In light of the current surge of COVID-19 cases, the Diocese of Jackson has updated the restrictions for church gatherings. Please do everything you possibly can to enforce our safety protocols currently in place. We cannot stress enough the importance of these protocols being followed completely. We do not want to add to the burden of our already overwhelmed healthcare system. These heroes need our prayers, our cooperation, and our diligence every day.
Our simple sacrifices now will hopefully enable us to have in person Christmas Masses.
To be transparent, we will be monitoring the situation closely and if protocols are not being followed and numbers of cases continue to spiral upward, we will be forced to suspend in person Masses again.
Effective immediately: • All church gatherings other than Masses are suspended until further notice. • All protocols currently in place for Masses must be strictly enforced. • Social-distance church capacity numbers must be kept. • Weddings, if scheduled, must be small and all present must wear a mask. This includes entire wedding party, priest or deacon, photographer, coordinator and guests. • Funerals must be small and graveside only. • Sacraments such as baptisms and confirmations if possible should be delayed until after the Baptism of the Lord in January. • Guadalupe celebrations outside of a Mass for the Feast on Saturday, Dec. 12 are cancelled.
All over the age of two are required to wear a mask to attend Mass. The obligation to attend Mass continues to be dispensed by Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, so if you do not feel safe attending, or have an underlying health condition, or feel sick, please stay home. Be safe and stay vigilant!
By Mary Woodward JACKSON – To begin this series exploring race and our diocesan church, I want to offer a disclaimer. These articles are meant to spark thoughts and conversations. They are not meant to call anyone out or to embarrass anyone’s grandparents or great-grandparents. As stated in the introductory column in the last edition of Mississippi Catholic, we will be exploring history – an extremely unique history – and we will remain true to the history with all its good and bad. With that being said, let’s get started.
“Finding Your Roots” is a popular PBS show tracing the ancestry of various celebrities and well-known public figures. Harvard professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the host and creator of the series. Professor Gates is the Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard. Gates has done many documentaries and works on African American history, ancestry and the American slave narrative. Genealogy has become a major industry over the past decade because of shows such as “Finding Your Roots.” People have become very interested in their family origins and the journeys of their ancestors. Ancestry.com, a website that has grown out of work done by the Mormon Church, has a database and links from which a person can find U.S. Census records, marriage and death records, ship passenger lists, military service records and more. One can develop a family tree and link with others seeking the same ancestors from other families throughout the country and world. I used Ancestry to trace my ancestors back to the arrival of Christopher Woodward at the colony of Charlestown in Virginia in 1623. Somehow, he got on the ship in England as Christopher and when he disembarked in the colony, he was Sir Christopher. But what happens when an African American tries to take the same resource and trace her or his family’s journey. In all probability the research will hit a dead end after four or five generations unless there is a family Bible that has been around for 200 years or there is someone of European origin in the line. This past week, Fabvienen Taylor, former photojournalist for Mississippi Catholic and current Diocesan Tribunal office manager, and I talked about a visit she once made to the diocesan archives vault. She was doing a story on the microfilming of parish sacramental registers. The registers are microfilmed and now digitized every 10 years so that there will be a copy of the records in case something happens to them at the parish. Sacramental records are our most valuable records because baptismal records document the faith life of a person. The record can also be used to establish an identity if there is no other record such as a birth certificate. Taylor, who is African American, began to tell me that Frances Boeckman, previous diocesan archivist who was quite knowledgeable in diocesan history and very devoted to the archives, had pulled one of the older baptismal records from Natchez and opened it to a particular page for her to see. The page from the mid-1800s contained handwriting in India ink and featured a list of first names.
