When I reached St. Louis, I got into the midst of the flu. Not only were the churches, schools, and public buildings closed but all the stores, soda water fountains and everything.”

“On Saturday night I walked the streets of St. Louis for more than an hour and could not buy a cigar and the question was – how could the consecration take place in St. Louis Cathedral on November 10th when it was forbidden to open a church door?”

“I went ‘round on Saturday night to see Archbishop Glennon and found Bishop Allen with him. The Archbishop seemed to take everything very quietly and said that it was forbidden to open the main door of the Cathedral but there were several other doors that were not officially closed, with the result that the consecration took place on Nov. 10. The crowd was small, the ceremonies were beautiful, the dinner was as heavy as the oratory and there was an atmosphere of unrest everywhere.”

“The papers were filled with the flu conditions of the country; the war conditions were reaching a climax, and everybody was on edge.”

“I left St. Louis on Sunday night [Nov. 10] and on my way home, at Fulton [Missouri], I thought that the world had come to an end. I was in the Pullman compartment when noise broke loose in the form of whistles, bells, bands and every kind of thing that could make a rattle and a screech at the time when ghosts are supposed to appear and graves yawn, etc.”

“It was occasioned by the fake news that had gone over the world that the Germans had signed the armistice. When the real news of the Armistice came nobody believed it.”

“I managed to get to New Orleans on the 11th and the city looked like the morning after Mardi Gras. The people had shouted themselves hoarse over the fake armistice and had no voice for the real one.”

Although WWI was a very complex time for those of Irish heritage due to British rule and treatment of them, the Bishop believed strongly in service to one’s country. “In life and death, I am proud of three things: my Irish birth, my Catholic faith, and my American citizenship,” he said. “I tried to translate my love for all three into service and sacrifice,” he wrote in his will.

NATCHEZ – In this photo from the archives, Bishop Joseph Latino visits the resting place of Bishop John Edward Gunn, on Catholic Hill in the Natchez City Cemetery. Bishop Gunn died in New Orleans on Feb. 19, 1924 and is buried beside his fellow Irishman Bishop Thomas Heslin. (Photo from archives)

Bishop Gunn died at Hospital Hotel Dieu in New Orleans on Feb. 19, 1924, and is buried beside his fellow Irishman Bishop Thomas Heslin on Catholic Hill in the Natchez City Cemetery. His portrait hangs in the dining room of the Cathedral rectory in Jackson. As in any good portrait, Bishop Gunn’s eyes follow you as you move through the room.

In his will the Bishop also wrote, “I believe in God. I believe all He has said because He said it and because His infallible Church heard Him and told me what He said. I love Him with my whole heart and soul and strength and for His sake I love others.”

Bishop Gunn’s diary is so rich that we will share some more gems from it in the future.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson)

COVID Protocols

Parishes are faced with different realities as to the size and makeup of parishioners, and the size and layout of their building facilities. The diocese has decided it is still prudent to allow the local parishes to address their reality in making decisions how to address the pandemic through these protocols. These suggestions should be implemented based on the parish’s reality and the local community reality and community regulations that are in place.

– Social distancing of 3 feet is recommended.
– Masks are encouraged for everyone.

For full list of protocols visit


School is back in gear

VICKSBURG – Lizzie McSherry receives communion from Bishop Joseph Kopacz at a special “Back to School” Mass at Vicksburg Catholic School. (Photo by Lindsey Bradley)
SOUTHAVEN – Kindergarten students with their teacher, Amber Hayes, work on “cheer them up” posters to send to the hospital. (Photo by Sister Margaret Sue Broker)
JACKSON – Sister Thea Bowman first grade student, Ja’Kayla Davis, along with her other classmates, work on one of their first class assignments during the first week of school. In the background, teacher, Ashanti Moses works with class member, Caliyah Hopson. (Photo by Shae Robinson)
LELAND – Father Sleeva Mekala blessed backpacks at St. James parish on Sunday, Aug. 22. (Photo by Deborah Ruggeri)
MADISON – At St. Joseph School, Diane Waldon explains a chemistry experiment to sophomore, John Eatherly, on Tuesday, Aug. 10, the first day back to school. (Photo by courtesy of St. Jospeh Catholic School)
NATCHEZ – Seventh grader, Julia Claire Jex strikes the right combination at Cathedral School. (Photo by Cara Moody Serio)
MERIDIAN – St. Patrick School volunteer, Frank Washington, helps fourth grader Halle Smith with her backpack on her first day of school, on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. (Photo courtesy of St. Patrick Catholic School)
COLUMBUS – Third grade student, William Marrett takes his star pre-assessments for math and reading in the computer lab at Annunciation School. (Photo by Katie Fenstermacher)

