Catholic campus ministry keeps faith alive in students

By Joanna Puddister King
STARKVILLE – Catholic faith is alive and thriving in colleges in the Golden Triangle area through an outreach of St. Joseph church. The church’s Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) at Mississippi State University also serves students at East Mississippi Community College and the Mississippi University for Women.
Students are the heart of this peer-led organization that believes college is a time for growth and formation for the whole person – body, mind and spirit.
College is truly a time for social growth and community, an avenue that CCM excels at with – free food, a language every college student understands. Tuesday Night Dinner (or TND as it is more affectionately known) hosted at St. Joseph is a great way to feed hungry students bellies and give them spiritual fuel to get them through the week by hosting interactive talks ranging from relationships, vocations, apologetics and more.

“When I first moved to Mississippi, I knew approximately three people here. I … learned about Tuesday Night Dinner (TND) and free food – every college student’s dream! As I started going to TND, I met lots of new people, learned about other CCM happenings and joined in on events and volunteering,” says Mississippi University for Women senior, Maggie Rodriguez.
“Over the past few years CCM has become my second family, a home away from home.”
In addition to free food, CCM has two important Catholic figures in their corner – Mother Teresa and Pope Francis – well, life-size cut-outs that is. The pair have been a main feature since the summer at campus events.
“At the New Maroon Camp, a freshman orientation type set of events, we were the first table people saw as they came into the auditorium filled with representatives from the clubs at MSU. With the cowbell in hand, Pope Francis received lots of smiles from Catholics and non-Catholics alike; likewise, Mother Teresa and her ‘Hail Mary, Hail State’ flag got plenty of positive feedback,” said director of campus ministry, Meg Kanatzar.
“They’re fabulous conversation starters! People come over just to take selfies with them.”
The “Hail Mary, Hail State” phrase ignited a powerful fundraiser that has Catholic Mississippi State fans near and far sporting the phrase on the groups signature t-shirt. Former student Joseph Kerstiens helped come up with the idea for the hugely popular shirt, with the silhouette of Saint Pope John Paul II with a cowbell and rosary in hand, with the slogan.
“We really wanted to have something that incorporated MSU and the Catholic faith, and it wasn’t long before we had the slogan ‘Hail Mary, Hail State,” said Kersteins.
Though there are a lot of fun and games, like Catholic intermural sports and monthly trivia night, the group finds time to allow students to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ with Eucharistic adoration and Bible study, in addition to service to others.
Mini-mission trips to Smith Park in Jackson with Deacon John McGinley is one way the group ministers to others. Often times, the group come on a Sunday so that they can invite the people they meet to Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter. They also make plastic bags into beds and pillows and distribute to those that need them.
In addition to serving the homeless in Jackson, the group also ministers to their local community with volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, working in the St. Joseph food pantry and serving home-bound individuals with a food box delivery on a monthly basis.
“I want to give back to the community that has given me so much over the past four years,” says co-president of CCM, Jeremy Irwin.
“I had a tough time sophomore year and my CCM family still managed to make my time here at State enjoyable, while still growing in my faith. My hope is that I am able to help bring others the joy CCM has brought me, through Christ.”
That joy is the fuel that keeps director of the campus ministry, Meg Kanatzar going.
“Seeing someone come back on fire for their faith after attending a retreat or observing one student counsel a peer in a difficult time, or entering a chapel or church filled with students praying during Adoration. There are countless moments when I am privileged to witness students making God a priority in their lives,” said Kanatzar.

Elsa Baughman – a Catholic Messenger

Elsa Baughman

By Berta Mexidor
JACKSON – Before being known as Mississippi Católico, the Spanish-speaking newspaper of the Diocese of Jackson was published as El Mensajero Católico (The Catholic Messenger) for more than ten years.
With the consent of Bishop William Houck, the action of several people who recognized the need to communicate in Spanish with a growing community and a team dedicated to informing, the idea materialized, and on Oct. 10, 1997, the first edition of The Catholic Messenger came to light, more than 22 years ago.
As a protagonist and record keeper of the history is Elsa Baughman. She began working in 1996, for the diocesan newspaper, then called Mississippi Today. Baughman, Venezuelan by birth, graduated of Journalism at the University of Zulia in Venezuela,and with a master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). A mother and grandmother, Elsa (as everybody knows her), brought her rich experience, culture and the desire to break stereotypes to the diocesan newspaper.

