Beloved, ‘larger than life’ priest, Father Kaskie passes at age 57

By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Known for his ‘larger than life’ personality, Father Brian Kaskie was a gem of a priest to those around the Diocese of Jackson for almost 30 years.
Father Brian, 57, died Friday, March 26 after an extended bout with medical issues.

JACKSON – On March 30, priests from around the diocese gathered at St. Peter Cathedral to celebrate the life of Father Brian Kaskie. (Photo by Tereza Ma)

Brian David Kaskie was born Feb. 17, 1964 in Forest, Mississippi and attended St. Michael Catholic Church while growing up, assisting as an altar server and active in CYO. In high school, he was a multi-sport athlete, playing on the basketball, football, baseball and tennis teams for the Forest Bearcats.
He was a graduate of Mississippi State University earning his bachelor’s degree in geology. He received his Master’s in Divinity in 1992 and was ordained June 6 that year as the first native-born priest from Scott county.
After his ordination, presided over by Bishop William Houck, Father Brian said, “Many people have different demands and expectations of priests today. A priest has to be able to compromise and meet people where they are.”
That is something Father Brian was able to do well, with is zest for life, God, science, family and community. His obituary read, “He never met a stranger and always engaged in friendly conversation.”
This was so true with the flood of comments to social media after news of his death.

MCCOMB – Father Brian Kaskie speaks at the diaconate ordination of now, Father Andrew Nguyen on May 26, 2019 at St. Alphonsus parish. (Photo courtesy of archives)

“You were always so funny and kind. We enjoyed your hunting adventures and stories of the pink bathroom at the rectory. I loved being your ‘ace in the hole’ as you called it because I would speak at Mass when you couldn’t find someone else. Heaven has gained a true angel. We will miss you here!” – Amy Hornback of St. Alphonsus parish.
“He made such a difference in the lives of the parishioners of St. Mary in Natchez, especially the youth there and at Cathedral School. To the CYO members in the 90s, he was just one of them!” – Betsy Pitchford of St. Mary Basilica, Natchez.
“You were the best boss. We always had fun. You can have all the Diet Coke, Double Stuffed Oreos and pizza you want. Your angel wing(s) will support you.” – Laura Tarbutton of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Jackson.
“I pray you know how much you were truly loved. I can’t imagine a world without your radiant smile and beautiful homilies … your words touched countless souls over the years, and I feel humbly blessed to have grown up beneath a blanket of Father Brian blessings. – Ashley Hemleben, who first met Father Brian at St. Therese Jackson and grew up with him as chaplain of St. Joseph School.

“Back in the day,” Father Brian Kaskie and Father Joe Tonos share a laugh. The cartoon piece on the left, drawn by Father Joe in the early 2000s, features Father Brian as a “Kris Kringle.” (Photo courtesy of Father Joe Tonos)

“I always appreciated his unique sense of humor. When we realized we were birthday twins – at a CYO convention no less – we figured out he was several hours older than me. His response was that he got here in time for three meals that day, while I was only here in time for two.” – Teresa Hayes of St. Therese Jackson.
And the list of memories could fill pages of a novel of the love and humor Father Brian brought to those around the diocese.
In the early 2000s, Father Joe Tonos, who was in seminary with Father Brian in the late 80s/early 90s, wrote a column for Mississippi Catholic and would occasionally have a cartoon in place of the column that would often feature Father Brian.
Some featured Father Brian as a “Kris Kringle,” another series was entitled “Father Brian’s Big Bucket O’ Catholic Trivia,” that went through topics like, “who is in hell?”, “why saints have symbols” and the trivia fact that priests do have interests outside of church.
In the 90s, Father Joe and Father Brian were frequently together at youth retreats and CYO events around the diocese. Father Joe reminisced about the time Father Brian was chaplain at St. Joseph School Madison and he was responsible for doing the senior retreat.

