Education, roof, bones mark Bishop’s tenure

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – When Bishop Van de Velde arrived in Natchez on Dec. 18, 1853, he inherited a cathedral in debt and needing completion on top of repairs to what already was there.

In a letter to the Propagation of the Faith written on Jan. 2, 1854, Bishop Van de Velde describes the scene:

“When my venerable predecessor was nominated to the new Diocese of Natchez in 1841, he had not a Catholic church in this city. He had only one church and one priest in the whole extent of the diocese.

“The Catholics in general were poor and few in numbers, as they still are. He was forced to build a church here to serve as his Cathedral and he used all the money which he could obtain by gifts, subscriptions, contributions, collections, allotments, etc.

NATCHEZ – Bishop Van de Velde was buried in the crypt beneath the St. Mary Basilica sanctuary until 1874 when his remains were transferred by his Jesuit brothers to Florissant, Missouri. (Photos courtesy of St. Mary Basilica Archives/Mike Murphy)

“He contracted debts in building this church which he has left half-finished. There are walls, furniture and roof which already need to be renewed. The windows have been boarded up, leaving an opening in each one in which panes of glass have been placed.

“It is absolutely the appearance of a great barn, and it has been in this state since 1843.”

Archbishop Antoine Blanc of New Orleans gifted Bishop Van de Velde with around $2000. Adding that to a parish subscription, he was able to put a slate roof on the church and with some other funds collected locally and from the Propagation of the Faith was able to do some repairs.

As a diocese, Bishop Van de Velde maintained the 11 original parishes established by Bishop John Joseph Chanche at Natchez, Paulding, Biloxi, Jackson, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Vicksburg, Sulphur Springs (Camden), Pearlington, Port Gibson and Yazoo City. There were also a few dozen mission stations being attended to monthly around these locations.

During his tenure, the Bishop tried to develop Catholic education in his diocese. He invited the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet to staff a new mission and future school built at Sulphur Springs. Five Sisters journeyed down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg, where they were met by the Bishop. From there they travelled by stagecoach to Canton and on to Sulphur Springs.

Bones from the old Spanish burial ground located behind St. Mary Basilica rest under the sanctuary of the church.

There is an interesting event that occurred along the journey which reflects an undercurrent of anti-Catholic sentiments in the State. The stagecoach owner apparently was one who expressed these sentiments as a member of the Know-Nothing movement. Simply put, the Know-Nothings believed Catholics were conspiring to subvert civil and religious liberties in the United States.

During the ride, the man, who also was intoxicated, accused our Bishop of being a priest and spat tobacco in his face several times in front of the five Sisters. Bishop Van de Velde maintained his composure and temper blocking the spew with his hat. Finally, when the stage stopped to change horses near Canton, Bishop Van de Velde threw the man out of the coach.

Another major education initiative of Bishop Van de Velde’s was to establish a Jesuit College at Rose Hill near Natchez. But this was not to be due to a lack of qualified clergy available for the endeavor and, the Jesuits were unable to accept the Bishop’s proposal.

Overall, Bishop Van de Velde was a much-loved bishop among the clergy and laity. His efforts to grow Catholic educational opportunities in his diocese show his commitment to further the faith in the State.

Back in the city of Natchez, the Bishop briefly obtained possession of the old Spanish burial ground located behind the church. The grounds had become a playground for children and dogs, with bones being unearthed and scattered. The city had even used some of the ground containing bones to level city streets. Bishop Van de Velde had all the bones gathered into two boxes and interred them in a crypt under the sanctuary in the church, then built a high wall around the rest of the area to protect the remaining graves.

In the fall of 1855, Natchez and Mississippi were under another siege of Yellow Fever. Several of the Cathedral staff were ill with the disease and suffering in the rectory next to the church. On Oct. 23, the Bishop fell on the steps of the rectory while going out in the evening to close the front gate. He fractured his leg in two places. Those inside suffering from fever were unaware of his predicament, and the poor Bishop had to lie there until morning when passersby heard his moans.

Soon the Bishop himself had contracted Yellow Fever and suffered for several days in agony. His beloved flock would pass by his room and receive a blessing from him while the fever raged. Then on Nov. 13 in the middle of blessing a parishioner, he succumbed to the illness.