Walking with the Choctaw people at Holy Rosary Indian Mission

By Catholic Extension
PHILADELPHIA – In 1830 the Choctaw Native Americans signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which commenced their removal from Mississippi and the treacherous journey to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears.

PHILADELPHIA – Father Bob Goodyear stands in front of Holy Rosary Indian Mission. He is a finalist for the Catholic Extension 2021 Lumen Christi Award. For a combined 31 years, Father Goodyear has been helping the Choctaw community grow closer to God. (Photos courtesy of Catholic Extension)

Many Choctaw, however, refused to leave their ancestral land. Those who chose to stay had to become invisible to survive, hiding in swamps and working as sharecroppers. In 1884 a Catholic priest was sent to see what could be done to minister to the Choctaw, and Holy Rosary Indian Mission was established.

Catholic Extension has supported Holy Rosary Indian Mission since 1926. This includes helping build and repair two of its three mission churches: Holy Rosary in Tucker in 1969 and St. Therese in Philadelphia in 1972. Between Holy Rosary, St. Therese and St. Catherine in Conehatta, this faith community in the Diocese of Jackson spans 87 miles.

For a combined 31 years, a missionary priest has been helping the Choctaw grow closer to God in a place where He is ever so present. Father Bob Goodyear, S.T., who was attracted as a high school freshman to the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, has truly answered the religious congregation’s charism to work for the “preservation of the faith among the poor and abandoned” in his ministry.

PHILADELPHIA – Father Bob Goodyear visited many vendors at the annual Choctaw Indian Fair in July. He has been recognized as a finalists for Catholic Extension’s Lumen Christi Award for his work with the Choctaw community. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Extension)

“Father Bob Goodyear is so successful in his ministry because he walks with the people every step of the way,” said Diocese of Jackson Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz. “Father Bob has remained stalwart in his love for the people and in his commitment to foster their Catholic faith in our loving God.”

Language is the doorway to the soul
In his seminary formation, Father Goodyear never imagined serving a Native American community. After arriving at Holy Rosary Indian Mission in 1975, he spent his first years learning everything he could about Choctaw culture.

This included the Choctaw language — despite being told not to bother because non-natives had never been successful doing so.

“That’s the wrong thing to say to me,” said Father Goodyear. “Because now I’m going to try.”

With the help of three Choctaw, he was able to learn the language. After eight years of study, his education reached its culmination: translating the Catholic Mass into the Choctaw language. On May 1, 1983, Father Goodyear celebrated his first Mass in Choctaw at St. Catherine, with a Vatican-approved text.

During the homily, he delivered this inspiring message:
“Language is more than words and how you put them together. Language tells you your history. It tells you your dreams.”

Along with learning the Choctaw language, Father Goodyear has had his hands in several of what he calls “non-traditional” ministries. He established the Choctaw Suicide Council and its corresponding “Suicide Counseling Manual.” Additionally, he opened a youth recreation center.

Father Goodyear served Holy Rosary Indian Mission from 1975 to 1990. After two assignments away from the reservation, he returned in 2006. Upon returning to the Mississippi Choctaw, the tribal chief told him, “I am very worried about the spiritual life of my people.”

Forming Choctaw Catholic leaders for the future
In Father Goodyear’s time away, the Catholic Church lost some of its footing among the Choctaw. His focus in his last 15 years of ministry and counting has been on developing lay leadership at the three mission churches. These lay leaders will help teach and pass on the faith to future generations.