JACKSON – Bishop William Houck annoints Father Brian Kaskie’s hands with Sacred Chrism at his ordination on June 6, 1992 at St. Richard Jackson. (Photo courtesy of archives)

“He gathered the students around a bonfire and celebrated Mass outdoors with them. As part of his homily, he decided that he would take each person in the class and say something about that person. He was winging it. So, he would just look at a person and begin to eulogize this kid and talk about what they meant to him and highlight some stories or qualities. As the stories dragged on into over 20 minutes, … if I remember (correctly), a teacher gently asked him, during the homily, to ‘wrap it up.’ I honest to goodness do not remember how that ended. I don’t even know if I stayed awake for it,” said Father Joe.
“But thinking now, … what a divine gift! To have a chaplain of your school notice you and to be able to say something about you. I know of hundreds of people but can’t really give a ‘homily’ on each member of my congregation. … The shepherd knows his sheep.”
In his 29 years as a priest, Father Brian served parishes in Natchez, Madison and Jackson, where he was rector of the Cathedral. He also served as director of seminarians and vocations for the diocese, as well as chaplain to St. Joseph School in Madison. In 2009, Father Brian made his way to Pike County with assignment as pastor of St. Alphonsus parish in McComb, St. Teresa Chatawa and St. James Magnolia.
Daniel Kaskie, Father Brian’s brother, spoke of the love his brother had for St. Alphonsus at his Funeral Mass at the parish on Tuesday, April 6.
“Brian was one of those gifts that, I think, we all like to hold onto. I found out pretty quickly once he became a priest that he was in very capable hands in the communities he was in. Everyone loved and cared for him and when he found his home here in McComb, man, he loved McComb and McComb loved him right back, and it was a perfect fit I think for his last moments,” said Kaskie.
Father Aaron Williams, administrator of St. Joseph parish in Greenville, gave the homily and spoke of his years and experiences with Father Brian between third and eighth grade and then again entering seminary. He wanted to be a priest from a very young age and Father Brian encourage him through his journey to the priesthood.
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.”
Father Williams began his homily with an excerpt from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as he can’t help but think of Father Brian when he thinks about the Harry Potter series.
“For one thing,” he told family gathered for the funeral, “Brian borrowed and never returned more than one of my volumes,” joked Father Williams.
“My parents used to talk about how well read he was, and you could hear it in his homilies. He had this masterful ability to find the good in all sorts of things in the culture – in books, movies and music and to use that to explain the love of God.”
Daniel Kaskie mentioned something similar at the close of Mass, saying “I’m sure he’s thinking ‘Quote the Beatles! Quote the Beatles, Daniel’”
“But there is no song, no lyric, there’s no book that is going to sum up Brian. But I think the shared experience y’all have is one bond that I think binds us all together,” said Kaskie.
That experience surely must be love.

SVDs, Jim Crow and growing a better future for African Americans

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Not many people are aware that the first seminary for African American candidates to the priesthood began in Greenville, Mississippi at Sacred Heart Parish in 1920. A small group of devoted young men were formed in the attic of the original school building there.
In 1923, the seminary moved to Bay St. Louis to the newly established St. Augustine Seminary built by the Society of the Divine Word priests (SVD’s) after years of dialogue with Bishop Thomas Heslin and after his death in 1911, Bishop John Gunn.

JACKSON – 1936 ordination of Father Clarence Howard and Father Orion Wells, SVDs by Bishop R. O. Gerow. (Photos from the archives)

Bishops Heslin and Gunn had a strong desire and mission to evangelize and grow the faith in the African American communities of Mississippi. A large percentage of African Americans in those years were former slaves and children of slaves. A good number had been catechized in the Catholic faith and baptized by the earlier Bishops of the diocese.
Bishop Heslin and his successor Bishop Gunn saw a real need for this growing Catholic community to have priests from their own ranks. At the turn of the 20th century, Bishop Heslin invited the SVD’s to serve in the diocese and establish missions to specifically serve African Americans.
The SVD’s, founded in 1875 by Rev. Arnold Janssens in the Netherlands, first arrived in the U.S. in 1897 near Chicago. A few years later in 1905, they found themselves in Mississippi establishing these missions and growing the faith – the earliest of these being Vicksburg St. Mary, Jackson Holy Ghost, and Yazoo City St. Francis. They also would be in Meridian, Indianola, Mound Bayou and Clarksdale along with many smaller missions that have been absorbed by larger parishes throughout the years.
Getting back to the first seminary, the point of dialogue made more than 100 years ago was, the seminary training for these young men of color should be done by a religious order and not at a seminary forming diocesan clergy.