After his funeral Mass, he was buried in the crypt beneath the sanctuary until 1874 when his Jesuit brothers took his remains to Florissant, Missouri. The Jesuit cemetery was relocated in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2006. Similar to his predecessor, he has been buried three times.
Bless his heart. His prayerful desire to be a missionary priest led him along a circuitous path to frontier mission work. We are blessed by his short term here in our diocese.

A special thank you to the St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee, who provided photos for this article and facts from their web site:

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

Called by name

It is Back-to-School time for our seminarians! We have seven men studying for the diocese right now. This year is the first year of a new requirement for men studying to be priests.

The Bishops of the United States have put together a propaedeutic year – which is kind of like a year of basic training for new seminarians. The men in this propaedeutic program will focus less on the academic requirements of priestly formation and spend the year focusing on growing in the good habits that are necessary to be a good seminarian, and one day, a good priest. Focuses include building a stable life of prayer, building good friendships, working on some personal challenges based on one’s background and staying in good physical shape.

I don’t know about you, but I would welcome a year to focus on building up great habits and breaking down bad ones, so I pray that this is a blessed year for these men.

Our two new seminarians are taking part in the propaedeutic year. Wilson Locke (St. Paul Vicksburg) is a Starkville native who has spent the last three years as the youth director at St. Paul’s in Vicksburg. He is a convert to Catholicism and came into the church while at St. Joseph in Starkville. He is entering the propaedeutic program at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Francisco Maldonado (Immaculate Heart of Mary, Greenwood) is a native of Houston, Texas, who just finished with his freshman year at Mississippi Valley State. After his year at Valley, Francisco decided to apply to the seminary and desires to discern whether he is called to our mission diocese.

We have five returning seminarians this coming year. Deacon Tristan Stovall (Holy Cross Philadelphia) is set to be ordained a priest on May 18, 2024, and he is currently at St. Mary in Natchez on his extended deacon assignment. John Le (St. Francis Brookhaven) just completed his hospital ministry summer and is returning to Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. John has extensive formation experience as a Jesuit, so we are working on a schedule with him regarding how much ‘more school’ he’ll need. Will Foggo (St. Paul Flowood) is about ‘halfway done,’ as he enters his fourth year of formation in the seminary. EJ Martin and Grayson Foley (St. Richard Jackson) are both five years away from ordination. (God willing of course!)

Ryan Stoer (St. Richard Jackson) has decided to transfer to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. I’ve worked closely with Ryan on this decision, and while I am certainly sad to see him go, Santa Fe is getting a high-quality seminarian and future priest. One of the toughest parts of this job is being ‘detached,’ and open to the Lord’s will and not just our own needs. I ask that we all pray for Ryan and wish him all the best and that God’s will be done!

We certainly wish all of our seminarians the very best this school year. Please keep them all in prayer!

                                     – Father Nick Adam, vocation director

For more info on vocations email:
Save the date: Homegrown Harvest – Saturday, Oct. 21

Are you obscuring divine plans?

By Sister alies therese

Maybe he’d never heard this Psalm? “I love You, O Lord, my strength … and I am safe… The breakers of death surged around about me, the destroying floods overwhelmed me … in my distress I called upon the Lord … from God’s temple I was heard, my cry reached God’s ears…and set me free in the open and rescued me, because God loves me.” (Psalm 18:5-7, 20)

I also love the Peterson translation of 18:20, “God stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved – surprised to be loved.” This is the reality of the Job story – a love story – a story that challenges us to come to a deeper understanding of the awesomeness of God’s love for us, the heart of the truth, the place of union. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him…” (Job 1:8) Yet God later questions Job: “Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you are talking about? Where were you when I created the universe? Tell me since you know so much.” (Peterson, Job 38:1ff)

This has been a weird year for me. From January when I ended up in hospital for many weeks with broken bones and infections, to July when our apartments, filled with swift moving rain, flooded, midst extreme heat. When was the last time you read Job? If not recently, I suggest it as part of your study, not because bad things happen but because Job discovers many things he’d never even considered.

The Job story is full of sadness and as C.S. Lewis points out in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness.”

Some of our readers are suffering right now in the quiet … perhaps the loss of a child, a fire, in jail, abuse, or hunger, including darkness in prayer or even unbelief. Joan W. Blos, an American author wrote this: “This morning’s sermon reminded us that great though our grief and suffering be, others have suffered more.” Anguish may fill the pages of Job and yet if we stop there, we shall never heal, have hope or happiness and we shall never learn compassion.

