Q&A: Father Mark Shoffner

Background:
“I was born in King’s Daughters Hospital in Greenville, Mississippi on the Feast of Our Lady of Victory(the Rosary). In the same hospital as Jim Henson who created Kermit the Frog. I was born into a family heritage composed of German, French, English, Sicilian, Mexican, Scotch-Irish and Choctaw. With ancestors ranging from Native Americans, to German indentured servants immigrating to the colonies in the 1740’s, to a 20th century Mexican immigrant, my family covers all of what makes America.
I am the first son of my parents, both whom are the oldest of their siblings, and I have one brother who is ten years younger than me. I grew up attending Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Greenville and attended Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School and then St. Joseph High School until my family moved to Fort Walton Beach, Forida, where I spent the last three years of high school at Choctawhatchee High School in Ft. Walton. I graduated in 2005, started college and then moved back to Greenville where I would attend college at Mississippi Delta Community College. I graduated from nursing school at MDCC as a Registered Nurse in 2010 and worked at Delta Regional Medical Center in the Cardiovascular ICU until entering seminary for the diocese.”

Home parish:
St. Joseph, Greenville.

Favorite Saints and why?
St. Augustine, because he was not perfect and he had a past which Christ Jesus rescued him from certain destruction. He is a good model for those who give themselves to God and work it out each day with hope.
Mother Mary, she is so loving and helpful to all of her children, making herself known to us all throughout the ages in our local circumstances. She is eternally glorifying God by pointing us towards her Son and reminding us of Christ Jesus’ love for us. St. Benedict, devoted and well-ordered. He founded monasticism which has given the world so much and his brother monks gave me so much to me in my time at St. Joseph Seminary College which is run by Benedictine monks.
St Patrick has always been inspiring as he was a missionary, he overcame so much, and he was so beloved by the Irish priests in my parish who loved me so much and gave me such good examples. He found ordinary ways of teaching great mysteries to those whom he ministered, something I´ve taken a cue from.
St. Mark, my confirmation saint who I picked because I thought I was being lazy. He was an evangelist, he ministered in the Nile Delta city of Alexandria. He stayed close to St. Peter and wrote what he heard. His Gospel shows in great brevity and hurriedness the Lord’s desire to cast out demons with the presence of the Word Incarnate. I hope to preach and heal with this closeness to the Lord and the Church.

Do you have a favorite devotion, religious image or prayer and why?
I am mesmerized by the icon of Our Lady of Bethlehem which I was able to see firsthand when I visited the Holy Land last year. She is so beautifully adorned, wife and mother, watching over her children. Pray for peace in the Holy Land and for persecuted Christians.
I love to move between the Sacred Heart and Good Shepherd image of our Lord as he guides me and gives me the greatest example of what I am to be.
I ponder the wounds of Jesus’ feet, and the place where his side was pierced. I reverence these wounds of Our Lord and I pray with them very regularly.

Who vested you at ordination and why?
Msgr. Patrick Farrell, who was my first parish priest and who baptized me as a baby. I loved him so dearly when I was growing up. I used to process out with him and I wanted to be the first to hug him on Sunday mornings. I want to thank him for his priestly ministry by having him vest me. There is a part of the baptismal rite where the minister speaks to the child and claims him or her for Christ our Savior with a sign of the cross, an eternal action upon a soul. As he claimed me for Christ Jesus and clothed me in the white baptismal garment of salvation, I see it most proper that he should further vest me in the garments of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Do you have any hobbies?
I like to cook. Baking, grilling, working a stovetop, I enjoy it all. I enjoy seeing the enjoyment of those for whom I cook for. I’ve played golf since I was two, I enjoy my annual dove hunt with my good friends, and I really enjoy gardening. Planting things, digging up stuff, stoppin on the roadside to dig up heirloom plants from old homesites, I love good dirt, really because I’m from The Delta.

In what parishes have you served?
Our Lady of Victories, Cleveland; St. Joseph Starkville, and St. Dominic Hospital.
 