One may think this is an obvious choice because the SVD’s had a charism to serve the African American community, but actually, that was an afterthought according to correspondence in the archives. Both Bishop Heslin and Bishop Gunn believed the current diocesan clergy being ingrained in the culture and climate of the diocese would not be accepting or welcoming of African American priests among their ranks.
Rectory-living would have been considered illegal if black and white priests were assigned together. The Jim Crow laws and culture of intimidation are far too complex to address in an archives column. I will share the following from David H. Jackson’s section in the Mississippi Encyclopedia:
“After 1877 African Americans lost their political rights in Mississippi through intimidation, fraud, and outright murder, and racial segregation became largely a matter of custom. According to historian Neil McMillen, ‘Mississippi seems to have had fewer Jim Crow laws during the entire segregation period than most southern states.’ Wherever they turned, black Mississippians faced segregation. More often than not, Jim Crow customs required both separation and exclusion. The state legislature passed laws segregating trains in 1888 and streetcars in 1904. At weddings and funerals, in courtrooms, public facilities, and other places used for social gathering, habit kept the races apart. The code of racial etiquette prohibited any form of interracial activity that might have even remotely implied equality. Nonetheless, blacks were more concerned with having equal access to facilities than they were with integration per se.”
“In 1890 the Mississippi legislature called a constitutional convention expressly to disfranchise blacks. The Second Mississippi Plan emerged from this meeting, imposing literacy requirements, poll taxes, and laws denying the vote to anyone convicted of bribery, arson, murder, theft, or burglary — crimes for which African Americans were much more likely to be convicted than whites. Following Mississippi’s lead, other southern states began to enact laws to deny blacks the franchise. The US Supreme Court’s decision in Williams v. Mississippi (1898) added to African Americans’ political impotence by denying them federal civil rights law protection.”
As we have explored in previous columns, blacks and whites were together sacramentally in the early days of the diocese. This continued even after the Civil War, but when the protections of reconstruction were gone, segregation took hold fiercely.

In navigating these evil circumstances, Bishops Heslin and Gunn found a way to persevere in serving the African American community by arranging for the SVD’s to establish a seminary for black men to study for the priesthood and serve in their own communities. Following the path of their times to establish a parallel society, these two bishops opened the door to the empowerment of the African American Catholic community in our diocese and in the United States.
Seeing the need for black Catholics to see the face of Christ as a familiar one was a profound step in the journey of faith and justice in our state. Looking back on this effort, it seems to have been a calculated move in the hopes of growing a better future for the African American community and for the universal church. And it all started in the Mississippi Delta.

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

Father David Buell (Maria) Knight Obituary

MEMPHIS – Father David Knight, beloved priest, writer and friend to many across the world, died of congestive heart failure on March 21, 2021, at the Poor Clare Monastery in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, a religious community of cloistered sisters that he helped establish 40 years ago. He celebrated his 90th birthday just days before his death and was proud to be the oldest priest in the Catholic Diocese of Memphis.
Born on March 16, 1931, to the late Marion and Elizabeth (Buell) Knight in Dallas, Texas, Father Knight was one of three brothers raised in the Catholic faith. Another brother passed away as an infant. Father Knight entered the Jesuit Novitiate in France in 1948. He earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., in 1952. He was ordained a Catholic priest at the Cathedral of Saint Jean in Lyon, France, on September 2, 1961.
After ordination, Father Knight served as a Catholic missionary in the African nation of Chad for three years. Upon his return to the United States, he pursued a doctorate in theology from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Throughout his life, he taught at various universities including Catholic University, Loyola University in New Orleans, where he served as spiritual director of the Jesuit community, Christian Brothers University (CBU) in Memphis, and Memphis Theological Seminary.

Father David Knight

Father Knight co-founded the House of the Lord in Memphis, a religious community, in 1979. He spent the remainder of his life as a priest serving the faithful in Catholic Diocese of Memphis in various roles. During his active ministry, he served as Diocesan Director of the Cursillo movement, Diocesan Spiritual Director of the Hispanic Catholic community and campus minister at CBU. He served as Pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Memphis for 14 years before he retired from active ministry on July 26, 2002. He resided at the Monastery of St. Clare, a contemplative community of cloistered sisters, in the Memphis community of Frayser until December 2019 when the monastery closed. While he lived there, he served as Chaplain to five different Women’s religious communities. Upon the monastery’s closure, Cardinal Alvaro Rammacini invited Father Knight to assist the Poor Clare community in Guatemala, where he is now buried.
A prolific writer, Father Knight published more than 40 books on the Catholic faith and teachings, which inspired both lay people and theologians. His first book, His Way: An Everyday Plan for Following Jesus, which is a collection of reflections on the spirituality of the laity, sold more than 150,000 copies. The book was a catalyst in creating parish missions, retreats and discussion groups across the world. His book, Reaching Jesus: 5 Steps to a Fuller Life, led to his creation of the non-profit organization, Immersed in Christ, which encourages people to respond to the call to live a Christian life. In addition to writing, Father Knight conducted more than 500 missions, retreats and workshops across the U.S. and in 20 countries during his lifetime, including Australia, Canada, England, Ecuador, Germany, Guam, Guatemala, Haiti, Ireland, Japan, Korea and Spain.
Father Knight spent his religious life focused on helping people understand God’s love. He often told people during his spiritual retreats at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, “Our happiness is not dependent on anything on this earth.” He leaves behind his brother, Robert, of West Tisbury, Mass., Manuela Knight, the widow of his brother, Mickey, and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
After Easter, the Catholic Diocese of Memphis will look to offer a Mass in remembrance of Father David Buell (Maria) Knight. More details on the Mass will be forthcoming on the