Because of the surprise of love, Job moved from being an advice-giving, important, very rich fellow and helping the poor … to becoming poor himself. Job recognized a whole new life when he talked with God (screamed, complained and confessed). How shall I say, he got ‘real,’ unlike his previous life or that of his ‘friends.’

In his poverty Job learned something else surprising, only God unties knots of trauma, pain, disappointment or distress. “You told me, ‘Listen and let Me do the talking. Let Me ask the questions. You give the answers. Job said, I admit I once lived by rumors of You, now I have it all firsthand – from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry – forgive me. I’ll never do that again. I promise! I’ll never again live on the crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumors!” (Peterson, Job 42:6)

So, the surprise included this personal relationship with God as reality, not just an idea or a possibility. Job discovered he was known, not through an intellectual exercise, nor a simple acceptance of other people’s stories and experiences, no, his own experience welded him in joy to a God who loves beyond all telling.

Our lives contain many fears, and when they are the focus, obscure divine plans. Over the centuries our various cultures and peoples have enslaved, murdered and warred against one another, executed one another, nuked, gossiped, bad-mouthed and turned our backs on one another. We have done horrible things even in the church by ignoring one another. Why are there no Black US saints? For centuries we have lived through greed, stealth and power, and the funny thing is, we continue today. Slavery, where human beings are ‘owned,’ cannot be explained away with ‘slaves learning really helpful things.’ Job learned only in love can we thrive and obtain forgiveness by experiencing the humility of God, moving us beyond these things.

If you are obscuring the divine plan in your life because you are afraid, stuck in some sin or addiction needing release, do read Job and see how much you are loved. Find a way to pray that causes you to rejoice, to see beyond rumor or other people’s experiences, that you might be surprised by this love so extreme, expressed in Jesus’ love-giving sacrifice for you!

Chester Cricket, in George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square, “began to chirp to ease his feelings. He found that it helped somehow if you sang your sadness.” Do chirp and sing so that others might be lifted from their anguish. Do learn to listen, as Job did, to the voice of God who desires us more than we can imagine. Do get out of the way, so God’s divine plan for your life might flourish, living anew as Job who disowned what he said and repented in dust and ashes. (Job 42:6)


(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)

Combating sex trafficking takes all of us

By Debbie Tubertini

I recently went to the movie theater to see “Sound of Freedom” which is based on a true story. It tells of an anti-child sex trafficking organization centered on Operation Underground Railroad by a former federal agent, Tim Ballard. Ballard is portrayed in the film by Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in “Passion of the Christ.”

I was hesitant at first about going to see this movie because I knew it was going to be heart breaking and make me angry. Yes, it was heart breaking and, yes it did make me angry; however, it provided information that made me feel more aware and informed about how this happens all over the world, even in Mississippi. It also made me appreciate how one person can make a difference if they know what to look for and what to do in the event you suspect someone is in this situation.

What is sex trafficking? Sex trafficking involves a wide range of activities where a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act. Trafficked victims can be of any age, race, sex, culture, religion, economic class and any level of education.

The traffickers’ aim is to profit from the exploitation of their victims using a multitude of coercive and deceptive practices. Traffickers can be strangers, acquaintances, or even family members who prey on the most vulnerable in our society. They frequently target victims who are looking for a brighter future, those hesitant to call the police, or those who feel excluded or ostracized from family or their community.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing international crime network the world has experienced. It is a $150 billion-dollar annual industry. The United States is considered one of the top destinations for victims of child trafficking and exploitation. The top recruitment location is the internet. Traffickers also use online dating platforms to identify victims. Traffickers will present themselves as recruiters or modeling agents on these dating platforms luring victims with attractive career opportunities. According to UNODC (United Nations Office on Drug and Crime) female victims continue to be primary targets, however there is a huge increase in male targets.

The following statistics are from Angel Studios Fight Against Child Trafficking website.