JACKSON – From left to right, Elsa Baughman, Maureen Smith and Tyna McNeely – past employees of Mississippi Catholic pose for a photo. (Photo from archives)

Elsa arrived in Mississippi in 1976 when there were few Hispanics in the state. After graduating from USM, getting married and working in several international companies and being a Spanish teacher, she started working at Mississippi Catholic.
In December 1979, Bishop Joseph B. Brunini was the main celebrant of the first Mass to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Cathedral of San Pedro. Father Mario Vizcaino, SchP. founder of Southern Pastoral Institute (SEPI), auxiliary Bishop William Houck and father Paul Madden were co-celebrants. From there, the tradition of the Spanish Mass was established and the need to serve the growing Latino community.
Since 1982 Rogelio Solis reported Spanish activities to Mississippi Today. Among many people who contributed to promoting the newspaper in Spanish, it is Janna Avalon, who for more than 40 years directed Mississippi Catholic, Fabvienen Taylor, who wrote the first article about the differences and similarities of Latinos, Elizabeth Ayala, who wrote about the sacraments, Sister Patricia Brown, who founded and directed the Hispanic Ministry, Sister Day, Ligia Fenton, Susan Falkner and the priests Jerry Mattingly of Hazlehurst, Richard Smith of Forest, Anthony Quyet of Forest, Maureen Smith, Diocesan Communications Director and brother Ted Dausch who worked for 20 years as coordinator of Hispanic Ministry. All of them; and many more, who always supported the Hispanic celebrations and their dissemination in the Spanish newspaper.
As a committed editor, reporter and Catholic, everyone met Elsa. Even today, after her retirement, Elsa follows the events of her community and she can be seen taking pictures at St. Therese Parish in Jackson. She currently enjoys her free time with her husband, Brian, their daughters, Carla and Verónica and their grandchildren, Arianna and Roman.
“For me, working in the newspaper was a dream come true. Having met so many people and priests, traveling throughout the state and working for three bishops – William Houck, Joseph Latino, and Joseph Kopacz – were wonderful experiences. … One of my best memories, that I keep with great affection, it was the trip to the Saltillo Mission in Mexico, by invitation of Bishop Kopacz, after having reported for many years about the importance of this mission to the diocese,” Elsa concluded.

Hispanic Ministry in Mississippi, a history

By Sister Patricia Brown and Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – The first celebration of the anniversary of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Jackson was 40 years ago, it was not only a success but also the seed that, over time, began the creation of the Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Jackson.
On Sunday, Dec. 16, 1979, at 4:30 p.m. Bishop Joseph Brunini, auxiliary Bishop William Houck, Father Mario Vizcaino, SchP., founder of Southern Pastoral Institute (SEPI), and Father Paul Madden celebrated the first Mass in Spanish at St. Peter’s Cathedral. About 200 Hispanics from the Jackson area attended that celebration.
In January 1980, a pastoral council was organized in Jackson, meeting regularly and the Sunday Mass was celebrated at St. Peter’s Cathedral in the afternoons. Religion and English classes were offered, social and religious parties were held, and a newsletter was distributed to 95 families.
The United States Census in 1980 indicated that the population of Hispanics in Mississippi was less than one percent. Many of these were migrant farm workers dispersed in the Delta area and in chicken processors in the center of the state.