Can you tell me a little about your vocation story?
I’d thought about priesthood since third grade and been encouraged by teachers, priests, sisters and parishioners. It was always in my head through elementary, high school, and college despite me not actively pursuing it.
I was working one night in the hospital on an elderly man and I thought of St. Mother Teresa and Father Richard Ho Lung. I’d seen the work of his order on EWTN. I had a profound thought of, ‘What is their motivation for doing their work,’ which was much like my own in the hospital? I worked up the courage to reach out to Father Kent Bowlds who met with me regularly for about a year to help me see where the Lord was leading me. The motivation I was looking for that night in the hospital, it was Love. The love and mercy God has for us all and how we are called to be his hands and feet to bring that love to all people
 
Can you share something about yourself people may not know?
I was my high school mascot, and I taught myself how to sew in order to make my costume.
I also carry a shovel and green boots in my car, so that nothing will stop me from bad weather or an interesting plant on the roadside.
 
What advice do you have for those discerning a vocation?
Talk to someone! Prayer is more than essential and there are people who need you. Religious sisters, Brothers, Priests, Deacons, there are people in our parishes who need you and Mississippi needs the witness of good Catholic Priests to bring the Gospel to the world through Christ in the sacraments.

Is there one part of priesthood in particular you are looking forward to?
What are you looking forward to about your first parish assignment?
It›s going to be exciting to say the Mass for people and lead them to God. I›m also looking forward to blessing people and the things that pertain to their lives (fields, homes, etc.). I am particularly excited about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, bringing people back to God who loves them despite their faults and desires to be with them in every aspect of their lives. The loving and merciful heart of God, poured out for us through Confession is what I’m looking forward to.

Mercy Sisters honored for founding role in Delta healthcare initiative

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Mercy Sisters Patricia Parker and Robyn Huser were honored by the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Nursing on Friday, May 10, as part of National Nurses Week. The pair hatched an idea almost 20 years ago to outfit a bus as a mobile clinic and take it into the Delta to serve children with no access to healthcare.
They raised the money and the Mercy Delta Express started to roll from school to school. The Sisters partnered with the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School of Nursing to staff the bus and give students experience working with those in need and the program took off from there.
The Sisters said they got the idea from two very different sources. “It all started with a homeless boy in Jackson telling us ‘y’all need to do something in the Delta, and I’m going to give you some money!’ We told him we would not take any money from our clients,” laughed Sister Robyn.
The more specific form the help should take came from a federal report on poverty in the region. “Sister Robyn and I, years ago, read the Delta Commission Report and we felt like we needed to do something in the Delta – we were working in Jackson at the time,” Sister Patricia explained. “We were able to raise funds and provide the Mercy Delta Express. Doctor Peggy Hewlett, who was the associate dean, said ‘let me help you,’ and that’s how we got started with the school of nursing. They took over and have been so supportive. We have had a number of our Mercys from Vicksburg who were volunteers for a number of years,” she added.

JACKSON – Sister Robyn Huser and Sister Patricia Parker listen as Dr. Mary Stewart, interim dean of the School of Nursing reads a proclamation in their honor at the University of Mississippi School of Nursing. (Photo by Maureen Smith)


“I remember talking with one of the Mercy Delta Express Sisters a couple of years ago when I went on a bus tour with Marian Wright Edelman into the Mississippi Delta to explore poverty and child hunger. I was blown away with her knowledge and absolute feel for the community she served. She loved that community and I believe the feeling was so, so mutual,” said Ruth Cummins, who works in the communications office for the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Today the School of Nursing staffs in-school clinics and the bus only goes to health fairs. The program is now the “Coordinated Healthcare through an authentic model of partnership” or CHAMP program. It started in Sharkey and Issaquena Counties with the bus. Current partners include the South Delta School District, Ripley Blackwell Head Start, Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, Smiles Across America, Hope and Comfort, Kotex Corporation, Sharkey/Issaquena Health Network, and numerous churches, according to school of nursing public relations representative Kate Royals. In an email to Mississippi Catholic she added “The overall goal of this work is to improve health outcomes for Mississippians in urban Jackson and the Mississippi Delta, while educating the next generation of interprofessional health care providers, including nurses and advanced practice nurses in partnership with physicians, dentists, social workers, occupational therapists and pharmacists.”
In addition to healthcare, the project also offers wellness education and operates in Ripley Blackwell Head Start, South Delta Elementary, and South Delta Middle School and offers the Delta Teen Wellness Project at South Delta High School.
The School of Nursing presented Sisters Patricia and Robyn with a plaque and school representatives spoke about their inspirational leadership in getting the project started. The staff provided a spread of food and sweets for a reception following the ceremony.
“We are very humbled and we feel that the University School of Nursing did not give themselves the credit because we could never have done this on our own. We are just so grateful for all of them,” said Sister Patricia.
Sister Robyn added that they continue to be amazed at the impact one simple idea continues to have “It’s kind of an awesome thing. Both Patricia and I feel like when you start something you just do it and you don’t think anything about it and when something like this (honor) happens you think- ‘we did it!’”