(Courtesy of the Diocese of Memphis)

Featured photos

Preparing Chrism oils …

JACKSON – On March 30, volunteers prepared Holy Oils for priests to take back to their home parishes, in the Community Center at the Cathedral of St. Peter. The oils were blessed by Bishop Joseph Kopacz the day before. This year, no Chrism Mass was held due to holding a Funeral Mass for Father Brian Kaskie. Pictured in front are chancery employees, Vickie Carollo and Fabvienen Taylor. (Photo by Tereza Ma)

Catholic Charities

JACKSON – (Left to right) Pam Hart, Community Relations Manager; Melanie Morgan, Marketing Director; Wanda Thomas, Executive Director; and Michael Crandall, Bank President Canton branch. Thank you to Trustmark National Bank for their generous donation through the Business Children’s Promise Tax Credit. For more information on the Individual Children’s Promise Tax Credit, call 601-326-3714. (Photo by Michael Thomas)

Stations of Cross

PEARL – St. Jude parish meet April 2 for walking the Stations of the Cross. (Photo by Tereza Ma)
JACKSON – St. Richard second graders reenact the Stations of the Cross. (Photo by Chelsea Hamilton)
CLARKSDALE – St. Elizabeth students perform the Stations of the Cross. Pictured left to right: Isabel Walker (Veronica), William Walker (Jesus), Luke Agostinelli (Simon of Cyrene) and Sam Stonestreet (Roman soldier). (Photo by Derrick Faucheux)

St. Joseph Altar

NATCHEZ – At Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary parish displayed their St. Joseph Altar for his feast day on March 19. (Photo by Maureen Irby)

New document offers ways to foster Catholic-Methodist relationships

By Dennis Sadowski
CLEVELAND (CNS) – A two-part publication emerging from the most recent round of dialogue between representatives of the U.S. Catholic bishops and the United Methodist Church offers practical helps and words of inspiration for day-to-day lives.
The work, “Catholics and Methodists Together,” reflects on commonly held beliefs, identifies areas of theological agreement, and provides a guide to shared prayers and worship services.
Published in two parts, the document “is really the spiritual fruit of the pilgrimage of faith that Catholics and Methodists walk on together,” said Father Walter Kedjierski, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
“It’s people of faith coming together and walking together,” Father Kedjierski said.
The document emerged from the eighth round of a dialogue that was established in 1966 between United Methodists and Catholics. The most recent round began in 2015 and concluded in 2020.
Bishop David P. Talley of Memphis, Tennessee, and Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church co-chaired the dialogue.
Participants included 10 Catholics and eight United Methodists who met twice a year in sessions hosted alternately by each denomination. Each of the earlier rounds of dialogue led to publications that addressed the Eucharist and ecology, common ecclesiology, ethical issues regarding death and dying, spirituality of the ordained ministry, sacramental theology and practice, and rights and responsibilities toward children’s education.
Bishop Johnson told Catholic News Service the new work passes on “the tradition and the goodwill and the understanding” between the two Christian denominations.
“It’s Christian. It’s Jesus. It’s based in God and the Holy Spirit. The things that we disagree about are so much less compared to the things that we agree on,” she said.
The document’s first part, subtitled “We Believe, We Pray, We Act,” underscores the importance of the churches’ shared recognition of each other’s baptism. It includes theological commentaries on the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the love of God and neighbor.
Through the exploration of prayer and common beliefs, the document is meant to touch “people within their faith lives and their day-to-day lives,” Father Kedjierski said.
Kimberly Belcher, associate professor theology at the University of Notre Dame, a participant in the dialogue and co-author of the first part, said the document was written largely with people in the pews in mind.
“What we are doing is trying to think about what matters for Catholics, for Methodists in their ordinary lives about ecumenical relationships,” Belcher told CNS.
Belcher said it’s the day-to-day relationships – which she described as ecumenical in nature – that the document is meant to address to help people grow in understanding and appreciation of each other: marriage of a Methodist and Catholic, children of such a marriage, Methodists who teach at Catholic schools and Catholics who teach at Methodists schools and more.
“The ecumenical relationships are much more on the ground more than we realize on a regular basis,” said Belcher, who was invited to join the dialogue as a younger theologian.
Bishop Johnson, the first woman United Methodist bishop to participate in the dialogues said she came to realize through her work the dialogues are important “because there’s so much more to talk about, so much more to share.”
The document’s second part, subtitled “Shared Prayers and Resources,” is a practical guide for Catholics and United Methodists to learn, pray and worship together, Father Kedjierski said.
It details shared traditional prayers, such as the Stations of the Cross, and includes examples of Scripture-center and everyday prayers. It includes templates for ecumenical prayer services for times of crisis, for people in need, including the poor, persecuted and refugees, for Christian unity and for peace.
Bishop Johnson played a major role in developing the second part of the work. She told CNS that throughout her 40 years as an ordained minister, she “fell in love with all the kinds of services we do and the congregations that are part of both bodies.”
“This is just the body of Christ,” Bishop Johnson said.
She also credited the collaboration between Methodist and Catholic humanitarian ministries in response to disasters, hunger, poverty and the needs of prison inmates for helping build bridges that strengthened the dialogues.