Although Sister Thea Bowman did not speak Spanish, she helped the Hispanic community to continue celebrating the Eucharist in Spanish and their activities in the Jackson area.
During the 1980s, Father Michael Flannery and Father Richard Smith assisted migrant workers, near Clarksdale.
The 1990 census counted 9,752 Hispanics in the 65 counties of the diocese. The Diocese of Jackson asked Sister Patricia Broderick for a study of the Hispanic community and a plan to meet their needs. The suggestions of that proposal, written in November 1990, remain valid today, only the numbers have increased, and the needs have multiplied.
In 1991, Father José Daniel López, began celebrating Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral. Deacon Roberto Jiménez began assisting Father Lopez, and Father Anthony Quyet, in St. Michael parish in Forest, began celebrating Mass in Spanish on April 7, 1991. Prior, Father Madden celebrated Mass in Spanish at the residence of the Echiburu family in Morton.
In 1993, Sister Jeroma Day began visiting Hispanic homes in Rosedale. Gene and Mary Helen Grabbe, lay missionaries of the Glenmary order, formed a stable community Hispanic family in the St John Neumann Mission. In September 1994, the Diocese of Jackson established the Office of the Hispanic Ministry under the direction of Sister Patricia Brown. Sister Patricia Godri arrived in Carthage in September 1994 to work as a pastoral minister in St. Anne’s Church. In 1995 the missionaries of the Glenmary Order sent Father Francisco Pellissier to serve as a sacramental minister in six counties in northeast Mississippi. On Dec. 17 that year, Father Pellissier celebrated the first bilingual mass at San Christopher Mission in Pontotoc.
Father Steve Pawelk, Sister Nancy Schreck, Father Jerry Peterson and Father Gerry Richardson were some of the first religious who served in the Hispanic community in New Albany. Sisters Patricia Sullivan, Rosemary Empen and Kris Vorenkamp oversaw services in Chickasaw and Calhoun counties. In 1996, the Catholic Center in Morton was inaugurated. The first Spanish mass in Ripley was celebrated on Dec. 12, 1997. Father Jerry Mattingly started Mass in Spanish at San Martín Mission in Hazlehurst since 1997.
In 1999, Christian Brother Ted Daush assumed the leadership the Hispanic Ministry until June of this year, giving twenty years to this ministry, supported by Guadalupean Missioneries sisters and parish leaders. Last July the Diocesan Intercultural office was created where Hispanic and Black Catholic Ministries were merged.

The establishment of the Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Jackson allowed the increase of religious, social and cultural services to the Hispanic community in the 65 counties of the diocese.

(This article was published in Catholic Messenger on Dec. 17, 1999. Elsa Baughman updated it for this edition. Read the article in its entirety on

Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe

By Monsignor Michael Flannery
JACKSON – The actual apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe took place on the mountain of Tepeyac. There was a temple to the goddess virgin, Tonantzin, who was the mother of the gods. She was also known as the woman clothed with serpents. In the Aztec mind, the serpent stood for wisdom and perfection. It stood for death and resurrection as the snake cast its skin off every year.
Juan Diego was a 56-year-old convert to Christianity. It was Dec. 9, 1531. He was on his way to Mass at Tlatelolco by way of Tepeyac, when he heard beautiful music. He was immediately attracted to it. Music after all was the way to communicate with the gods. Then he heard a gentle voice calling his name. Before him stood a very beautiful lady. She radiated like the sun. She asked him where he was going? He responded that he was going to attend Mass. She, then, introduced herself as the mother of the true God who made the heaven and the earth. She instructed him to go to the bishop in Mexico City and to tell him to build for her a temple at Tepeyac. Juan responded immediately to say that her wish would be fulfilled, and he would go immediately. Upon arriving at the home of the bishop, he had to wait a long time before seeing him. He recounted for the bishop what he had seen and heard and the command of the Lady who called herself the Mother of God to build a temple for her. The bishop listened attentively to him and had him repeat the story again. The bishop then asked Juan Diego to return on another day to hear him again. Juan felt he had failed in his task to convince the bishop to build a temple to Our Lady.
Sadly, Juan returned to where he had seen the apparition at Tepeyac, and the apparition was before him again. He told Mother of God that he had failed in his task. Juan explained to Our Lady that he was not the one for the task as he was just a lowly unlettered man and was not one to be listened to. Our Lady should find someone more prominent for the task.
Our Lady reminded him that she could send many people to fulfill the task and that she had chosen Juan Diego and she still had confidence in him to fulfill the task she had given him. She asked Juan to return the following morning and Juan promised that he would return the next day and do as she commanded and then added that the bishop would probably not believe him.
On Dec. 10, Juan Diego went again to the residence of the bishop. The bishop questioned him at length about what he had seen, where he had seen it and what the message of the Lady was. Juan Diego answered all questions put to him. However, the bishop did not believe him and said that he needed some sign before he would believe. As Juan Diego was leaving bishop’s residence, the bishop asked two members of his household to follow Juan Diego and see what he was up to and to report back to the bishop. The two individuals followed Juan Diego back to Tepeyac but, they lost track of Juan Diego. Meanwhile, Juan was reporting back to Our Lady the details of his encounter with the bishop and how he was demanding a sign before he would believe Juan Diego. Our Lady responded that Juan Diego was to return tomorrow and that she would give him a sign to bring.
Upon his arrival at home, Juan Diego found that his uncle was gravely ill and needed the attention of a medic. On Dec. 11, Juan went in search of a doctor to assist his dying uncle Bernardino. Juan was not successful in getting a doctor, although he spent the whole day in search of a medic. On Dec 12, Juan Diego could see that his uncle was declining rapidly so he decided to look for a priest to give his uncle the last rites. In order to get the priest, he would have to pass by Tepeyac. He decided that he would go the other side of the mountain to avoid seeing Our Lady. While making his way along the other side of the mountain, there was Our Lady before him. She asked him what was going on and he explained that his uncle was about to die. He asked forgiveness for not fulfilling the task the day before. Our Lady told him not to worry about his uncle. She would take care of him. In the meantime, he was to go to the bishop and bring the sign that the bishop had requested.
She then instructed Juan Diego to go to the top of the mountain and there he would find roses. Juan reminded Our Lady it was not the season for roses to grow in December. Our Lady told him to do as he was asked. Juan Diego climbed the mountain and there before him were these beautiful roses. He picked the roses and brought them to Our Lady. Our Lady arranged the roses in his poncho. The poncho was made that it could fold up in the front and strings attached which could be tied to the shoulders. After Our Lady arranged the roses, she sent Juan Diego on his mission to go to the home of the bishop and present him with the roses. She instructed him that he was not to allow anyone else to see the roses except the bishop. Juan was also to tell the bishop that he was to fulfill what was being asked of him and to build a temple in Tepeyac in honor of Our Lady. The roses had a beautiful aroma.
The servants of the bishop were slow to tell the bishop that Juan Diego had come back. Juan was persistent. The servants wanted to examine the roses. Juan refused and said only the bishop was to see the sign. Eventually, Juan was brought into the bishop’s office. On entering, Juan reverenced the bishop and told him that he had brought the sign he had requested. With that, he released the strings on his poncho and the roses dropped to the ground. At that same moment, the impression of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted on his poncho.
The poncho of Juan Diego was made from the maguey plant. The poncho is also called a tilma. Its normal life span is 25 years. However, the tilma of Juan Diego has survived nearly 500 years. The original can be seen in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is still in good condition and is now encased in glass.

Las posadas: Hispanic tradition keeps story of Holy Family alive

JACKSON – One of the most popular Latin American Christmas traditions is a nine-day celebration called “Las Posadas.” “Posada” means “inn” or “shelter.” This tradition is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s attempt to find lodging before the birth of Jesus. Posadas are celebrated in different countries, so there are variations within each respective culture.
Traditionally, las posadas begin the night of Dec. 16 and end on the night of Dec. 24, which commemorates Mary’s nine months of carrying Jesus in the womb. Eight families volunteer to host the posada at their home and the last night is hosted at the church. Each night, a nativity scene is carried by a group of people; they represent Joseph and Mary, along with a crowd of angels, shepherds and wise men. The group carries candles and sings an interactive song of begging for shelter outside of each of the houses. The group on the inside of the home represents the innkeepers and sing back, refusing to open the door.
Some of the dialogue of the song includes:
Outside crowd: In the name of Heaven I beg you for lodging, for she cannot walk, my beloved wife.
Innkeepers: This is not an inn so keep going. I cannot open, you may be a rogue.
Outside crowd: Don’t be inhumane; have mercy on us. The God of heavens will reward you for it.
Innkeepers: You can go on now and don’t bother us, because if I become annoyed, I’ll give you a beating.
Outside crowd: We are worn out coming from Nazareth. I am a carpenter, Joseph by name.