“My most exciting moment is confirmation,” Father Goodyear said. “I’m the catechist for confirmation because I want them to get everything they need. Kids that have been confirmed have gone on to be eucharistic ministers.”

Father Goodyear, 72, has eucharistic ministers playing a vital role at Holy Rosary Indian Mission. He developed a training manual that teaches eucharistic ministers not only how to serve during Mass, but also how to lead Communion services in the absence of a priest and how to deliver the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins. The manual is used throughout the Diocese of Jackson and at parishes in other states.

Father Goodyear had been pleased with the progress made in developing lay leaders. That progress, however, was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having performed three to four funerals a week at the height of the pandemic — the average number for a single month in previous years — he has shifted his ministry in these unprecedented times toward helping the Choctaw grieve.

“Their beliefs about death are very special,” Father Goodyear said. “They have a close relationship with the spirits who have died.”

Now, as the Choctaw hopefully emerge from the pandemic, Father Goodyear aims to renew the church on the reservation by continuing to develop lay leaders and by helping the Choctaw believe in themselves.

“I preach that you can’t really believe in God if you don’t believe in yourself, because you’re made in His image,” Father Goodyear said. “God not only created you, He believes in you.”

Father Bob Goodyear stopped for a photo op with members of the Choctaw community at the 71st annual Choctaw Indian Fair in July. He is one of seven finalists for a Lumen Christi Award. The award is Catholic Extension’s highest honor given to people who radiate and reveal the light of Christ present in the communities where they serve.

Catholic Charities agencies rely on virtual outreach in Ida relief

By Tom Tracy
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CNS)– With several Northeast states now joining major metropolitan regions in the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Ida-related disaster areas, Catholic Charities agencies are using virtual deployment systems refined during the coronavirus pandemic to maximize their outreach to those in need.

Prolonged power outages or record flooding are making quick disaster response access to the greater New Orleans and New York City areas an impossibility following the remnants of Hurricane Ida as it marched north after making landfall Aug. 29 in Louisiana.

Right now, disaster response teams are turning to digital workaround solutions using staff members well outside the disaster zones.

“COVID set the stage for being able to do virtual deployment: instead of a physical person on the ground, staff can assist by doing phone calls, setting up shared documents on the internet, and taking an administrative burden off the local staff,” said Kathleen Oldaker, senior director of disaster strategy for Catholic Charities USA.

As it did during Hurricane Katrina, Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is expected to serve as the central supporting role in recovery efforts in hard-hit New Orleans and Houma-Thibodaux.

“But we are also looking at possible virtual actions: a (staff) person in California or Indiana – if there is a way of doing things with our network that might require some bandwidth – can help the agencies on the ground can focus on their outreach,” Oldaker told Catholic News Service Sept. 2.

Hurricane Ida’s remnants delivered a deadly surprise punch in the Northeast, causing an estimated 41 deaths and flooding roads and cities after slogging across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut. The post-tropical cyclone reportedly dropped more than three inches of rain in an hour in New York.

Catholic Charities staff have learned that text messages can be a more reliable form of communications wherever cellphone signals are knocked out, which includes a large area of Southeastern Louisiana.

In addition, email communications for one disaster area can be managed through a related diocesan office of Catholic Charities. The email for Houma-Thibodaux’s Catholic Charities office, for example, was being intercepted this week by Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, Oldaker said.

Theophilus Charles of Houma, La., sits inside his house Aug. 30, 2021, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ida. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)

Each year, staff members at Catholic Charities complete a training program called the “Applied Institute for Disaster Excellence,” a decade-old preparedness platform that can prepare a staff person with disaster experience in Maine, for example, to deploy to Louisiana.

But Hurricane Ida left infrastructures so badly damaged in places like Louisiana that teams will have to wait for electricity and water to come back online.

“What we are really seeing in this response is the neighboring agencies offering support from Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and Biloxi, Mississippi – they have had staff go and help Houma with assessments and seeing where they could do distribution sites,” Oldaker said.