Bishop David P. Talley of Memphis, Tenn., is seen in this 2019 file photo. He co-chaired the eighth round of the dialogue between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United Methodist Church. (CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register)

“The bridge keeps going further and further,” she said.
Belcher, the theologian, said the document’s explanation of the common aspects and minor differences found in prayers such as the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s prayer between the two faith traditions can become a learning experience for Catholics and Methodists. She suggested that joint study groups can develop among congregations whereby each prayer can be broken down into segments as little as two lines for discussion to help understand the basic foundations of Christian faith.
“We want Catholics vested in the flourishing of Methodists and vice versa,” Belcher said.
The dialogues are expected to continue. Plans are underway for a ninth round, but its future will depend on how the coronavirus pandemic evolves. Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton of Steubenville, Ohio, and Bishop Kenneth H. Carter Jr. of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church will be co-chairs.
In the meantime, the United Methodist Church will be facing a major decision in upcoming years as members around the world are expected to take up a proposal to split the denomination over what it has called “fundamental differences” regarding its beliefs on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy.
Sixteen Methodist leaders from around the world signed a proposal in early 2020 that was to be voted on during the church’s general conference last May. However, the conference was delayed because of the pandemic.
If passed, the proposal would permit a “traditionalist” denomination to separate from the United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.
The church’s Book of Discipline that outlines its law and doctrine does not allow pastors to perform same-sex marriages and prohibits “practicing” LGBTQ people from becoming ordained pastors. If the new traditionalist denomination is formed, the existing United Methodist Church would be able to repeal the prohibition of same-sex marriages and LGBTQ clergy.
Such an action would result in a major roadblock on the road to future unity between the Catholic Church and United Methodist Church. Catholic doctrine prohibits same-sex marriage and permits sexual relations only between a married man and woman.
If the split occurs, as observers expect, it is unlikely to affect the dialogues, however.
“We remain committed to our relationship with the United Methodist Church and pray for Methodists as they discern these important moral issues while upholding genuinely Catholic positions on them,” Father Kedjierski said.
Bishop Johnson said she expects the dialogues to continue.
“We’ll have to keep talking is all I can say, and we’ll have to talk with each other, and, with the grace of God, to help us through the different conversations,” Bishop Johnson said of the decision facing Methodist leaders.
Regardless of the Methodist outcome, Bishop Johnson said, “I firmly believe that God will make us one in the long run.”

(Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski)

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Holy Week arrives in 2021

By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Lent is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter. Last year, Lent began with packed churches on Ash Wednesday on Feb. 26, 2020, but the world quickly changed as the reality of COVID-19 set in when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, 2020. With churches in the diocese shuttered from March through Pentecost on May 31, many parishes took the dive into sharing Stations, Rosaries and Mass through livestreaming.
As the church enters into Holy Week in 2021, our churches still look a little different with social distancing and mask use in effect, but the celebrations will give all an opportunity to walk with Christ through the crucifixion and into the new life of Easter, whether in person or virtual.
As in 2020, the Holy See issued decrees regarding the celebrations of Holy Week during COVID-19.
Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. While the receiving of palms was restricted last year, this year the faithful may receive palm fronds.
On the Tuesday of Holy Week priests from across the diocese will gather at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle for the Mass of the Oils, also known as the Chrism Mass. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will bless and consecrate the oils which will be used throughout the year for baptisms, anointing of the sick, and confirmations. As in 2020, the Chrism Mass will be closed to the public this year.