  • The United States is #1 in the world for sex trafficking.
  • Over 500,000 children go missing each year in the United States.
  • Greater than 50% of victims are between the ages of 12-15.
  • 25% of child pornography is created by a neighbor or family member.
  • Over 500,000 online sexual predators are active each day.
  • Over 80% of child sex crimes begin on social media.
  • As of 2021, there were 250,000 websites containing images or videos of children sexually abused and that number continues to rise.
  • Globally, 27% of human trafficking victims are children.
    Items to note:
  • “Sound of Freedom” was filmed in 2018 and has just now been made available in the theatres in 2023. According to Jim Caveziel they ran into one roadblock after another with this movie. The movie was first bought by 21st Century Fox but shelved when Disney purchased the studio. The movie was finally acquired by Angel Studios.
  • A common misconception is that human trafficking requires crossing state lines or national borders. The correct term for this is human smuggling. Human trafficking requires no movement. Victims are trafficked in their own states, towns and even in their own homes. In many cases these children are “groomed” by adults they know.

So, what can we do?

  • Pray for the victims who are in this horrible situation.
  • Educate ourselves and our children on the specifics of child trafficking.
  • If you are a parent, educate your children on ways to stay safe on the internet. They need to know how to protect themselves from online exploitation. Also, monitor their social media activity.
  • Make sure your state legislators are putting laws in place to increase accountability for human traffickers in our state.
  • Make sure this topic is kept in the forefront of our national security.
  • For those who feel called to do even more, investigate ways you can educate and help in your own community. A step further, reach out to organizations within your community that are working to rescue and restore trafficked children.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Anti–Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking situations.

(Debbie Tubertini is the Office of Family Life coordinator for the Diocese of Jackson.)

The illusion of self-sufficiency

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

A number of years ago, I attended the funeral of a man who died at the age of ninety. From every indication, he had been a good man, solidly religious, the father of a large family, a man respected in the community, and a man with a generous heart. However, he had also been a strong man, a gifted man, a natural leader, someone to whom a group would naturally look to take the reins and lead. Hence, he held a number of prominent positions in the community. He was a man very much in charge.

One of his sons, a Catholic priest, gave the homily at his funeral. He began with these words: Scripture tells us that the sum of a man’s life is seventy years, eighty for those who are strong. Now our dad lived for ninety years. Why the extra twenty years? Well, it’s no mystery. He was too strong and too much in charge of things to die at seventy or eighty. It took God an extra twenty years to mellow him out. And it worked. The last ten years his life were years of massive diminishment. His wife died, and he never got over that. He had a stroke which put him into assisted living and that was a massive blow to him. Then he spent the last years of his life with others having to help him take care of his basic bodily needs. For a man like him, that was humbling.

But this was the effect of all that. It mellowed him. In those last years, whenever you visited him, he would take your hand and say, “help me.” He hadn’t been able to say those words since he was five years old and able to tie his own shoelaces. By the time he died, he was ready. When he met Jesus and St. Peter on the other side, I’m sure he simply reached for a hand and said, “help me.” Ten and twenty years ago, he would, I’m sure, have given Jesus and Peter some advice as to how they might run the pearly gates more efficiently.

That’s a parable that speaks deeply and directly about a place we must all eventually come to, either through proactive choice or by submission to circumstance; we all must eventually come to a place where we accept that we are not self-sufficient, that we need help, that we need others, that we need community, that we need grace, that we need God.

Why is that so important? Because we are not God and we become wise and more loving when we realize and accept that. Classical Christian theologians defined God as self-sufficient being, and highlight that only God is self-sufficient. God alone has no need of anything beyond Himself. Everything else, everything that is not God, is defined as contingent, as not self-sufficient, as needing something beyond itself to bring it into existence and to keep it in existence every second of its being.

That can sound like abstract theology, but ironically it’s little children who get it, who have an awareness of this. They know that they cannot provide for themselves and that all comes to us as gifts. They know they need help. However, not long after they learn to tie their own shoelaces this awareness begins to fade and as they grow into adolescence and then adulthood, particularly if they are healthy, strong and successful, they begin to live with the illusion of self-sufficiency. I provide for myself!

And, that in fact serves them well in terms of making their way in this world. But it doesn’t serve truth, community, love or the soul. It’s an illusion, the greatest of all illusions. None of us will enter deeply into community as long as we nurse the illusion of self-sufficiency, when we are still saying, I don’t need others! I choose who and what I let into my life!