In the South, Houma may have experienced some of the greatest wind damage following Ida, whereas New Orleans is mostly suffering from a damaged power infrastructure. Catholic Charities staff in New Orleans have been focused on checking in on residents living in senior care homes and other residential facilities there.

“The Catholic Charities agency in Houma is trying to get on their feet a bit in a place where you walk outside and the house next door is either destroyed or damaged,” Oldaker said. “We have a Houma-Charities staff member who lost a home down to the concrete slab there.”

In the Northeast, Catholic Charities workers spent Sept. 2 contacting agencies in the Mid-Atlantic states and New York and New Jersey especially, which took some of the heaviest flash flooding.

The rapid accumulation of rainfall from Ida’s remnants turned city streets into rivers, flooded basement-level residences and shut down subway services in New York.

“Right now, the agencies are not in assessment mode; we have heard of a flooded agency in one of our buildings in New York City; in the next day or two we will get a handle on the level of response,” Oldaker said.

Calls also went out to agency chapters in Pennsylvania, and parts of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Across the system, Catholic Charities agencies have been inundated with calls from Ida evacuees who mostly fled the Gulf Coast region to areas across the country.

“We even had a call from Paterson, New Jersey. They reported a few evacuees there and they were wondering what they could do to help,” Oldaker said of the Catholic Charities affiliate there.

“In Houston, Texas, alone, we got some 10,000 phone calls or requests from evacuees, with people lining up outside their doors even before they opened.

“People are sleeping in the car, finding hotels are not available, or the hotel bills are getting expensive for those who cannot go home for a few weeks. Those costs get pretty expensive pretty fast,” she added.

When asked what may be different about the emergency response in 2021 over past years, Oldaker said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic adds an additional burden to the crisis response and distribution work.

“Ten years ago, I would not have been ordering masks and gloves and personal protective gear – it wasn’t something we thought about, and in Louisiana it is something they are thinking about in terms of spacing evacuees and people having to wear masks in such high heat.”

“How do you balance response with safety, that is a new normal as we move forward with disaster work,” Oldaker said.

September, she said, is national disaster preparedness month and getting people prepared is a good thing “because you never know when what might look like just rain could be a big event. When a river washes out it is shocking how fast you can have water coming into your home.”

Patricia Cole, vice president of communications Catholic Charities USA, noted that contributions are critical right now and that 100% of the donation proceeds will be directed to the disaster areas following Ida.

For more information see:

Our lives are labor of love in God

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
After God set the world in motion through the work of creation, he fashioned man and woman from the dust of the earth in the divine image and likeness and entrusted them with the task of developing this grand handiwork. Then and now, God intends that we not lose sight of his divine presence when we apply our talents to building a world that gives glory to the creator, dignity to human life everywhere and a profound awe for the beauty of our planet. For further motivation and inspiration, we, as disciples of the Son of God, recall the words of sacred scripture that proclaim, “for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15-17) Through faith we know that love is our origin, love is our constant calling and love is our fulfillment in heaven.

We also know that for as long as we live there is much to be done. Perhaps this Labor Day more than ever reminds us that throughout our lives the work of building and rebuilding is constant.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

Recall the sobering yet hopeful words from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning with labor pains together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23)

Are we ever groaning these days, as the pandemic grinds on in many corners of our society and world, whether it be over our children, academically and developmentally, or the loss of life and the suffering that ensues. Considerable rebuilding will be necessary.
Blessed Mother Teresa understood well the lifetime task of building a religious community to serve the dire needs of the present moment, and to endure for generations to come in a world where there are no guarantees. In a poem attributed to her entitled, “Anyway” she mused, “What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.”
Clearly, what she is saying is that when necessary, rebuild and create something better. We can apply her wisdom to the destructive drives inherent in humanity or to the overwhelming power of nature. It seems that wherever we turn, too many are caught between a rock and a hard place, Scylla and Charybdis, the rocky shoals or the churning whirlpool.