The Last Supper, the Mass of the Institution of the Eucharist, is the center of Holy Thursday. Lent officially ends with the beginning of this liturgy, which starts the three most holy of days in the church’s liturgical calendar – the Sacred Triduum. Normally, on Holy Thursday many pastors follow Christ’s example by washing the feet of members of their congregations, a reminder of the gospel call to service. However, as last year, the Holy See’s decree eliminates this optional tradition again in 2021.
Good Friday is the only day of the year when no Mass is celebrated. Catholics gather to hear the passion story, reflect on the Way of the Cross and Christ’s last words before his death. This year, there will be no individual veneration of the Cross by members of the congregation.
On Holy Saturday at “the Solemn Beginning of the Vigil or Lucenarium,” Vatican directives have omitted the preparation and lighting of the fire and the procession into the sanctuary.
Again, while Holy Week will look different, let us celebrate the coming of the Lord and remain viligent for the safety of all from COVID-19. Be sure to check with your individual parish for attendance requirements, as space is limited and many have reservation systems in place in order to maintain the safety of all.

Women in the diocese serve tirelessly through challenges, adversity

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – The tear of a woman bears all the pains of the world. I do not remember the movie where I heard this, but I do remember how this quote struck me. March is Women’s History Month, so I would like to highlight some of the women who have made great contributions to our diocesan church quietly behind the scenes and on the world stage.

Sister Lydia of the Daughters of Charity pictured in 1948.

We already read about Madame Felicitê Gireaudeau in earlier columns, who was a towering figure in the early Catholic community in Natchez – known for her acts of charity and resilience. In the 1840s, Bishop John Joseph Chanche invited the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul affectionately called the Sisters of Charity, to establish an orphanage for girls in Natchez. The Sisters arrived in 1847 and began St. Mary’s Asylum, which took in girls whose parents had either died or could no longer care for them.
The Sisters were known for their distinctive white cornettes and for the acts of charity they performed throughout the community. Antoinette Thomas, who served in the diocesan tribunal for many years, grew up with the Sisters and often was called upon to iron the cornette with a bucket of starch applied with a paint brush.
It would require a tome larger than Aquinas’s Summa to describe the enormous contributions made to the diocese by these and countless other Sisters throughout the history of our diocese – Mercy Sisters, Carmelites, Dominicans, Ursulines, Holy Spirit Sisters, and a myriad of others. We will save that for another time.
Of course, Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, comes to mind in a large way due to her tenacity, grit and grace. She inspired people all over the world because she saw them, challenged them to be the best person they could be, and loved them.

Sister Dr. Anne Brooks, SNJM of the Tutwiler Clinic.

Sister Thea’s canonization cause continues to gather steam. Here is a beautiful quote that encapsulates her faith: “We unite ourselves with Christ’s redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God’s healing, God’s forgiveness, God’s unconditional love.”
Some may not know that Sister Thea obtained her doctorate in letters from Catholic University of America in 1972. Her dissertation was on St. Thomas More entitled: “The Relationship of Pathos and Style in a Dyalogue of Comforte Agaynste Tribulacyion: A Rhetorical Study.” That is quite a topic and included studies in the Olde English style. She spent time researching this topic at Oxford University in England.
Sister Thea also was an expert on William Faulkner, speaking and appearing often at the annual Faulkner Conference in Oxford. We frequently think of religious women as kind-hearted women who came among us to serve in schools and parishes. We do not realize how highly educated these women were and are.

In 1982, Sister Anne Brooks, SNJM, obtained a doctor of osteopathy (DO) degree and set about to find a place to serve the underserved in America. She settled on starting a clinic in 1983 in Tutwiler, Mississippi, one of the poorest areas in the United States. The small Delta town’s water tower is painted with “Welcome to Tutwiler, Mississippi: Where the Blues Was Born.”
Dr. Brooks, a true osteopathic physician who embodies the holistic approach to medicine, has given that corner of our diocese a place where people on the margins can receive quality health care. An average year for her included seeing over 8,500 patients where one out of three live in poverty and seven out of 10 walk in the door with no way to pay for care.
She retired in 2017 after securing a partnership for the clinic with the local hospital, Tallahatchie General in Ruleville.