New outlook: Carmelites get new windows

JACKSON – On Sunday, February 24 and Saturday April 6, volunteer Knights of Columbus from Flowood St. Paul Parish replaced 22 windows in the Carmelite Monastery convent. Another two dozen window replacements are in the works.
The old metal single-pane hand-crank models, original to the monastery built in the late 1940s, were replaced with energy efficient double-paned windows.

Knights of Columbus replace the windows for the Carmelites. (Photo courtesy of Carmelites.)


To date new windows have been installed in the living quarters on the second floor. Old windows framed in steel had to be pried from the eight-inch thick brick structure, and new ones installed and caulked with silicone. Replacement involved the use of a lift to facilitate installation on the second floor.
The new vinyl windows were supplied by Creative Windows and Doors Inc. of Madison,.The Sisters said the staff was very helpful in selecting the best and most economic window design and was often on site to aid in installations.
The Knights participating in the window project are Jeff Johnson, Larry Moeller, Chuck Smith, Al Chapman, Pete Canizaro, Jose Lopez, Dan Cado, Ed Mueller, Toan Hoang and Brian Maier.. This is one of many projects undertaken by Knights of Columbus councils throughout the Jackson area to make repairs and improvements to the monastery, gift shop and grounds.

School Sisters celebrate their call to serve

By Maureen Smith
CHATAWA – Four School Sisters of Notre Dame marked a combined 265 years of consecrated life at St. Mary of the Pines on Thursday, May 10. The community gathered for a Mass and a meal on the grounds of the retirement facility at the edge of the Mississippi-Louisiana border. Bishop Joseph Kopacz celebrated the Mass.
Sister Teresa Martin Caronia, a native of New Orleans, made her first profession on July 28, 1944, 75 years ago. She worked throughout the Southeast, mostly as a teacher and school administrator. She was delighted to participate in the jubilee Mass, singing every song. During the homily Bishop Kopacz asked the Sisters to share a little something about an assignment or ministry that was special to them. Sister Caronia said she treasured preparing children for their First Holy Communion.

CHATAWA – Bishop Joseph Kopacz asks the School Sisters of Notre Dame jubilarians for reflections on their many ministries during a Mass to honor their years of service. (L-r) Sisters Teresa Martin Caronia, Herman Marie Siebenmorgen, Goria Marie Foret and Rose Ann Bacak. (Photo by Maureen Smith)


Sister Herman Marie Siebenmorgen left her family farm in Morrison Bluff, Arkansas, 70 years ago to join the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She tried just about everything to delay her vocation, asking for sign after sign that she should go, but the Blessed Mother got the last word. “Before that, I said ‘if this (event) happens, I know God is calling me.’ And it happened, but I said, ‘I am going to try something harder.’ And it happened. I said ‘if I see the Blessed Mother or Jesus then I will go. That’s it, that’s all.’ I was in bed sleeping, towards morning. All of a sudden I felt a breeze coming over me. Someone was standing by my bed. It was the Blessed Mother – I saw here from here up. I was looking at her. She was looking at me just smiling. She didn’t say anything. Just smiling. I said ‘I can’t back out now.’”
Sister Herman was the third of 12 children and 92 first cousins. Eleven of the women went into religious life. Most became Benedictines. Sister Herman’s older sister tried to convince her to join the Benedictines as well. “I said, no, I’m going to Mary. Benedict is OK, I like Mary. We are German. The prayer my mother said every day is in German. I say it every day. It’s all about how Mary will get me to heaven,” she explained. Sister worked in schools in Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. She now serves in a ministry of prayer and presence.
Sister Rose Ann Bacak made her first profession in July of 1959 in St. Louis. She came from Kerrville, Texas, and served in the Dioceses of Jackson and Dallas teaching business classes and doing administrative work. She taught at both Jackson St. Mary school and the Notre Dame Education Center in Canton. She said every Notre Dame community will host a house jubilee for the Sisters in residence. “We do this every year for our sisters, no matter where they are — try to come together in one place. In July, we have a big celebration that includes a lot more Sisters. We just enjoy each other doing our thing and it’s kind of hard sometimes to accept the gratitude people feel for you,” she said. She works in the archives and finance office in Chatawa.
Sister Gloria Maria Foret, celebrating 61 years of profession, taught at McComb St. Alphonsus school in the Jackson diocese as well as serving at schools in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. Sister Gloria is still teaching by going to Osyka a couple days a week to work with students who need some extra support in their studies.
She reflected on how each post changed how she ministered, especially the time she spent in Ghana, Africa. “Even though many of them were very poor they had so much to give and it was a wonderful place to me,” she said. “It helped me think and evaluate things from my own culture – like we are always rushing and keeping things ‘on time.’ And they are not like that – when they get there- that’s the time it’s supposed to be. They are so relaxed and into what’s happening and they are so ready to do things for others,” Sister Gloria added.
The whole community renewed their vows during the Mass and enjoyed a meal planned by the jubilarians.