On the one hand, there is the destructive power of nature in the virus silently stalking, in raging fires, in howling hurricanes, in unforeseen flooding or in heaving earthquakes. On the other hand, destruction boils over from the abyss of human nature, alienated from our loving creator, in acts of violence, terrorism and war. What once was, is no more and people are pressed to choose. Look ahead and rebuild in one form or another or look backward and wallow in inertia. The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that in the cycle of living, “there is a time to break down, and a time to build up.” (3:3) As God’s children we want to be busy about living.

This weekend is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 that obliterated many lives, destroyed iconic structures, wreaked havoc upon our nation’s psyche, and unleashed a 20-year war whose official ending is still spilling blood. Indeed, all of creation groans. Yet, this crisis immediately revealed the goodness and courage of first responders and many others who put aside concern for self in the hope of rescuing their neighbor and the stranger. It took 14 years for the majestic One World Center to be built on the spot of the Twin Towers that were destroyed. It will take a lifetime or more for those who directly experienced this horror to heal. We pray that the work of reconciliation will never cease.

The Son of God, the one through whom and for whom all creation came to be, revealed life’s inevitable vulnerability on Calvary. Yet, on Easter Sunday the dawn from on high broke upon us and we who walk in the shadow of death, now walk by faith and labor with a purpose everyday of our lives, because Christ lives.

In the big questions about our lives and in our daily and familiar tasks, may we know that in God our lives are a labor of love, whether we are building something new with great confidence, or rebuilding in the face of loss. In the prologue of St. John, we know whence the power comes to regain our footing and our hope. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, all things were made through him. In him was life, and the life was the light for all. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Diocese and New Group Media shoot documentary commemorating Sister Thea Bowman

By Joanna Puddister King
CANTON – New Group Media out of South Bend, Indiana is working to tell the story of Sister Thea Bowman. Filming is taking place in many locations where Sister Thea Bowman lived and worked, requiring in-depth work for both crew and community members.

CANTON – Actors portray the Bowman family taking a stroll to Sunday Mass near Holy Child Jesus parish. (Photos by Joanna Puddister King)

Writer and producer, Sister Judy Zielinski, OSF said that she wanted to touch base and operate out of the spaces that Sister Thea lived in and used. “She was a brilliant, charismatic, prophetic, outspoken woman,” said Sister Judy during an interview. “And she is a force of nature.” Spaces chosen for filming include sites in Canton, Jackson, Memphis, New Orleans and in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

The film will explore Sister Thea’s life and path to sainthood through interviews and commentary from her family, sisters in community, colleagues, friends and former students. While filming in Mississippi, the crew filmed interviews with Bishop Joseph Kopacz, and those that knew Sister Thea personally, including Sister Dorothy Kundinger, FSPA; former students, Myrtle Otto and Cornelia Johnson; and childhood friends, Mamie Chinn and Flonzie Brown-Wright.

The crew began scouting sites in April 2021 and at the end of May, they filmed in Canton, Jackson and at Sister Thea’s grave site in Memphis at Elmwood Cemetery. In addition to interviews, scenes were filmed depicting young Bertha Bowman’s life before entering the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

On hand for most of the production in Canton, Flonzie Brown-Wright, a self-described “non-crier,” was moved to tears during depictions of herself, young Bertha Bowman and friend Mamie Chinn.

(Left) A sign sits outside of the old Bowman family home on Hill Street in Canton.

“She was so special to me. This morning, … when I saw the little girls sitting on the porch, I just lost it. I just lost it because it was just so reminiscent of what actually happened during those days,” said Brown-Wright.

The crew filmed re-enactments at the Bowman family home on Hill Street in Canton, complete with a 1936 Grand Master roadster car parked out front. Scenes with Thea, Brown-Wright and Chinn eating cookies on the front steps, playing with dolls and socializing were filmed with local talent.

Eleven-year-old, Madison Ware of Canton was chosen to play young Bertha. “I was really excited to do the part of Thea,” said Ware.