Sister Trinita Eddington, OP. (Photos courtesy of archives)

Sister Trinita Eddington, OP, has served her entire 60-plus year vocation as a Dominican here in Jackson at St. Dominic Hospital. The following information from the St. Dominic website gives an account of her ministry.
“Sister Trinita’s nursing background began in 1953 when she enrolled in the St. Dominic School of Nursing after making the profession of vows. With this, Sister Trinita began fulfilling her dream to care for the sick. She became a registered nurse in 1957.”
She helped establish St. Dominic Community Health Clinic for the homeless in Jackson. “treating hundreds of low-income and homeless individuals in the Jackson area through the St. Dominic Community Health Clinic. In addition to providing medical care as a nurse practitioner, as clinic director, Sister Trinita is also responsible and accountable for the overall administration, direction and operation of the clinic.”
Our diocesan chancery and Catholic Charities are filled with extremely competent and dedicated lay women of faith who everyday quietly leave their mark on this corner of God’s kingdom by serving as true disciples of Christ. I cannot name one without leaving out dozens. They serve tirelessly through challenges and adversity to achieve great things – often with a tear bearing the pains of the world. Pray for us.

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

Teachers, staff receive vaccinations for COVID-19

By Joanna Puddister King
MADISON – In December, when COVID vaccination dates began to open, the Office of Catholic Education began working to determine a teacher eligibility date. As vaccinations were finally opened to all K-12 school, preschool and daycare employees on March 1 by Gov. Tate Reeves, diocese benefits coordinator, Renee Carpenter worked with the St. Dominic MEA clinic on a vaccination event for Jackson Metro area teachers, staff and administrators.
On Thursday, March 11 at St. Anthony School in Madison, almost 70 first vaccinations were administered to participants from St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Richard, Assisi Early Learning Center, as well as Catholic Charities and the chancery, bringing a sense of relief to many.
“At first, I was unsure about the vaccine, but now that I have gotten my first shot, I feel good about getting my second,” said Robin Love, a Pre-K4 teacher at Assisi Early Learning Center.

MADISON – Assisi Early Learning Center, Pre-K4 teacher, Robin Love winced as she received her first COVID vaccination on Thursday, March 11 at St. Anthony School. Jackson metro area teachers, staff and administrators took part in a vaccination event organized the Office of Catholic Education, the diocese benefits coordinator and St. Dominic’s MEA clinic. (Photo by Joanna Puddister King)

Anne Cowger, principal of St. Anthony, said, “Diocesan teachers and staff members, under the guidance of the Office of Catholic Education, have worked incredibly hard this year to keep our schools and early learning centers open and to provide a safe and healthy environment for the children in our care. St. Anthony Catholic School was pleased to provide our gymnasium as a place for metro area employees to get vaccinated. We were honored to be able to contribute in even a small way in this effort.”
“Our schools are continuing to do everything to make teachers, parents and students feel safe. We have had strong protocols throughout the year and because of that we have had less than 200 cases of COVID-19 since opening in person in August 2020,” said interim Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Karla Luke.
Overall, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Jackson have a total of 3,049 students, not including those in Early Learning Centers. Since returning in August, Catholic schools in the diocese have required masks and implemented enhanced cleaning procedures and more, to help lessen the risk of infection from the coronavirus.
After the vaccination event, assistant superintendent, Stephanie Brown shared her thoughts.
“I am so grateful that we could put together this coordinated effort to provide the vaccine to our teachers and caretakers. These individuals have been on the front lines risking their health as they cared for and educated our children. We are so thankful to St. Dominic and Renee Carpenter in the benefits office for taking action to help protect our most valuable resource – our teachers!”

(Editor’s note: Other Catholic Schools around the diocese are also working on vaccination events. As of press time on Tuesday, March 23, over 1.2 million doses of the COVID vaccine have been distributed in Mississippi
To find a vaccination site near you, visit and click on vaccinations. All Mississippians, or out-of-state residents who work in Mississippi, age 16 and over are eligible for vaccination from COVID-19.)