Bishop ordains Father Shoffner, Father Suarez-Pasillas

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – The Diocese of Jackson gained two new priests on Saturday, May 11 – one a native Mississippian and another from Mexico. Both have a devotion to the Blessed Mother and although both considered the priesthood as boys, both waited until after they had worked out in the world before they entered the seminary.
Father Mark Shoffner was working as a nurse in a cardiac unit when he finally realized that he did want to pursue the priesthood. But first, he wanted to take a sort-of pilgrimage. He told his mother about his plan on his next visit home. “It was January, 2012. He sat down to the supper table. I was making supper, and he said ‘I came home to tell you something – I am about to quit my job and travel around Europe for three months with just a backpack and then I am going to go to the seminary and become a priest,’” said Eva Shoffner.
His journey through the seminary started that fall and his family was thrilled to attend the ordination. “I am so excited. We have just been anticipating this time for a long time – seven years now – and we are just thrilled that the Lord choose our son to become a priest. He has always had a great faith in God and has always had such reverence. He has always greeted each day looking for something good. He is always grateful for all things. I believe he will be a good priest,” said his mother.
Father Adolfo Suarez-Pasillas lived in Mexico and the United States, searching for his true vocation. He said his family was devoted and constantly exposed him to prayer and sacraments, but it took a long time for him to respond to God’s love. His family told Mississippi Catholic that when he was very young, he would make play altars with sticks and flowers. His mother and aunts believe the seeds of his vocation were already starting to take root.
He went through a deep depression before he finally opened his heart and started to work towards the priesthood. Father Suarez-Pasillas could have gone to any number of dioceses, but chose the Diocese of Jackson because he wanted to serve in a place where he could be with the poor and marginalized and where the church needed him most.
The night before the ordination, the candidates, diocesan seminarians, Chancellor Mary Woodward and liaison to the seminarians Father Aaron Williams gathered for a rehearsal. The mood was joyful. Bishop Joseph Kopacz joked with the men as they walked through each part of the rite – the presentation, the litany, oath of fidelity, laying on of hands, vesting, anointing with chrism, receiving the chalice and paten and, finally, standing at the altar for consecration as priests of the church.
The Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle was standing-room-only full for the Mass of Ordination. Several days of bad weather cleared Saturday morning, leaving conditions breezy, but the sun peeked through by the time Mass started. Priests from across the diocese came to celebrate as well as Bishop Emeritus Joseph Latino.
Sister Magdalena Carrillo, Monsignor, read the first reading in Spanish from the Acts of the Apostles – Paul’s instructions for the presbyters to watch over their flock, keeping them safe from wolves and liars. Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth, OP, proclaimed the second reading from Ephesians in which St. Paul urges ministers to be humble and gentle and to unify the church. Deacon Andrew Rudmann chanted the gospel, a reading from John 17 about Jesus giving the word to his apostles and sending them out into the world.
At the conclusion of the Mass, all the priests sang Salve Regina in Latin, a tradition at many diocesan liturgies. As the new priests exited the church, their seminary classmates waited to greet them with cheers and hugs.
The next stop was Jackson St. Richard Parish where a team of volunteers and caterers, led by Berta Mexidor, had arranged a reception honoring the Mississippi and Mexican roots of the ordinands. Magnolias and mariachi music made for a merry reception. The priests offered first blessings while guests snacked on tamales, Delta-inspired stuffed grape leaves and a variety of other foods.
Father Suarez-Pasillas offered his first Mass of Thanksgiving that very afternoon at Jackson St. Therese Parish while Father Shoffner traveled to his home parish of Greenville St. Joseph for a Sunday Mass.