Taylor remarked to me how she recalled how elegant and ordered the handwriting was. She then realized the records were those of slaves owned by the man listed at the top of the page. This caused her to look past the beauty of the handwriting and see the true ugliness of the content. It was at this time I revealed that in my own journey I had discovered an ancestor who in fact owned slaves. I am sure there were more. Beautiful handwriting chronicling the evil of slavery – meticulous recordings of this great sin whose aftermath still plagues our country today. This unjust and immoral system, although legal at the time, and its legacy is a part of our diocesan history. We will address this throughout this series and in a particular way in the next article when we meet some of the individuals in the records of Spanish Colonial Natchez in the 1790s. And so, maybe now we can understand why an African American’s attempts at tracing her or his roots through records may end shortly after it begins. It is difficult to connect families when they have been separated in the slave trade and listed only by the first name. Husbands taken from wives, children from mothers – all given names by the owner, thus almost erasing any trace of the person’s existence or dignity as a human person. Yes, the records on the page are elegantly inscribed and at times connections are made that start a small thread of hope in terms of tracing ancestry. But one cannot look at them and not be profoundly affected by the magnitude of the content. To be continued …
(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson)
By Joanna Puddister King JACKSON – This year’s iGiveCatholic one-day online giving campaign raised more than $12.6 million from 48,256 donors across the United States. The Diocese of Jackson raised $171,412 for parishes, schools and organizations. This is the fifth year the diocese has participated in iGiveCatholic. Organizers sought to take advantage of a national philanthropy effort called Giving Tuesday, which falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a charitable counterpart to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. More dioceses have joined every year, making it a truly national effort. “Being part of the iGiveCatholic GivingTuesday unites Catholics across the world as we celebrate our Catholic faith by giving to others,” said Rebecca Harris, executive director of The Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Jackson. The idea is simple, iGiveCatholic provides an online giving platform for parishes, schools and diocesan-sponsored organizations. Those who choose to participate select a particular project they want to fund. The organizations can promote the projects however they want. Many use videos and social media to raise awareness about their effort during the advanced giving phase of the effort. Then the big push happens on Tuesday, Dec. 1, when the website accepts donations for 24 hours. “I want to give a big shout out to Julia Williams, assistant stewardship and development director, for all of her efforts with iGiveCatholic. She reached out to all of our parishes, schools and organizations and worked to make sure their pages on the website were looking good and to offer any assistance they needed,” said Harris.
Williams’ efforts paid off with 2020 being the biggest year for #iGiveCatholic donations in the diocese. This year’s top earner was St. Jude parish in Pearl. The parish had a variety of projects ranging from filling in a huge hole on the hill in front of the property, to updating the atrium classrooms and the old rectory, purchasing a Roman Missal in Latin, and installing a new outdoor stations of the cross. Parish staff set the goal for the campaign at $15,000, but with the aid of social media videos showing the importance of the projects leading up to the giving day, St. Jude raised over $24,500 for the projects. “We were so excited about the response we got from our #iGiveCatholic campaign. … We had people who are not even parishioners, including a lady who was a member of the Mississippi Teachers Corps with me 20 years ago, want to help out our parish. It is very humbling to see such generosity, especially in the midst of the pandemic. I am blessed as a priest to have a very engaged active parish,” said Father Lincoln Dall of St. Jude parish. Other parish projects included wireless internet access for Madison St. Francis Parish and rectory roof repairs at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. Diocesan schools did well during the campaign. St. Richard Jackson surpassed their goal to raise $10,000 for their playground improvement plan, raising over $23,000 for the project that will spark creativity and inspire children outside the classroom. Vicksburg Catholic Schools will have almost $19,000 to make improvements to their nearly 20-year-old playground. St. Joseph School in Madison will put over $10,000 toward upgrades in the Bruin cafe. St. Anthony School in Madison raised over $18,500 for an outdoor learning space and Jackson Sister Thea Bowman School raised over $7,000. “To say #iGiveCatholic was a success … is an understatement” said Jennifer David, principal at St. Richard. She said the school as received even more donations since the giving platform closed and now have more than $25,000 towards playground renovations. St. Richard School’s playground improvement has three phases. “Phase one … includes the completion of our outdoor classroom, the addition of outdoor music equipment and the installation of the Finn Garden,” said David. The garden will be a beautiful, peaceful place of mediation and reflection celebrating the love of the outdoors of St. Richard student, Finn Blaylock, who lost his battle to cancer last year. “We think our students will love having a place to sit surrounded by beautiful plants, water features and frog statues – Finn’s favorite. We know Finn will be smiling down from Heaven every day.” Phase two involves resolving drainages issues to be able to install a ball pit and phase three will include a zip line. David said that there are also several swings, a slide down the hillside, among others that will be installed “to add icing to the cake.” “We will have the coolest playground around, and we couldn’t have done it without our wonderful generous supporters. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart,” said David. Assistant stewardship and development director, Williams said, “The commitment and hard work of each participating location proved to be the most successful #iGiveCatholic campaign on #GivingTuesday ever … I predict this global day of giving will continue to grow with each passing year.”