G.K. Chesterton once wrote that familiarity is the greatest of all illusions. He’s right, and what we are most familiar with is taking care of ourselves and believing that we are sufficient onto ourselves. As we know, this serves us well in terms of getting ahead in this life. However, fortunate for us, though painful, God and nature are always conspiring together to teach us that we are not self-sufficient. The process of maturing, aging and eventually dying is calibrated to teach us, whether we welcome the lesson or not; that we are not in charge, that self-sufficiency is an illusion. Eventually for all of us there will come a day when, as it was with us before we could tie our own shoelaces, we will have to reach out for a hand and say, “help me.”

The philosopher Eric Mascall has an axiom that says we are neither wise nor mature as long as we take life for granted. We become wise and mature precisely when we take it as granted – by God, by others, by love.

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

Bishop Van de Velde transfers from Chicago to warmer climate

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – In our last column, we ended with James Oliver Van de Velde, SJ, having been appointed the second bishop of Chicago in December 1848 and being ordained on Feb. 11, 1849.

According to “Cradle Days” (Bishop Gerow’s book), Bishop Van de Velde went about his ministry “with the utmost zeal.” He committed himself to the spiritual growth of his diocese and flock by visiting all the regions of his territory, expending great amounts of energy to the care of souls.

Envelope corner and stamp from Bishop Van de Velde’s letter to Msgr. Grignon from Nov. 7. 1853.

His health, however, was not cooperating. Bishop Van de Velde, suffered from rheumatism and the Chicago climate did not lend comfort to such an ailment. Soon he petitioned Rome to be allowed to resign and return to his brother Jesuits in Missouri. The Holy See’s answer was “carry on with patience…”

An opportunity for relief arose for Bishop Van de Velde when in 1852 at the First Plenary Council of Baltimore, he was elected to carry all the decrees from the council to the Vatican. While there in Rome, he again petitioned Pius IX to be relieved of Chicago. In the midst of this Bishop John Joseph Chanche, SS, of Natchez died during a post plenary council visit with his family outside Baltimore. This left a more temperate climate vacant and in need of a bishop.

On July 29, 1853, Pius issued a decree transferring Van de Velde to Natchez and its warmth to be its second bishop. Van de Velde spent several more months in Chicago arranging various matters in order before leaving for his new flock. He documents his circuitous journey to Natchez in a letter dated Nov. 7, 1853, to Monsignor Mathurin Grignon, who had served as Vicar General under Bishop Chanche. The original is in French and was mailed from St. Louis where Van de Velde had arrived to visit his Jesuit confreres. Here is Bishop Gerow’s translation:

“Mons. Grignon, My very dear “Abbé”:

Although I have not the pleasure of knowing you personally, I hasten to announce to you that I have arrived here [St. Louis] on my way to Natchez. Before I leave this town, I will visit St. Charles, St. Stanislaus & Florissant in Missouri and Quincy, the new See, where I have many things to arrange.
“I have promised to give the veil Sunday, feast of the amiable St. Stanislaus of our Company, to a young convert, one of my parishioners who is now a postulant of the Sacred Heart Convent in that town.

“I will start then Monday or Tuesday of next week for New Orleans; maybe ‘en passant’ will stop in Natchez. I will have with me a French priest who was one of my clergy for three years in the Diocese of Chicago, and a very good and pious old maid of Chicago who according to the advice of doctors is going to a warmer climate on account of her health. Maybe she could be our housekeeper.

“It is probable that when I will pass by Natchez I will leave them there, and in that case, I will recommend them particularly – the priest could assist you at the Cathedral and the old maid could stay with the Sisters of Charity until I come back.

NATCHEZ – Photo of the rectory at the (now) Basilica of St. Mary in June of 1941. (Photos courtesy of archives)

“I will write again from this boat. In the meantime, I recommend myself to your good prayers…Yours very sincerely, My dear ‘Abbé’, Yours very devoted in Christ, Jacques Oliver, Bishop of Natchez.”

Initially, the bishop arrived in Natchez on Nov. 23, where he was received with a great welcome by the clergy and people of the diocese. He dropped off his traveling companions and proceeded to New Orleans to assist at the consecration of the new Bishop of Natchitoches, Auguste Marie Martin.