CANTON – In 2018, Geancarlo Ramires, Juana and Leslie Marroquin participate in a las posadas hosted by Sacred Heart church. (Photo courtesy of archives)

Innkeepers: I don’t care about your name. Let me sleep because I already told you, we shall not open up.
Outside crowd: I’m asking you for lodging dear man of the house. Just for one night for the Queen of Heaven.
Innkeepers: Well, if it’s a queen, who solicits it, why is it at night that she travels so alone?
Outside crowd: My wife is Mary. She’s the Queen of Heaven and she’s going to be the mother of the Divine Word.
Innkeepers: Are you Joseph? Your wife is Mary? Enter, pilgrims; I did not recognize you.
Outside crowd: May God pay, gentle folks, your charity, and thus heaven heap happiness upon you.
Inkeepers: Blessed is the house that shelters this day the pure Virgin, the beautiful Mary.
The song continues but during the last verse, the doors are opened and everyone makes their way inside. The song then transitions to a joyful song of welcoming. Usually, a Rosary is prayed once everyone is packed inside. Other times, the Bible is read and there is a time for reflection. The host family typically provides some type of drink or food that can range from a snack to a full meal. One popular choice is the atole; a hot drink made from corn or wheat flour and milk, but a local favorite is arroz con leche, a hot drink made with rice, milk and cinnamon.
“Celebrating las posadas is a beautiful tradition in the Latino/Hispanic culture and I am thankful that the opportunity to experience this tradition is available in towns throughout Mississippi,” says Daisey Martínez, Associate for Youth and Young Adult Ministry for Intercultural Ministry at the Diocese of Jackson.
Las Posadas is a time to draw attention to our own journey to find room for Jesus at Christmas as well as participate in and honor a rich tradition of Latinos.

(Daisey Martinez contributed to this story)

Hoping for a CURE

By Father Kent Bowlds
CLEVELAND – Having a relative who is in prison has made me very aware of the impact of incarceration upon whole families and things are not getting any easier. A growing trend, for example, is the replacement of families’ free onsite inmate visitation with video technology – where loved ones and their incarcerated members have to visit remotely through a television screen – at financial cost to the families and at the expense of a truly personal experience. Because the poor are especially affected by incarcerations, a situation like this has a very detrimental effect upon them and, in the end, upon all of us. As a society we say that prisons should not have revolving doors, that the return rate is much too high, but then we allow policies, such as exorbitant jail telephone rates, which foster repeat offenders by damaging the connections between families and their incarcerated loved ones. We don’t follow what the best research says will work toward reducing crime in the long run.
If prison reform is a concern close to your heart also, know that there is a way to advocate here in Mississippi on behalf of the affected families, the prisoners themselves, and anyone who is interested in our prisons being more than very expensive warehouses to which the inmates are likely to return. CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants) is a nonprofit national grassroots organization with chapters many states. It speaks to issues on a national level, but even more importantly to local and state matters. The Mississippi chapter of CURE has not been active for several years and needs to be rebuilt and reenergized. It is not a religiously affiliated organization, but certainly has at heart the words which Jesus Christ will say to us someday – “When I was in prison, you visited me.”
A practical example of recent CURE effort is their advocacy for the national reinstatement of college Pell grants for prisoners. These particular grants were eliminated in 1994 and have since been offered again only on a very limited experimental basis by the U.S. Dept. of Education. Expanding this opportunity, such as through the newly proposed bipartisan REAL Act, would allow inmates to continue college studies behind bars and give them a better chance for life changing employment after release. This would help former offenders become contributing tax-paying citizens, a benefit for all of us.
A Mississippi CURE chapter, made up of constituents from all over the state, would let our state and U.S. legislators know in an official way what they think about such legislation. Their united voice would carry unique weight because of their personal experience and a strong desire for effective reform.
You can learn more at the website for CURE (, which says:
“CURE consists of people who are passionate about seeking improvements in the criminal justice system. CURE’s members [include] prisoners, ex-prisoners, and family members and friends of prisoners. The vast majority of CURE’s funding comes from membership dues and contributions of members. Because our members often come from the ranks of the lower economic strata, annual dues are relatively inexpensive and may be waived for the indigent. The budgets for CURE Chapters are typically very small. The work is done by volunteers, with little or no paid staff.”
(If you would like to be involved in reestablishing Mississippi CURE, contact Father Kent Bowlds at Our Lady of Victories Cleveland, (662) 588-5868 or email:

Festivities around Diocese

MERIDIAN – On Nov. 2, St. Patrick School held their annual Variety Show fundraiser. The event was organized by Dr. Danny and Rory Santiago and featured many talented acts from the catholic community. Shown are members of the St. Patrick School staff from left, Montse Frias, principal, Helen Reynolds, Celeste Saucier, Lauren Walker and Sharon Shipman performing a routine to the song “I Will Follow Him” from the movie “Sister Act.” (Photo by Wade Saucier)
JACKSON – The St. Richard annual CardinalFest was a rockin’ hit on Oct. 27, with the Fondren Guitars students Rock Band performing. Pictured is former St. Richard student, Amelia Haydel singing and playing guitar, and Seamus Priest on drums. The Fondren Guitar Band is led by St. Richard alum and parent Patrick Harkins. (Photo by Tereza Ma)
GREENVILLE – The men of Sacred Heart fried fish for their annual Harvest Festival fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 2. (Photo by Maurice Mosley)

MERIDIAN – Father Augustine in the Halloween spirit at his parish’s celebration. (Photo courtesy by St. Patrick)

COLUMBUS – Annunciation students trick or treat through classrooms. (Photo by Katie Fenstermacher)

JACKSON – On Oct. 29 school development directors met with chancery staff members Rebecca Harris and Joanna King. The team talked about strategy and upcoming events. (Photo by Tereza Ma)

Priest delivers powerful testimony during Homeland Security hearings

By Berta Mexidor
JACKSON – Father Odel Medina tugged at heartstrings as he read a letter written by a child pleading for his father’s freedom after being jailed since the federal agent raids on Mississippi last summer.
Missionary Servant Father Medina, pastor of St. Therese Kosciusko and St. Anne Carthage, was among the many people presenting testimonies and stories and expressing concerns during public hearings Nov. 7 in Tougaloo before U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security members.
Committee members attending the hearing included Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Rep. Al Green (D-TX.) Also on hand was Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN), who heads up the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
Looking back. More than 600 federal agents raided chicken processing plants across Mississippi Aug. 7 resulting in the arrests of 680 people. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid was the largest statewide workplace operation in U.S. history with a price tag of $1.3 million so far according to reports.
For the most part, those arrested were not dangerous criminals, but rather workers in many cases outstaying their visas. There were six more serious charges involving domestic violence and two cases of battery that were reported but details were unclear. One recent report indicated that 300 are still living in detention.
In the aftermath of the raids, many are calling the operation inhuman and unnecessary. During hearings, Jere Miles, special agent in charge of the Homeland Security investigation office in New Orleans, was questioned on the project’s costs. Other questions directed at him focused on the timing and execution of operations that took place on the first day of school when children were heading back to classes after the summer break.
According to reports, only county school districts were contacted about the raids. Communications with other schools were lacking and left educational facilities in crisis management at the end of the day when the parents were not there to pick up their children. Reports say that ICE provided 11 phones for the more the 680 detainees to use on that day to get in touch with loved ones and to seek help.