By William Moore Daily Journal VARDAMAN – Catholic Charities provided around 100 Thanksgiving dinners Thursday evening to migrant workers in Calhoun County. For organizer Danna Johnson, it was much more than just giving away food. “The beauty of this is how we can integrate a multicultural community through food,” Johnson said. “We wanted to make sure it was a traditional Southern meal – no beans, no tortillas. “For many of the workers, it might be the first time they have ever eaten turkey.” The event started last year when the group served meals to around 40 workers at the downtown Vardaman location and sent out another 15 meals. It was a way for several cultures to come together. A migrant worker said grace before the meal. A board member shared the story of Thanksgiving and the reasons behind the traditions of turkey and dressing. Officials hoped the second year would be even bigger, but then the pandemic hit and forced this year’s event to become carry-out only. To make sure as many of the workers as possible knew about the event, Johnson enlisted the help of Paola Diaz to get the word out. Diaz works for a company that brings the migrant workers in from Mexico, processes the immigration paperwork and allocates the workers to the various farms around the area. “I work in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, and I love this place,” Diaz said.
Since she deals directly with the workers, Diaz was an integral part of getting the word out. She not only knew the rural county roads where the workers live, she was the ticket in the door. “These people don’t go out much and avoid a lot of new places and new people,” Johnson said. “They are not used to coming to places they don’t know. If I went to the door by myself, they wouldn’t answer the door. When I showed up with Paola, we were welcomed in.” So, the two women spent the last couple of weeks riding around county roads, letting the workers know that a special meal would be waiting for them, if they wanted it. “The goal was to show them hospitality and many of the workers were actually working until noon today,” Diaz said. Heidi Stephens, a retired teacher who helps with the Catholic Charities after school tutoring program, said they worked for several weeks to organize the event. Two local churches prepared the food. “Last year, St. Christopher in Pontotoc did the food,” Stephens said. “This year, St. Christopher and St. James in Tupelo took care of the food.” Some of the items were purchased while three different groups at the Tupelo church did the bulk of the cooking, including three men from the Knights of Columbus who cooked the turkeys. While the meal is prepared by Catholic Services and most of the migrant workers are Catholic, the meal is not a religious event or church service. “They don’t have time to go (to regular church services),” Johnson said. “They work every day when the crop is coming in, even Sundays and holidays.” The event does help to introduce the workers to the church, but officials wanted to make it more about hospitality, with thanks to God present, but in the background. “It’s a ministry of presence, we are not looking for recruits,” Stephens said. “It is good for the community to see an ecumenical project take off.”
(This story was reprinted with permission of the Daily Journal. Follow the author on Twitter @WilliamMoore_DJ, photos by Thomas Wells)
By Heather Williams (Vicksburg Daily News) VICKSBURG – When Karla McHan was looking for a challenge last year, she had no way of knowing exactly how challenged she would be. McHan spent 22 years teaching social studies (mostly U.S. history but also world history, government, psychology and sociology) at Warren Central High School when she was offered the lead teacher position in 2012. “I really enjoyed seeing education from a different perspective and loved the opportunity to work more directly with teachers,” McHan said. The experience motivated her to go back to school for her master’s degree in educational leadership, something she had put off when her children were young.
“I decided it was time to venture out and knew I could bring my perspective as a longtime teacher to educational decision making,” she said. A rare history position opened at Vicksburg Catholic School in 2016, and McHan could not pass up the chance of working with a man who had been the principal of her elementary and junior high schools when she was a student: Dr. Buddy Strickland. “It seemed like everything just fell in place,” she says of making the move to St. Aloysius High School. VCS also offered McHan a unique opportunity to advance her career and more openly share her faith. “As a practicing Catholic, I was excited about being in a school environment that so beautifully incorporates faith and love of God and neighbor in its daily activities.” St. Aloysius is much smaller than Warren Central, and McHan said it was a great place to step into the role of principal last year. “The smaller setting helped create a stronger sense of family, and I got to know everyone better,” she said. “That’s important when taking on an administration role.” As far as finding the challenges she was searching for, McHan got what she wanted in more ways than one in her position as the school’s principal. She experienced the typical new-principal challenges such as gaining the faculty’s trust and learning how to best utilize each staff member’s individual strengths, but then life threw her a curve ball. ”Hands down, the biggest hurdle I have faced has been COVID-19,” she said. “I think all new principals spend their first year in survival mode, but that moves into a whole different level when a pandemic hits three-quarters of the way through.” McHan said that creating a distance learning program and putting it into action effectively was one of the most difficult tasks she has faced on any level of her education career, but it has been especially trying when coupled with the responsibility of every student and faculty member in her school. “I considered all of the typical administrator duties when I was deciding to move,” she said, “but helping teachers and students adapt to distance learning while identifying the academic gaps that come with extended time away from the classroom was never on my radar.” McHan credits her faith, the support of her family and the “fabulous faculty and staff at St. Al” for her success. She also credits the great relationship she has developed with Mary Arledge, principal of St. Francis Xavier Academy. “She is just an incredible mentor and supporter,” McHan said of Arledge. McHan is clearly not a person to relax when the going gets good. In addition to constantly trying to better the distance learning processes, she plans to continue her education and pursue a specialist’s degree. Her plans also include more time with family and traveling with her husband, David. “It may sound crazy considering the current state of educational practices, but I definitely foresee being able to relax a little soon,” she said, “and I can confidently say that because I know I have the backing of such a hard-working, supportive staff.”