After this celebration, Bishop Van de Velde journeyed to Mobile to make a retreat at Spring Hill College. Finally, on Dec. 18, 1853, he took possession of his new diocese.

In August, we will look at Bishop Van de Velde’s short tenure as bishop and the tasks he accomplished as the Second Bishop of the Diocese.

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

Pictured is a 1845 Roman Pontifical belonging to Bishop Van de Velde, the second bishop of the diocese.

Called by Name

Our summer immersion trip is nearing its end and we are all working to continue to progress in our capacity for Spanish. The experiences here continue to be unique and rich.

For the Fourth of July, we were invited to cook traditional American cuisine and we all chipped in to buy fireworks and enjoy a great show in the evening. Deacon Tristan cooked the best gumbo I have ever had (maybe it’s because I haven’t been in my home country for six weeks, but it was amazing nonetheless) and we had a great evening.

One of the best aspects of this program is that our teachers stay at the monastery with us. They eat meals with us and we get to know them and their families. At the Fourth of July party, the families of all the teachers were invited. It was a great evening and a great witness to the teachers and their families of the joy of the priesthood and the joy of our seminarians. I was able to give an in depth lesson on how to play cornhole (I never knew how many rules their were to that game until I had to describe them all in Spanish!)

CUERNAVACA, Mexico – Seminarians Will Foggo and Grayson Foley can be seen in the choir for Mass on the Feast Day of St. Benedict. (Photos courtesy of Father Nick Adam)

As the program nears its end I am very excited to get home. It’s been a lot of work and there are many challenges that come with living in a different country for a long period of time. The message that continues to come to me in prayer is that I need to embrace the uncomfortable. It is good, sometimes, to be uncomfortable because it helps us to stretch ourselves and become who God wants us to be, not just who we are comfortable being. I believe this experience has helped me, and our seminarians, learn that lesson, and this will be a great gift for the rest of our lives.

Many times this summer we have been faced with a choice: we could either turn back to a place of comfort, or keep going. This happened in the classroom, during conversations at meal time, and on excursions. We went on a long hike a little while back that we weren’t expecting to be too arduous, but an hour in we realized that the terrain was going to be really tough. But we kept going, and the beautiful scenery made it all worth it.

Every time we kept speaking Spanish instead of retreating back into English was a moment of grace. Every time we kept trying to listen to the homily even when we didn’t think we’d understand any of it was a moment of growth. Every time we kept walking because that is what the Lord wanted us to do was a moment to grow closer to him and to grow in humility and trust. I learned a lot of Spanish this summer, but I think my reliance and trust in Jesus Christ grew the most.

     – Father Nick Adam, vocation director
CUERNAVACA, Mexico – Deacon Tristan Stovall cooks up some “traditional” American fair during a language immersion trip to Mexico. Father Nick Adam and seminarians celebrated the Fourth of July with gumbo and fireworks, along with their teachers.

No lasting city

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Scripture tells us that in this life we have no lasting city. True enough. But, it seems, we also don’t have a lasting house, school, neighborhood, town, zip code address, or most anything else. Eventually nothing lasts.

Perhaps my case isn’t typical, but a lot of things in my life haven’t lasted. My grandparents were immigrants, Russian-Germans, moving to the Canadian prairies and being among the first farmers to break the soil there at the beginning of the 1900s. They were young, so too was life then on the prairies, and their generation planted new farms, schools, towns and cities across the great plains of Canada and the USA. I was born into the second generation of all that – but just as urbanization and other changes were already beginning to cause the disappearance of a lot of what they had built.

So, here’s my story of having no lasting city. The elementary school I went to closed after I’d finished the sixth grade. We were bused to a bigger centralized school and our old school building was carted away. Nothing remains today to indicate there once was a school there. The new school I attended closed several years after I’d graduated. The building itself was razed and today the entire former campus is part of a farmer’s field with only a small plaque to indicate there once was vibrant life there, with hundreds of young voices filling the air with energy. That school was a couple of miles out of a small town and that town itself has now completely disappeared, without a single building left.