In addition to scenes at Holy Child Jesus Canton and playing outside the Bowman family home, Ware also re-enacted young Bertha’s hunger strike after her parents forbade her to go off to Wisconsin to become a nun. Ware sat at the dining room table in the Bowman home with determination stating as young Bertha would – “I’m not hungry.”

Other scenes depicted in Canton include portrayals of young Thea, Brown-Wright and Chinn walking to school and playing dress up as nuns.

In Jackson, the crew sat down with Bishop Kopacz at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle to talk about the cause for Sister Thea and spoke about what he called “her first miracle,” when she addressed the U.S. Bishops Conference in June 1989 and led them to join arms and sing “We Shall Overcome.”

Drone operator and grip, Matthew Nemeth, Bishop Joseph Kopacz and producer/writer, Sister Judy Zielinski, OSF review drone footage taken during filming of the Sister Thea Bowman Documentary on Saturday, May 29.

At Sister Thea’s grave site at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, the crew arranged for a beautiful white spray filled with gardenias, roses and magnolias to sit at her plot. Re-enactment at the grave site included prayer and a hymn led by Myrtle Otto – “I’ll Be Singing Up There.”

The final day of filming in Canton concluded at Holy Child Jesus with Mass, a performance by the church choir and solo of “On Zion’s Hill” by Wright-Brown.

CANTON – Flonzie Brown-Wright dressed in a dashiki and sang “On Zion’s Hill,” honoring her childhood friend, Thea Bowman. (Photos by Joanna Puddister King)

Life-long friends, Brown-Wright kept in contact with Sister Thea up until her passing from cancer in 1990 traveling from her home, at the time, in Ohio just two weeks before her death. She said Sister Thea told her “what I want you to do when I’m gone … [is] to come back to play and sing the song “On Zion’s Hill.” The same song Sister Thea sang at both her father and mother’s funerals.

With Wright-Brown in an African dashiki and headdress singing there was hardly a dry-eye between the crew present, as Sister Thea’s presence was felt in the moment.

(Above) Madison Ware re-enacts young Bertha Bowman’s hunger strike to get her parents to allow her to travel to LaCrosse, Wisconsin to become a nun.

Between June 20-23, the crew filmed in LaCrosse, Wisconsin at St. Rose Convent and Viterbo University, shooting re-enactments of Sister Thea at the FSPA motherhouse. Director Chris Salvador described plans to capture Sister Thea arriving at the convent in a white pinafore dress and then using a machine to morph her. “So, it goes in 360° and she changes from her first outfit, and she eventually comes out in her African dashiki,” said Salvador.

Brown-Wright reminisced during filming in Canton about one trip to LaCrosse to visit her friend. When she got there, Brown-Wright expected to see her friend dressed in a habit, but instead found her in “a dashiki, sandals and a natural.”

“I asked her what happened, and she said, ‘Girl, those petticoats were just too hot,” laughed Brown-Wright. “What she was doing was preparing a culture for a yearning to understand our culture. That was her transformation from coming out of the habits … to her natural dress because that’s who she was,” said Brown Wright.

The crew sets up a scene at the old Bowman family home, from the upcoming documentary on Sister Thea Bowman to air in the fall of 2022.

“She taught the world how to be a Black Catholic sister.”

In New Orleans the film crew will conduct more interviews and film at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, where Sister Thea offered courses in African American literature and preaching.

The working title of the film is “Going Home Like a Shooting Star – Sister Thea Bowman’s Journey to Sainthood.” It is drawn from a quote attributed to Sojourner Truth. When Sister Thea was asked what she wanted said at her funeral, she answered,” Just say what Sojourner Truth said: ‘I’m not going to die, honey, I’m going home like a shooting star.’”

Production of the documentary was delayed about a year due to COVID. The film makers, with Bishop Kopacz as executive producer, hope to air the documentary nationwide in the fall of 2022 on ABC.

MaHalia Calvert, playing young Flonzie Brown-Wright, and Madison Ware prepare for a scene outside Holy Child Jesus parish where the girls play dress up at sisters. The scene brought back many memories for Wright-Brown, who was on-site for filming and reminisced about her experiences with her friend Sister Thea Bowman.