(Reprinted with permission of the Vicksburg Daily News, www.vicksburgnews.com.)
By Julia Williams JACKSON – The Catholic Diocese of Jackson is once again partnering with #iGiveCatholic, kicking off the charitable season by bringing together the Catholic community to ‘give thanks and give back.’
iGiveCatholic provides a unique opportunity to support the organizations that shape our souls and make a positive impact … our parishes, schools and nonprofit ministries. In 2019, the #iGiveCatholic campaign raised more than $7.4 million from over 29,530 donors. Since its inception in 2015, almost $20 million has been raised through #iGiveCatholic.
Declared “the most successful Catholic crowdfunding event to date” by the National Catholic Register, #iGiveCatholic was originally meant to counter the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The ‘Annual Day of Giving’ is known as #GivingTuesday and is a ‘global’ day of giving back. This year’s initiative will include organizations under the umbrella of 40 Catholic Dioceses across the nation.
iGiveCatholic’s #GivingTuesday will run from 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 1, with the Advance Giving Day phase beginning on Nov. 16 through Nov. 30th.
Visit www.igivecatholic.org to participate in #iGiveCatholic by making a secure online donation (minimum gift of $25) to your favorite organization or cause on #GivingTuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Offline gifts in any amount are welcome and appreciated and may be sent directly to the participating organizations. Mark your calendar and Save the Date! Your gift makes a difference. Join Catholics around the World … ‘Give Thanks, Give Back and Give Catholic!’
Editor’s note: On July 24, 1990, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States designated November as Black Catholic History Month to celebrate the long history and proud heritage of Black Catholics. In this edition, find articles and columns highlighting the rich history of the African presense in the church and a racial justice report from the diocese department of faith formation. Additionally, we will be beginning a series “From the archives” that will highlight Black History in our diocese, among other intriquing subjects. Black Catholic History is truly a gift.
By Richard Lane DETROIT – Transference of something from one place to another, or the movement of one thing to another. That is the medical definition of the word ‘gift’; an “action” or redirection of someone or something. A “gift” is also a relocation of a tendon due to a trauma or suffering, from one area to an infected area, for healing or strengthening of the weakened or affected muscle. Imagine waking up one morning as a 7-year-old child. You are happy and carefree, excited to learn more about the wonderful world you have been blessed to be born into. Your loving family cares about you and protects you unconditionally. Out of nowhere, though, someone comes and not only takes you away, but sells you into slavery at least seven times. You were given a name whose meaning is “favored/blessed/lucky.” You were forced to walk barefoot for more than 600 miles. Your innocence is stolen from you; your safety taken from you; your dignity taken from you; your childhood, your womanhood, your life stolen — and you have no idea why or how this happened. Yet your life and those after you would have a deleterious effect forever, yet you are considered to be a gift, a blessing, you are considered favored by God, but how do you understand as a mere child?