I went from high school to an Oblate novitiate house situated in the heart of the Qu’Appelle valley, a beautiful stately building on a lake. Several years after I’d graduated from there, the building was sold and soon afterwards was destroyed in a fire. Only an empty stretch of prairie sits there now. From there, I moved to another seminary, a magnificent old building (formerly the Government House for the Northwest Territories) and spent six wonderful years there. Again, several years after I’d graduated, the building was abandoned, and it too was eventually destroyed by a fire.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

From there I moved to Newman Theological College in Edmonton where I spent the next fifteen years. Newman College had a beautiful campus on the outskirts of the city, but several years after I’d left, the campus was expropriated by the city to build a ring road and all its buildings were razed. From there, I moved to a wonderfully homey building, the Oblate Provincial residence in Saskatoon. Several years later, after I’d moved out, that building too was razed and nothing remains where it once stood. And, while all this was happening, the little town to which our family was connected (for mail, for groceries, for services, for identity) became a ghost town with no inhabitants, all its buildings shuttered.
Eventually, I moved to Oblate School of Theology in Texas to live in a welcoming little house designated for the president of the school. However, after a few years, the land it was on was needed for a new seminary and that house too was razed. Finally, most painful of all, two years ago, our family house, our home for more than 70 years, was sold and the new owners (sensitive enough to ask our family’s permission to do so) burned the old house to the ground.

That’s a lot of roots disappearing: my elementary school, my high school, the town our family was connected to, both seminaries from which I graduated, the college where I first taught, both Oblate houses I’d spent wonderful years within, and the family house – all gone, razed to the ground, nothing left to go back to.

What does that do to you? Well, there’s nostalgia, yes. How I would again love to walk into any of those buildings, feel what they once meant to me and bask in memories. None of that can happen. Each of these is a mini death, leaving a part of my soul rootless. On the other hand, more positively, all that unwanted letting go is helping prepare me for an ultimate letting go, when I will be facing my own death, and not just some haunting nostalgia.

As well, this has taught me something else of substance. Buildings and houses may disappear, but home is not contingent on them. Rene Fumoleau, a poet among the Dene tribes, shares how he once visited a family the day after their house had been destroyed by fire and had this conversation with a young girl:

The next day I visited the burned out family.
What could I say after such a tragedy?
I tried with the ten-year old daughter: ‘Joan, you must feel terrible without home.’
The young girl knew better: ‘Oh, we still have our home,
But we have no house to put on it.” (Home – Here I Sit)
Yes, we can still have a home even without our former house on it.

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

‘Becoming our parents’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing

For the Journey
By Effie Caldarola

As my mom grew older, she became less mobile. When we’d visit the mall she wouldn’t walk to the parking lot; we’d find a secure bench outside a store, and she would wait there for us to bring the car around.

Often, when we’d drive up, Mom would be engaged in conversation with someone, sometimes another elderly person sharing the bench. Mom would tell us what she’d learned of that person’s life, and we’d chuckle about her uncanny ability to extract information from strangers – and cringe a little to imagine what she might have shared about us.

Most of us have seen that television commercial where an insurance company, tongue in cheek, explains how new homeowners shouldn’t become their parents. Funny, yes, but I detect a whiff of ageism as the millennials need help not becoming the kind of people – like their boomer parents – who chat up someone in an elevator or attempt to help some stranger find a product on the store shelf.

Admittedly, the ad is a little exaggerated, but is friendliness such a bad thing?

When I visited my daughter on the East Coast, I would often travel along a busy river walk near her home. It was striking to me how no one spoke. Everyone looked determinedly straight ahead. I thought perhaps I’d been a native Midwestern and an Alaskan for too long.

Effie Caldarola

Then, I moved to a small eastern town. Everyone walks here and, almost to a person, everyone says hello. I’ve had 15-minute conversations with strangers who stop to chat. A person I’d never met introduced herself and gave me a treat to feed her little dog. A nanny stopped with her stroller and pointed to a house where she noticed Amazon packages had sat for several days. Should we call in a wellness check? A young man stopped to converse about a house for sale on my block.

What was going on here? In this town, an historic town with lots of big old houses, the population seems racially homogeneous, fairly prosperous and similar in many ways. Does this make people feel safer and more open? The river walk, on the other hand, was a much more diverse mix, from different neighborhoods. And in all fairness, those on the river walk were perhaps more focused on exercise than the neighborhood walkers.

Still, what are the barriers to our friendliness?

I thought about this at Sunday’s greeting of peace at Mass. Still in no-touch COVID mode, people turn, give a little wave and mouth the word “peace.” I smile, but despite our split-second attention to each other, I know that when I leave Mass I won’t know those folks any better.