Called by Name

A priest once told me that Vocation ministry is like watching a tree grow minute by minute; you don’t see immediate results, but that doesn’t mean the growth isn’t happening. That priest was Fr. Mark Shoffner, and he told me that just a couple of weeks ago!

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

I appreciated that agricultural analogy very much and have been reflecting on it ever since because it mirrors my experience as I look back on the last year of vocation promotion. We just sent out our new poster to parishes and schools in the diocese featuring the faces of our six seminarians, and while there are no new additions this year, there has certainly been growth in our program. I have been so appreciative of the prayers and support of people that I run into across the diocese who know what we are doing and are offering their support in whatever way they can. I look forward to reaching out in new ways in the coming weeks and months to these stakeholders. The awareness of our need for good men from our soil and the excitement that is building among our people is palpable, and I know that growth, though sometimes silent, is occurring.

We also do have our first candidate for women’s religious life from our diocese in quite some time entering formation right now! Ms. Kathleen McMullin has just departed to begin her formation with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Illinois. The mission of this order is to “make the merciful love of Christ visible.” They do this through working in healthcare and education across the world. Kathleen continues to be a great light in our diocese even though she is now a few hours away. Bishop Kopacz and I were honored to attend a “going-away” party hosted by some friends of the McMullins in the Jackson area, and it was really inspiring to see how much love and support she has as she witnesses to the call of Christ to religious life.

Please continue to pray for vocations and also encourage people who you believe may have a call. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you see gifts in them that could serve the Church well. You’d be surprised how many young people have never been encouraged to think about priesthood or religious life and therefore have never believed they were capable of it. I also remind you to please come to our 2nd Annual Homegrown Harvest Festival on October 2nd at St. Paul’s in Flowood. This event will bring together vocation supporters from across the diocese for a night of music, food and fun with our seminarians! You can buy your tickets or sponsor the event by going to I appreciate your consideration as we want to give as many excellent resources as possible to our future priests and religious.

Kathleen McMullin
RIDGELAND – Father Nick Adam gives Kathleen McMullin a blessing at her farewell party on Saturday, Aug. 21. McMullin departed the diocese to begin her formation with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Father Nick Adam)

Complaining, blaming others is a waste of time, pope says at Angelus

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Complaining is a poison that causes anger, resentment and sadness, and closes one’s heart to God, Pope Francis said.

“Let us ask in prayer for the grace not to waste time polluting the world with complaints, because this is not Christian,” the pope told those gathered in St. Peter’s Square Aug. 29 during his Sunday Angelus address.

“Jesus instead invites us to look at life and the world starting from our heart” because, by looking inside, people will find “almost all that we despise outside,” he said.

When people sincerely ask God “to purify our heart, that is when we will start making the world cleaner” because the best way to defeat evil is “by starting to conquer it within yourself,” the pope said.

The pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Mark in which Jesus explains why he does not follow some of the rituals of purification, saying God knows when people honor him “with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Jesus told the crowd that the things that defile people do not come from the outside world, but from within themselves, from their hearts and “evil thoughts.”

Pope Francis said, “this also pertains to us. We often think that evil comes mainly from the outside: from other people’s conduct, from those who think badly of us, from society.”

“How often we blame others, society, the world, for everything that happens to us! It is always the fault of ‘others,’” including those who govern, misfortune and so on, he said.

But all that time spent blaming others “is wasting time,” he said.

“We become angry, bitter and keep God away from our heart,” he said. “One cannot be truly religious in complaining: complaining poisons, it leads you to anger, to resentment and to sadness, that of the heart, which closes the door to God.”

The first step on the path of holiness, according to the first fathers of the church, was “to blame yourself,” the pope said.

“It is wisdom: learning to blame yourself. Try to do it, it will do you good. It does me good, when I manage to do so, but it is good for us,” he said. He prayed that Mary would help people purify their hearts by letting go of “the vice of blaming others and complaining about everything.”

After the Angelus, the pope greeted members of the Laudato Si’ movement.