You later understand that your trauma is due to the color of your skin, which others have maimed, mutilated and tortured for reasons beyond your adolescent comprehension. Taken to a foreign land to people you have never seen, given foods you have never eaten and assigned a life you never knew existed, you are a “gift” or “blessing” to others. This is the story of one Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese Catholic saint of our church. Amid her suffering and pain, Bakhita (which means “blessing/lucky/favor” in her native tongue) saw the gift that was meant for her. She saw and encountered a transference from pain to power; from brutality to blessing; from slavery to salvation. She encountered Jesus within the Catholic Church. I ask you: Do you know the gift? In 1854, a child was born into slavery in Missouri. He was baptized and raised Catholic and at an early age encountered the “gift” that was before him in his Catholic faith. He desired not only to follow this gift but to become a “gift” to God by giving his life to the sacrament of holy orders as a priest, but he was not allowed to enter the seminary because of the color of his skin. Imagine the disappointment, hurt and pain of not being able to give your life to God totally just because of your race. Eventually sent to seminary in Rome and ordained a priest, he thought he would be sent as a missionary priest to Africa (due to the color of his skin), but was sent back to pastor a Black Catholic congregation in Quincy, Ill., where he would be known in derogatory terms using the n-word. Father Augustus Tolton became the first “gift” to the Black Catholic Church by being the first African American (Black) priest ordained for (not in) the United States. Father Tolton saw and encountered a transference from failure to freedom; from denial to destiny; from slavery to spirituality. Do you know the gift? In the fourth century AD, a man was terminated from his job as an official within the Egyptian government for being a thief and murderer. He gathered a group of 75 men who pillaged, plundered, robbed and raped throughout the Egyptian desert. This man was the biggest and baddest, the most imposing, figure of the time.
Upon coming to a monastery in the desert, he was approached by the abbot and later converted to Christianity. It took time for this marauder to come to grips with his true gift. He was able to convert the 75 criminals to join the monastery and they also became monks, yet he was not satisfied with his personal efforts. He was conflicted by his past and his present, not understanding why he was chosen, why he was considered a gift. Early one morning, a man named Isidore took him to a mountain and they sat and watched the sunrise. Isidore told him “just as it takes time for the rays of the light to break through the darkness, slowly does it take time for you to understand perfection in contemplation.” St. Moses the Black saw and encountered a transference from rape to repentance; from crime to contemplation; from murder to mystagogia. Do you know the gift? There has been a long, deep and rich history of African and African American influence in the Catholic Church. A Black presence in the Bible has been hidden and stolen from Christianity and it has only been since the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council that the church has not only identified this great gift but encouraged its celebration. From Ham, to Hagar, Cyprian to the Ethiopian eunuch, Pope Victor I to Pope Melchiades, Pope Gelasius (three Black popes) to Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, the Black heritage in the Catholic Church has been concealed. This kept Blacks, especially slaves, from knowing their history, their lineage, and their importance within the Eurocentric Catholic Christian tradition. From not allowing Blacks education, learning to read or even being considered as humans, this nation and our church were complicit in the abomination of slavery. Catholic slave owners were given permission by bishops to own slaves; in some cases, even local ordinaries owned slaves, to build their churches, forced labor for economic gains within certain dioceses. Catholic slave owners were mandated, if they owned slaves, to take them to church and allow them to “witness” Mass, but, in some instances, baptized Catholic Black slaves were denied the Eucharist due to the pigment of their skin. In 1990, the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus of the United States saw a need for a new encounter and transference of the gift of Blacks for the church as a whole, and thus began the annual celebration of Black Catholic History Month. This month is set aside to specifically celebrate and teach the rich, deep history and contributions Blacks, those persons “of color,” and their allies have made to significantly impact the church as a whole: St. Katharine Drexel, St. Peter Claver, St. Martin de Porres, St. Maurice, St. Benedict the Moor, Sister Thea Bowman and Daniel Rudd, to name just a few.
In his address given to the Black Catholic Leadership in the United States at the Superdome in New Orleans, La., in 1987, Pope St. John Paul II spoke of the “rich cultural gifts” brought to the Catholic Church in the United States by almost 3 million Black Catholics: “Dear brothers and sisters: your black cultural heritage enriches the church and makes her witness of universality more complete. In a real way the church needs you, just as you need the church, for you are part of the church and the church is part of you. As you continue to place this heritage at the service of the whole church for the spread of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit himself will continue through you his work of evangelization.” The Black culture brings the richness of her movement, music, sounds and smells, shouts and screams, preaching and praise. It is the 150th Psalm exegetically and hermeneutically brought to life within the sacred liturgy; praising God in His Sanctuary; Praise for His acts of power and surpassing greatness; praising with sounds of musical instruments and liturgical dance. We see the ebbs and flows of an oppressed and enslaved peoples, brought free from bondages and slavery; free to worship; free to celebrate its liberation and deliverance from a systemic tyranny and oppression. The muscle of once proud and rich peoples, weakened and traumatically ripped away from their homes, lives, culture and almost their own existence, encounter a transference, a great gift … a gift by the Living God, who when encountered, provides not only a transference but a rich culture of the faith of a people, bound together by the sinews of their hopes and faith in the Promise of a God that assures His Gift of eternal salvation. Do you know the Gift?