Coffee and donuts, anyone?

I assure you, I’m not the person who starts a conversation on an airplane. I say hello and pull out my book. I do not chat people up on elevators.

But neither do I want to create a shield to protect me from others. I want to be aware of the person who needs help, who appears ill, or who just needs a friendly smile. I don’t want to fear diversity, or become that person who mutters, “I don’t want to get involved.”

Despite the fact that in our country, people have been shot for turning up the wrong driveway, or for being a Black person shopping for groceries, I want to be with those who notice and care about each other, and act with friendliness. I think this is part of our faith commitment, our seeing Christ in each person we encounter.

Perhaps I am becoming my mother, after all. And you know what? That’s a good thing.

(Effie Caldarola is a wife, mom and grandmother who received her master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Seattle University.)

The call of home

Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington

This time of year families travel to vacation destinations, hoping to occupy their days away from work and school with plenty of fun-filled activities and relaxation. While away, they seek distraction in various forms of entertainment, especially novelty, something unavailable in the locale where they reside. At vacation’s end, many of them, if they are honest with themselves, are actually eager to return to the familiar surroundings of that special place they call home. Whenever I’ve been away for an extended period, I too have been happy and excited when the time came to leave and go back to my family.

Home holds precious memories and evokes a powerful sense of place and of belonging. Everyone sooner or later hears and responds to its irresistible call. Every year at homecoming alumni return to college campuses to renew old friendships and show support for their alma mater. And during the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, family members inevitably converge on their parents’ or grandparents’ house, as if drawn there by a magnet.

We all have a location of one sort or another we can go back to. It may be our birthplace or where we were raised. It may be where we have lived the longest or even where we currently reside. In any case, it’s that specific spot to which we feel deeply connected, the place we love that grounds us and sustains us. It’s where we feel at ease – comfortable, safe and loved. It’s our center, a geographical area we might even refer to as God’s country. As the saying goes, home is where the heart is. Perhaps this is why so many people desire to return to the land of their birth to be buried.

Born and raised in Jackson, I called the Capitol City home for most of my early life. After graduating from college, I moved away and lived for about ten years in several other states before returning to Mississippi and settling in Oxford, where I have resided for the last 40 years. Mississippi is where I’ve spent most of my life and career. It’s where my wife, children and grandchildren live. It’s home, a term that surely must be on the short list of the most beautiful words in our language.

When I fill out forms that ask for my permanent address, I write the location of the house my wife and I live in. But my domicile is not really permanent in the strict sense of the word because this world and everything in it is transitory; it’s slowly but surely passing away. However, one thing will not pass away, and that’s the church.

As members of the Mystical Body of Christ we can all say that our real home in this world is the church. When we’re in God’s house praying along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, uniting our worship with that of the saints in heaven, and receiving communion – the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord – it’s heaven on earth!

But we can take it a step further because our ultimate dwelling place is the one our Blessed Lord has prepared for us. We believe this because of His promise: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again, and I will take you to myself; that where I am, there you also may be.” (John 14:2-3) No one knows what it will be like, but it will surely be more beautiful and wonderful than anything we can imagine: “Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9)

So, what does this strong impulse to return to one’s point of origin mean? Is it part of a ritual of self-discovery and a search for the meaning of life? Does it signify an archetypal journey back to the source – to God, our Creator and the source of our being? Is it a longing for heaven? Whatever the case may be, in the meantime we remain here in a world dominated by the philosophies of materialism, hedonism, relativism and all the other “isms” that run counter to the Kingdom of Heaven. As C. S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, “we are living in … enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is.” But then he goes on to say “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death … I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

As I get older, I find myself thinking more and more about my ultimate destination. Maybe it will be like Lewis’ beautiful description of Aslan’s country at the conclusion of The Last Battle, the seventh and final volume of The Chronicles of Narnia. Near the end of the book, one of the characters, upon arriving there, remarks: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”

I love these lines because they perfectly summarize the way I felt when I was received into the Catholic Church. That day, after many years of searching and seeking, I finally reached the end of my journey to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church established by Jesus Christ. I found the fulfillment of my deepest longings and rest for my restless heart. It was like coming home. And as Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)