Turn back time: visit St. John the Baptist Mission, revisited

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – This article originally ran in Mississippi Catholic in Nov. 2016 when the mission church in Cranfield, St. John the Baptist, was celebrating its centennial. I am rerunning it to give a different flavor to this series from the archives. The story is connected to the eventual founding of Holy Family Church in Natchez and St. Francis School that we mentioned last article. After this lovely sidebar, we will return to the developing church in our state and race.
On Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 a beautiful, fresh autumn day, more than 100 people gathered with Bishop Joseph Kopacz to mark the centennial of St. John the Baptist Mission at an early afternoon Mass. The small wood-framed church holds roughly 50 people. The overflow congregation was sheltered in a tent outside under the trees.
Shortly before the Mass was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., a communicant arrived on a four-wheeler, reflecting the mission’s location to nearby hunting camps where many Louisiana Catholics come during hunting season. She zipped in and parked opposite the tents and took her place among the congregation.

CRANFIELD – Pictured is the St. John the Baptist Mission Church. Cranfield is an unincorporated community in Adams County, located on the former Mississippi Central Railroad, in between Natchez and Roxie.

The windows of the church were wide open, and the breeze of the day kept the natural flow of creation present as those gathered entered into the Divine Liturgy. The setting of the day brought us back to 100 years ago when Bishop John Gunn, SM, preached an eloquent sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan likening the Cranfield mission to the protagonist who cared for the one in need.
The history of the mission is a prime example of a dedicated shepherd who traversed fields and valleys, climbed hills and braved thicket to find his flock. In his time Father Morrissey became known as the “Father of Missions” in the southwest corner of the diocese.
The Natchez ministry of Father Morrissey began in 1901 when he arrived at Holy Family Church. The parish was established in 1890 to serve African American Catholics in the Natchez area. Having been invited by Bishop Thomas Heslin, the Josephites have staffed Holy Family since 1895.
Under Father Morrissey, Holy Family soon became the mother church of four missions – Cranfield, Harriston, Laurel Park, and Springfield. On Monday mornings after his weekend duties at Holy Family, Father Morrissey would head out into the county in search of any Catholics and also those who were not church-going.
During his circuit, he often came upon Catholics who were not able to get into Natchez very often to receive the sacraments. This is where the story of Cranfield has its roots.

St. John the Baptist Mission in Cranfield, built by sons of one of the founders, still stands over 100 years later. Members gathered by car, truck and all-terrain vehicle for the 100 year anniversary celebration in November 2016. (Photos courtesy of archives)

According to a history of the mission written in 1945 by Father Arthur Flanagan, SSJ, and pastor of Holy Family at the time, Father Morrissey came upon the Irish Catholic family of John Gordon Fleming. Fleming told Father Morrissey the family originally came from County Mayo, Ireland in the late 1870s. Fleming’s relative, Holiday Fleming, was the oldest son of the immigrants and brought with him his wife and children. The family would go to Mass in Natchez at St. Mary on Easter and Christmas – weather permitting. The children were all baptized and received sacraments from St. Mary.
The next half of the story told by Fleming holds a true Mississippi cultural twist and a wonderful image of the people of God. Apparently, Holiday Fleming had been “true to his name, [and] went holidaying with the result that he was blessed” with a growing African American family. Father Morrissey saw the children and recognized they belonged to Holiday. Father Morrissey made sure these children were brought to Holy Family for sacraments and given their father’s name. Many Flemings can be found in the Holy Family sacramental registers.
Soon after meeting the Flemings, Father Morrissey laid plans to build a church in Cranfield. After a few years of saving pennies and nickels from various appeals, there was finally enough in hand to build the church on the land donated by Mrs. Boggart, a Catholic. The mission priest, along with the older African American Fleming children, built the church. As great artists often sign their masterpieces, Linda Floyd, granddaughter of Geraldine Fleming, a descendant of the original Fleming family, relayed that the young men who worked on the church inscribed their names in the steeple.
Initially, religious education taught by Rosie Washington was held in the church as there was no other building on the site. In 1938, a bus from Natchez came to bring the children to St. Francis School at Holy Family. On the weekend Mass was not celebrated in the mission, the bus was used to bring people to Mass at Holy Family.
As the years passed, the other three missions closed. Today Cranfield is the last of the four built by Father Morrissey. His missionary zeal reflects the true spirit of our diocese as a rural mission territory.
It was 100 years ago on Sept. 3, 1916, when Bishop John Gunn, SM, dedicated the mission church built by Father Matthew Morrissey, SSJ, and the Fleming family. Since then, many striking autumn days have filled the hearts and minds of the people of this unique mission. For those who live in larger parishes, a trip to Cranfield St. John the Baptist would be good for the Catholic soul.

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