(Richard Lane is an international Catholic speaker and founder of Richard Lane Ministries. His article appeared in the November 2020 issue of CatholicTV Monthly (Vol. 16, No. 1) and was reprinted with permission. Visit www.catholictv.org.)
By Mary Woodward JACKSON – November is designated as Black Catholic History Month by the U. S. Bishops’ Conference. As Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson, I wanted to share some of the vast treasures the archives hold in regards to the development of the church in our state and the church’s role in race relations and seeking racial justice. In November 2018, in addition to endorsing the cause for canonization for Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, the U.S. Bishops published the document Open Wide Our Hearts – The Enduring Call to Love: A Pastoral Response to Racism. This document is a Pastoral Letter from the full body of bishops to the lay faithful and all people of goodwill addressing the evil of racism.
The pastoral letter asks us to recall that we are all brothers and sisters, all equally made in the image of God. Because we all bear the image of God, racism is above all a moral and theological problem that manifests institutionally and systematically. Only a deep individual conversion of heart, which then multiplies, will compel change and reform in our institutions and society. It is imperative to confront racism’s root causes and the injustice it produces. The love of God binds us together. This same love should overflow into our relationships with all people. The conversions needed to overcome racism require a deep encounter with the living God in the person of Christ who can heal all division. Over the next few months, in conjunction with a diocesan effort to address racism led by Bishop Joseph Kopacz and the Office of Intercultural Ministry, our archives will be offering a series of articles highlighting particular moments, organizations and individuals that played a key role in shaping the diocese and Mississippi. Some of the material will inspire you and make you smile; other material may challenge you and make you uncomfortable. This is what opening the chapters and wounds of history does and if we do not study our history and be open to its contexts and settings, we will not be able to truly heal and move forward in a way that is just and honest. One topic that many diocesan archives in the South are addressing are the sacramental records of slaves and how to preserve and present them for research. Our own archives have records from Spanish Colonial times in Natchez. The records are from 1789-1806 and hand-written in Spanish. Felicite Giradeaux, the grand dame of Natchez and a free woman of color, will give us insight into Natchez Catholic life between 1802 and the establishment of the diocese in 1837. Our collection contains a hand-written interview with her by Bishop William Henry Elder, who is another story we will explore as he was our bishop during the Civil War. Another topic will be education in the African American communities beginning with the first efforts at this in the basement of St. Mary Basilica in Natchez in the 1840s and growing into schools staffed by religious orders throughout the State. The diocese’s move toward integration of its own schools will be documented as well. How to exist as a universal church in a segregated society is a fascinating topic that will lead us into the Civil Rights Movement and the church’s role in that here at what many consider “ground zero.” This was a very volatile time, and we will share some key moments of grace under fire from without and within.
And of course, we have Sister Thea, who challenged the whole church to honest dialogue about systemic racism in the church and the world. Her message is a guiding beacon for us as a church still today. We have come a long way and we have built many bridges leading to healing. We have more to build. So, I invite you to be open to what is presented and embrace the opportunity to engage in this honest dialogue with others about race and how it affects our communities. It is through the study of our history, our shared experience, and the understanding of our ancestors – warts and all – that we will be able to honor our Catholicity and truly by united in Christ as Christ intended. I hope you will find this series helpful and hopeful.
(Mary Woodward is the Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)
By Fran Lavelle JACKSON – The mission of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson is to proclaim Jesus as Savior by living the Gospel, so all may experience the crucified and risen Lord. Our mission statement is supported by three priorities one of which is to create inviting and reconciling communities. We are called to continuously seek ways to support our sacred mission and live out these priorities in our everyday lives. This summer we witnessed the call for racial justice not only in this country but around the globe. As a nation and a church, we are confronted with the sin of racism and are being called to eradicate it in all its deadly forms.