He thanked them “for your commitment to our common home, particularly on the World Day of Prayer for Creation” Sept. 1 and the Season of Creation that runs from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4.

“The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are becoming ever more serious and alarming, and they call for a decisive and urgent action to transform this crisis into an opportunity,” he said.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Aug. 29, 2021. The pope appealed for intensified prayers and fasting for the situation in Afghanistan. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Different ways of being spiritual but not religious

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Nothing so much approximates the language of God as does silence. Meister Eckhart said that.

Among other things, he is affirming that there is some deep inner work that can only be done in silence, alone, in private.

He’s right of course, but there’s another side to this. While there is some deep inner work that can only be done in silence, there is also some deep, critical, soul work that can only be done with others, in relationship, in family, in church and in society. Silence can be a privileged avenue to depth of soul. It can also be dangerous. Ted Kaczynski, the unabomber, lived in silence, alone; as have many other deeply disturbed individuals. Mental health professionals tell us that we need interaction with other people to keep us sane. Social interaction grounds us, balances us, and anchors our sanity. I look at some of our young people today who are interacting with others (in person and through social media) every hour of their waking lives and worry for their depth, though not for their sanity.

We need each other. Jean-Paul Sartre once famously stated, “hell is the other person.” He couldn’t be more misguided. In the end, the other is heaven, the salvation for which we are ultimately destined. Utter aloneness is hell. Moreover, this malevolent aloneness can sneak up on you wearing the best altruistic and religious disguises.

Here’s an example: I grew up in a very close-knit family in a small rural community where family, neighbor, parish and being with others meant everything, where everything was shared and you were rarely alone. I feared being alone, avoided it, and was only comfortable when I was with others.

Immediately after high school, I joined a religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and for the next eight years lived in a large community where, again, most everything was shared and one was seldom alone. As I approached final vows and permanent commitment to religious life and priesthood, what I feared most was the vow of celibacy, the loneliness it would bring. No wife, no children, no family; the isolation of a celibate life.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Things turned out very differently. Celibacy has had its cost, admittedly; and admittedly it is not the normal life God intended for everyone. However, the loneliness I feared (but for brief moments) seldom ensued – the opposite. I found my life overly full of relationships, interaction with others, flat-out busyness, daily pressures and commitments that took up virtually every waking hour. Rather than feeling lonely, I found myself almost habitually longing for solitude, for quiet, to be alone; and I grew quite comfortable with being alone. Too comfortable in fact.

For most of the years of my priesthood, I have lived in large religious communities and they, like any family, have their demands. However, when I became president of a School of Theology, I was assigned to live in a house designated for the president and for a period of time lived alone. At first, I found it a bit disorienting, never having lived alone before; but after a while it grew on me. I really liked it. No responsibilities at home to anyone but myself.

Soon enough though, I perceived its dangers. After one year I ended the arrangement. One of the dangers of living alone and one of the dangers of celibacy, even if you are living faithfully, is that you don’t have others to call you out daily and put every kind of demand on you. You get to call your own shots and can avoid much of what Dorothy Day called “the asceticism of living inside a family.” When you live alone, you can too easily plan and live life on your own terms, cherry-picking those parts of family and community that benefit you and avoiding the difficult parts.

There are certain things that begin as virtues then easily turn into a vice. Busyness is an example. You sacrifice being with your family in order to support them by your work and that keeps you from many of its activities. Initially, this is a sacrifice – eventually, it’s an escape, an inbuilt dispensation from having to deal with certain issues inside family life. Vowed celibacy and priesthood court that same danger.

We all know the expression, ‘I am spiritual but not religious’ (which we apply to people who are open to dealing with God but not open to dealing with church). However, we struggle with this in more ways than we might think. At least I do. As a vowed, celibate priest, ‘I can be spiritual but not religious’ in that, for the highest of reasons, I can avoid much of the daily asceticism demanded of someone living in a family. However, this is a danger for all of us, celibate or married. When, for every kind of good reason we can cherry-pick those parts of family and community we like and avoid those parts we find difficult, we are spiritual but not religious.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website