Pastoral Assignments

Father Jason Johnston, appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Starkville and Corpus Christi Mission, Macon, effective July 1, 2019
Father Joseph Le, appointed Pastor of St. Francis Parish, Aberdeen and Sacramental Minister of St. Helen Parish, Amory, effective July 1, 2019
Father Raju Macherla, appointed Pastor of St. Elizabeth and Immaculate Conception Parishes, Clarksdale, effective July 1, 2019
Father Manohar Reddy Thanugundla, appointed Pastor of St. Francis Parish, Brookhaven, effective July 1, 2019
Father Scott Thomas, appointed Pastor of St. Mary Basilica and Assumption Parishes, Natchez, effective July 1, 2019
Father Antony Chakkalakkal, appointed Chaplain, St. Dominic Hospital, effective July 1, 2019
Father Juan Chavajay, appointed Administrator of St. Therese Parish, Jackson, effective June 20, 2019
Father Joseph Dyer, appointed Sacramental Minister of Christ the King Parish, Jackson, effective June 21, 2019
Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem, appointed Sacramental Minister of St. Stephen Parish, Magee, effective June 21, 2019

Retiring or leaving diocese
Msgr. Elvin Sunds, retiring from active parish ministry effective June 16, 2019;
Father David O’Connor, retiring from active parish ministry effective June 30, 2019;
Abbot Tom DeWane, OPraem, returning to St. Norbert Abbey, DePere, Wisconsin, after many years of dedicated service to the Diocese of Jackson, effective June 2019;
Father Faustin Misakabo, OPraem, leaving diocese after many years of dedicated service to the Diocese of Jackson, effective June 2019.

Knights celebrate “In Solidarity with our Church”

JACKSON – The Mississippi Knights of Columbus held their annual convention in Jackson the last weekend of April with the theme “In solidarity with our Church.” The gathering gives the knights a chance to share ideas, receive training and recognize those councils and individuals who have offered exemplary service. Mississippi Knights raised more than $85,000 to support seminarians and pro-life initiatives this year. More than 300 people attended.
All photos are from the Mass Bishop Louis Kihneman of the Diocese of Biloxi celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle on Saturday, April 27.
Here are some highlights of those honored during the convention:
Knight of the Year: Norman J. Cantrelle – Most Holy Trinity Council 11995 in Pass Christian
Sir Knights of the Year: Sir Knight David Fisher, Assembly 554 Jackson and Sir Knight Stephen D’Angelo, Assembly 3625 Pass Christian.
Assembly of the Year: Bishop Gerow Assembly 554 – Jackson
Worthy Marshal of the Year: Sir Knight Craig Harrell, Worthy Marshal District 8
Family of the Year: Willie B. Jones Family -Most Holy Trinity Council 11995 in Pass Christian
Best Faith Program: Council 848; Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle Council; Jackson for the Refund Support Vocation Program (RSVP)
Best Family Program: Council 1522; Pere Le Duc Council; Bay St. Louis for the Our Lady of the Gulf Parish Picnic
Best Community Program: Council 898; Vicksburg Council for Meals on Wheels for the Homebound
Best Life Program: Council 10901; St. John Council; Oxford for BBQ Dinner Fundraiser for Pregnancy Center
Best Vocations Programs: Jackson Diocese – Council 848; Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle Council; Jackson for work with Carmelite Sisters and Monastery
Biloxi Diocese: Council 16433; St. Clare Council; Waveland for Cycle to Saints.

St. Joseph school marks 150 years

By Joe Lee
MADISON – As Doug Harkins and his wife, Kimberly, watch their twins Jacob and Clare graduate from St. Joseph High School next week, the moment will be even more poignant for Doug, a 1988 St. Joe grad and cardiologist with Jackson Heart Clinic, because of the presence of his mother, Rosemary. A 1950 graduate, she will join her son and daughter-in-law at Thalia Mara Hall as her grandchildren represent the third Harkins generation to cross the stage in St. Joe cap and gown.