Historically the Catholic Church in Mississippi has not shied away from seeking racial justice, hope, and healing for all African Americans. As in the past we recognize the need to stand tall against racism. In looking at the ways we can embrace diversity in our diocese it became clear that to move forward we needed to specifically understand the current reality of racism and how it impacts our Catholic African American brothers and sisters. Earlier this fall we sent a survey out to our traditionally African American parishes with the desire to better understand how the diocese can be an agent for change. The following is a summary report of those findings. This is the first step of many in the long and worthwhile journey to create inviting and reconciling communities. The diocese includes thirteen traditionally African American parishes: Sacred Heart, Camden Holy Child Jesus, Canton Immaculate Conception, Clarksdale St. Anne, Fayette Sacred Heart, Greenville St. Francis of Assisi, Greenwood St. Benedict the Moor, Indianola Christ the King, Jackson Holy Family, Jackson Holy Ghost, Jackson St. Joseph, Meridian Holy Family, Natchez St. Mary, Vicksburg We received 99 completed surveys from eleven parishes. A majority of the responses were from women (70 female/26 male). The responses by age are ranked as follows 42 responses from individuals ages 46-65; 38 responses from individuals ages 66-80; nine responses from individuals over the age 80; six responses from individuals ages 30-45; two responses from individuals ages 18-29; and one response from and individual under the age of 18. Survey participants were asked if they felt the diocese does a good job listening to the concerns of the traditionally African American parishes. Of the 81 people who answered this question, 39 answered “yes” and 42 answered “no.” When asked about the top three challenges facing their parish the responses were fairly consistent across the diocese. Understandably the pandemic has affected the way in which parishes operate. There were, however, some challenges that were identified that existed before the pandemic and will require creative solutions. The top challenges overwhelmingly included: declining/aging membership; youth programs/activities; finances; community outreach; and evangelization. In many ways the challenges facing our traditionally African American parishes are the same struggles that all parishes in the diocese and perhaps the country are grappling with. One thing is clear, as we plan for the future, the path forward must include meaningful ministry for young people of all ethnicities. We falsely state that the youth are the future of the church when in reality they are the church of today. In the Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit, To Young People and to the Entire People of God, Pope Francis acknowledges, “We also must give great thought to ways of incarnating the kerygma in the language of today’s youth. Reality is greater than ideas. Time is greater than space. The whole is greater than the part. Unity is greater than the division.”
Pope Francis is very clear that young people “are the now of God.” They are influencing and impacting the church and the world today, and all persons of faith should be walking alongside them: as peers, as mentors, as guides, and as fellow travelers on the road toward Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. Contextualizing that call in practical and effective ways is not only our greatest challenge but our ultimate responsibility. When asked what the diocese can do to address racism, the clarion call was for greater dialogue among all of God’s people especially with White Catholics. Some of the young responders felt a need to be more integrated and celebrate our diversity. As we continue to develop a vision for racial justice in the diocese, we must ensure that everyone at the table is seen, valued and heard. A question about what racial justice looks like in our churches, schools and organizations garnered some very thoughtful responses. Far and away most people’s view of racial justice comes down to dignity and respect. One respondent noted, “Racial justice should be visible, practiced, and discussed by all races coming together recognizing problems, developing solutions, and moving toward resolving those problems together.” The sense that we cannot create racial justice in a vacuum was quite clear. If we are to achieve this goal, we must do it together. When asked how Sister Thea Bowman inspires individuals to be the disciples Jesus Christ desires us to be, her presence is still prominent in many of the responses. Sister Thea was undoubtedly a great inspiration to many people. What made her exceptional was her authentic embrace of the call to love one another. One older woman stated, “Her legacy of love for God and humankind kindles in me a stronger will to serve, not to be served and do it abundantly. And, to love my brother as Jesus loves me.” We are using the USCCB’s document “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism” as a framework to direct our conversations and actions. It was developed by the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the church and was approved by the full body of bishops as a formal statement at its November 2018 General Meeting. We encourage parish leaders to consider undertaking a study of the document. In Mark 4:8, the parable of the sower, we are reminded for things to grow it is necessary to sow our seeds on good soil, “And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” Moving forward we will undertake a survey of all the parishes in the diocese. It is our hope that we can find fertile soil where the seeds of justice and racial harmony can grow. There is not a better day than today to begin the difficult but necessary work of creating inviting and reconciling communities. We are in desperate need of hope, healing, and reconciliation in our church and in our world. Formed by the four marks of the church may we truly be a One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic people. As always, the journey begins with One.
(Fran Lavelle is the director of the Department of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)
Editor’s note: National Vocation Awareness Week, celebrated Nov. 1-7, 2020 is an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations. This edition is dedicated to those “hearing the call.” Please read about all of our seminarians on pages 8 and 9; and keep them in your prayers.
By Joe Lee
MADISON – Father Nick Adam, who moved into the role of Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Jackson in early 2020, offers an interesting take on how he viewed studying for the priesthood before beginning his seminarian journey over a decade ago.
“I always thought seminary training looked like something from a movie: a bunch of sad-looking men marching in formation or falling to their knees constantly,” Father Adam said. “Really, it is a vibrant community of believers who are seeking to live their faith in a way that is joyful and life-giving.”
Recently a parish priest at St. Richard of Jackson, Father Adam’s sole focus is now on cultivating more vocations among Catholics in Mississippi. The Homegrown Harvest Gala and Fundraiser took place for the first time in October and, with the help of a $25,000 matching grant from the Catholic Extension Society, brought in $100,000 to support seminarian tuition costs.
“The live-streamed event featured videos I produced while visiting our seminarians and included a keynote presentation from Rev. James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans,” Father Adam said. “Priests from India, Ireland (and many other countries) have served us so well, and I believe the best way to thank them is to produce an abundance of ‘homegrown’ vocations.”
At present, six seminarians are studying to be priests for the Diocese of Jackson. Their hometowns include the Mississippi cities of West Point, Brandon, and Philadelphia, and Father Adam says he’s ‘in the thick’ of the recruiting season – though he’s hardly knocking on doors asking for donations.
“With this large fundraiser in the books, I am moving toward more personal interaction with men who are wrestling with the Lord’s plan for them,” Father Adam said. “I am taking small groups of these ‘discerners’ to the seminary so they can see what studying for the priesthood really looks like. These personal tours are my best way to encourage men to ‘be not afraid’ and to courageously discern the priesthood.”
“Father Nick had a great seminarian experience and has a great love for formation,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz. “He wants to stir the flame in those who aspire to the priesthood. His is an integrated position: vocations director, and director of seminarians. He is unleashed in vocation ministry, a ministry that needs someone like him, and I saw the love he had for it.”
“He talks with the seminarians regularly – right now they’re Zooming – and will accompany them on their journey. I’m excited about him serving full-time in this ministry. When folks are interested in marriage, he won’t take it personally and will go on planting seeds. Ninety percent of his energy is in relationships and those he encounters in vocation.”
Rhonda Bowden, director of liturgy and pastoral care at St. Jude parish in Pearl, worked alongside Father Adam on the Homegrown Harvest campaign and has watched him mentor her son, Andrew, a student at Notre Dame Seminary of New Orleans who will be ordained a priest in spring 2022 (see accompanying story).
She feels strongly about the need to grow priests within the Diocese of Jackson as well as parents being open to their children entering religious life. That sentiment is shared by Msgr. Michael Flannery, who believes the secret to vocations lies not in creative fundraising but in the home.
“That is where the seeds are sown and fostered by family prayer. It is not a question of money – if we had vocations we would find the money to sponsor them,” Flannery said. “I believe Father Nick is a tremendous choice as a vocation director. He is charismatic and relates very well to the youth ministry. He is doing everything he can (to bring in new seminarians).”
Adam, now in a wonderful position to mentor those who will follow in his footsteps, remains grateful to Father Frank Cosgrove, his priest at St. Patrick of Meridian when Adam worked full-time in television.
“I had stopped attending Mass while in college (at the University of Alabama) because I thought I knew everything, as college kids tend to think,” Adam said. “I went to Mass at St. Patrick about a year and a half after moving to Meridian. The feeling I had while sitting in the pew was like returning home after a long trip.”
“I just felt peace and contentment, and from that point forward I think the seed was planted for the priesthood. That really became solidified in me once I started speaking with Father Frank, who gave me a wonderful example of priesthood and always encouraged me to be open to the call.”
“Father Nick is a servant priest and exudes being a regular guy,” Father Cosgrove said. “He runs. He plays basketball. He puts on jeans and helps builds Habitat houses. He’s living a prayerful life – God works through that. He will make a great vocations director because of the joy of his own priesthood.”