But as remarkable as that accomplishment may be, the 70 years spanning the family’s graduations doesn’t even cover half the era represented by the school. The humble beginnings stretch all the way back to 1870, and the St. Joseph Catholic School 150th Class Reunion will launch July 1 and continue through the end of 2020.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime for all of us,” said Tricia Harris, St. Joe coordinator of special events and enrollment. “We have the opportunity to put forth the importance of academic achievement and a Catholic education — there are so many influential people that have graduated from this school and gone on to amazing things.”
In addition to an updated Bruin logo that reflects the sesquicentennial – seen on car bumpers all over the Jackson area – the school will ask for a special proclamation from the state legislature, as well the next Mississippi governor.
“The whole yearbook design for the 2019-2020 school year will integrate a lot of ‘look back’,” Harris said. “The newspaper will be digitized and integrate the logo. Every athletic team will have some semblance of the 150th anniversary worked into their uniform, helmet, and ball they play with. It will constantly tout the fact that we’re in celebration mode.”
While the school has relocated several times its existence, much of what has always drawn both Catholics and non-Catholics to St. Joe remains solidly in place.


“It impacted our perspective on everything,” said 1957 grad Con Maloney, whose high school years were spent in a building that backed up to Central High School in downtown Jackson. “Our class had about 35 people, so I got to know a lot of them very intimately over the years. We were taught by the Mercy Nuns, who were very strict on us. One thing the school never had to buy was erasers. We would harass the Central students and they would throw erasers at us over the fence separating the schools.”
Con’s son, Chris, has returned home to manage the Mississippi Braves. He graduated in 1980, giving the Maloney family a second generation at the school. But a truly unique perspective belongs to David Wissel, who has taught Theology and coached track at St. Joe since 1984. He taught Doug Harkins and is now teaching Doug’s youngest son, Noah.
“Teaching a son or daughter of former students is interesting,” Wissel said. “There are similarities and mannerisms that seem to stand out. Each brings something different to the table.
“When a student walks out of St. Joe for the last time, I hope they are a better person, equipped to make their mark on the world, and that they have a stronger faith and the confidence to be successful in whatever God has planned for them.”
Terry Cassreino, whose daughter Camryn is a current Bruin, credits his Catholic education with shaping the person he is today. A newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Bruin faculty in 2011, his journalism program wins dozens of awards each year at the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association’s annual conference in Oxford. The student newspaper, The Bear Facts, was ranked in the nation’s top 50 by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.


“I see firsthand how a Catholic education is helping Camryn deepen her faith and appreciation of the Catholic Church while preparing for her college and life as an adult,” Cassreino said. “And I am beyond proud of my current and former students — St. Joseph Catholic School, without a doubt, has the best high school student media program in the state. It is incredible to me, and extremely important, that we are accomplishing this in a Catholic setting grounded in the teachings of our faith.”
Ronnie Russell, now in his 15th year as band director, instructed two students that went on to win Grammy awards for contributions to major motion picture soundtracks, as well many who performed with college bands all over the southeast and beyond.
“Our campus minister, Kathryn Scikets, is a former St. Joe student and drum major,” Russell said. “One of the most recently-ordained priests in the Jackson Diocese, Father Aaron Williams, is a former band student. Perhaps the highest compliment I’ve ever been given came when he asked me to play trumpet in his very first Mass as a priest.”
Theology teacher Ryan Starrett and Sckiets, who teaches in the English department and graduated in 2013, both work with many faculty that taught them in high school.
“I did not expect to teach at St. Joe, but God works in mysterious ways,” Sckiets said. “When the campus ministry position was open, I thought it would be a really unique opportunity to grow in my faith and hopefully help students grow in theirs. I was — and still am — fortunate to have many great role models at St. Joe who showed me by example how to not only be great teachers, but great people.”
“The thing that impresses me most about St. Joe is that you don’t just feel you are part of a school — you feel like you are part of a family and community,” said Bruin athletic director Michael Howell. “We have a unique balance of education, arts and athletics. Our coaches do a great job of working together to make sure our student-athletes can be successful in all areas of school community.”
At the helm of the Catholic school that opened its doors barely 50 years after Mississippi became a state is Dena Kinsey.
“I want our students to understand the importance of the Hand of God,” Kinsey said. “From the faith of a pastor and a few Sisters of Mercy, a school was established based in truth that has overcome all obstacles to not only survive, but thrive for 150 years. The love of God prevails, and St. Joe is a living example in our most secular world of the power of God.”

JACKSON – A view of St. Joseph High School located downtown in 1932. See more photos online at mississippicatholic.com. (photo courtesy St. Joseph High School Archives)

(Joe Lee is a member of Madison St. Francis Parish and owner of Dogwood Publishing.)

Magistrate denies motion to dismiss charges against plowshares activists

By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A federal magistrate judge denied motions from seven longtime Catholic peacemakers to have charges dismissed on religious freedom grounds in connection with their April 2018 protest at an East Coast submarine base.
Magistrate Judge Benjamin Cheesbro of the Southern District of Georgia said in an April 26 ruling that the defendants, all Catholics, failed to show that the government violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In an 80-page ruling, Cheesbro determined that while the cause the activists espoused is legitimately religious and their faith is sincere, the 20-year prison term that the seven face was the government’s least coercive response to the protest.Bishop Joseph Kopacz testified on behalf of the protestors on Nov. 7 of last year.
Cheesbro said the faith-based activists could have pursued other means to carry out their protest against nuclear weapons on religious grounds rather than illegally entering the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia.
Cheesbro also denied the defendants’ three other legal arguments for dismissal, saying that the federal government acted appropriately in charging them with conspiracy, destruction of property, depredation of government property and trespass in connection with the Kings Bay Plowshares action on the night of April 4-5, 2018.
Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans who is pro bono legal representative for the seven, told Catholic News Service April 29 that an appeal of Cheesbro’s decision would be filed with the U.S. District Court for Southern Georgia within 30 days of the ruling.
“We think he was at least half right, that our people are sincere, they were motivated by deep religious, Catholic faith and the opposition to nuclear weapons is a key part of Catholic faith,” Quigley said of Cheesbro’s ruling.
“We disagree with the idea that it’s appropriate that the least restrictive means for the government to address people’s religious belief is by exposing them to 20-plus years in prison. That’s going to be one of the key challenges we bring (in the appeal),” Quigley explained.
The defendants, all Catholics, include Elizabeth McAlister of Baltimore; Jesuit Father Steve Kelly of the Bay Area in California; Carmen Trotta of New York City; Clare Grady of Ithaca, New York; Martha Hennessy of New York, granddaughter of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day; Mark Colville of New Haven, Connecticut; and Patrick O’Neill of Garner, North Carolina.
Father Kelly, McAlister and Colville remain jailed in Georgia, while the four others have been released on bond.
The protest marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to “repent of the sin of white supremacy that oppresses and takes the lives of people of color here in the United States and throughout the world.”
The seven entered the submarine base, the East Coast home of the Trident nuclear submarine, and during approximately two hours placed crime scene tape and spilled blood at different locales while posting an “indictment” charging the military with crimes against peace, citing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Navy’s fleet of Trident submarines carries about half of the U.S. active strategic nuclear warheads, according to military experts.
In their arguments, the activists sought dismissal of the charges on grounds that they were being selectively prosecuted, that the charges were “duplicitous and multiplicitous,” that the government failed to identify an offense under international and domestic law, and that they were being unlawfully prosecuted under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Seven Catholics who call themselves the Kings Bay Plowshares are seen April 4, 2018, before they entered the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia to protest nuclear weapons. They were arrested and charged with conspiracy, trespass, and destruction and depradation of property. Patrick O’Neill, second from left, Martha Hennessy, third from left, and Carmen Trotta, right, have been released on bond. The other four decided not to bond out and remain in a detention facility n Brunswick, Ga. (CNS photo/Kings Bay Plowshares) See KINGS-BAY-PLOWSHARES April 29, 2019.

Father Masters’ returns for Journey of Hope in Tupelo

By Maureen Smith
TUPELO – Almost 300 people attended a Journey of Hope Luncheon in Tupelo to benefit Catholic Charities Vardaman Service Center on Friday, April 26. The guest speaker was Father Burke Masters, former Mississippi State Baseball standout and chaplain for the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
Father Masters spoke at the Jackson Journey of Hope last year. When Catholic Charities organizers heard he would be back in Starkville for a Hall of Fame event, they took a chance and invited him to travel to Tupelo for another event.
“We can’t thank Father Burke and the people of St. James in Tupelo enough for their generosity and all they did to support Catholic Charities,” said Michael Thomas, development director for Catholic Charities. “We could not have hosted this event without their help,” he added.