Miles defended his agency saying that his office was incompliance with the law, and as a result of the raid, 400 cases of illegally use of SSN or identity theft were found. When Mississippi Catholic questioned Miles about the outcome of the raids, he said, “After this hearing and each raid, the agency tries to learn how to improve this kind of operation. We are taking all the suggestions, but there are some things we cannot change because we need to take care of our country,” he explained about the administration’s press on immigration and security and enforcement efforts.
Several Catholic communities of the Diocese of Jackson have been facing the consequences of the immigration raids over the past months. In emergency response and social justice efforts, the diocese has been working with parishes to provide assistance to families faced with hardships struggling to pay rent, buy food and pay bills after heads of households lost work due to the raids.
Father Medina is heading up long-term recovery efforts at crisis centers established as part of the diocese’s humanitarian aid efforts in coordination with Catholic Charities and other community organizations joining in the outreach. Help including financial assistance and legal advice is offered as part of outreach to families in the parishes and also residents living within the community-at-large touched by the raids.
Father Mike O’Brien, pastor of Sacred Heart in Canton, and Father Roberto Mena, Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity and pastor of St. Michael Parish in Forest, are also part of the diocese’s humanitarian aid initiatives.
During the Tougaloo hearing, Father Medina gathered with community leaders who one-by-one shared their testimonies and concerns. They included Scott County Sheriff Mike Lee; Lorena Quiroz Lewis of Working Together Mississippi; Canton Mayor William Truly; Clift Johnson, director of MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law and Attorney Constance Slaughter-Harvey, president of the Board of Legacy Education and Empowerment Foundation.
One of the most troubling aspects of the raids on the minds of many speaking at the hearing is the difficult situations of the families, who are struggling to make ends meet. According to records, about 1,000 children are affected by the raids including the minors now without both parents and the ongoing psychological, economic and social effects. The language barrier between Guatemalan detainees, who speak Mam, a Mayan language, is also a concern that calls for special translators.
Monserrat Ramirez and Roberto Tijerina, members of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), broadcasted the hearing on the Facebook page of Mississippi Resiste, a grassroots organization dedicated to helping the immigrant community.
SONG’s activists from Mississippi and other states are uniting forces with South East Immigrant Rights Network. Together, they are creating a network of individuals including lawyers, local authorities and Catholic lay and priests giving time and talents to help families in need of assistance and to get back on their feet.
During hearings, Father Medina talked about the generous support received from people everywhere after the raids. Donations poured into Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Jackson from 40 different states and several organizations reflecting the compassion and concerns that the people of the United States of America have for the immigrant families of Mississippi now in crisis and seeking social justice, guidance and help.
Father Medina thanked members of the committee for his opportunity to speak on the behalf of people in the diocese’s family of parishes and to read the letter of the child from his own parish family hurting and traumatized in the aftermath of the raids. “I assure you of my prayers. God bless you,” said the priest with a heavy heart, as he closed his talk.

(Linda Reeves contributed to this story.)

40 Years of Our Lady of Guadalupe

December features two significant Marian holidays: The Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 and Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. Bishop John Joseph Chanche, first bishop of the Diocese of Jackson had a special devotion to Immaculate Conception and helped bring the devotion to the United States.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is Patroness of the Americas. The feast celebrates Maria’s appearance to San Juan Diego.
The Diocese of Jackson has hosted observance of this feast since 1979, when the Bishops Joseph Brunini and William R. Houck and father Mario Vizacaino of SEPI celebrated the first Spanish Mass. The Guadalupe celebrations will include processions, the Holy Rosary, Mass, a dramatization of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “Mañanitas” (traditional Mexican birthday song).
Posadas is a Latin tradition to recreate the trip Joseph and Mary undertook seeking refuge. Many communities will organize multi-day Inns as part of the Advent season.
Here is a list of Guadalupe celebrations throughout the diocese. For more details and schedules of Posadas, please contact your parish.

Amory, St. Helen –Thursday, Dec. 12
Canton, Sacred Heart – Sunday Dec. 15, 9:30 am
Carthage, St. Anne – Saturday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m.
Cleveland, Our Lady of Victories – Thursday, Dec. 12, 5:30 p.m.
Corinth, St. James de Less – Saturday, Dec. 14, 6 p.m.
Forest, St. Michael – Thursday, Dec. 12, 6 p.m. and Guadalupana at Krudop Center, Sunday, Dec. 15, 11 a.m.
Greenville, Sacred Heart – Thursday, Dec. 12, 6 p.m.
Greenwood, St. Francis – Thursday, Dec. 12, 6 p.m.
Hazlehurst, St. Martin – Mañanitas, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 7-9 p.m. and Mass, Thursday, Dec 12, 6.30 p.m.
Holly Springs, St. Joseph – Thursday, Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m.
Houston, Immaculate Heart of Mary – Mañanitas, Dec. 12, 5 a.m., and Mass, 7 p.m.
Jackson, St. Peter Cathedral – Sunday, Dec. 8, 11:30 a.m.
Jackson, St Therese – Mañanitas, Thursday, Dec. 12, 8-10 p.m. and Mass, Sunday, Dec. 15, 12:30 p.m.
Kosciusko, St. Therese – Sunday, Dec. 15, 1 p.m.
Meridian, St. Patrick – Sunday, Dec. 8, 2:30 p.m.
New Albany, St. Francis – Sunday, December 15, 6 p.m.
Olive Branch, Queen the Peace – Thursday, Dec. 12, 7 p.m.
Oxford, St. John – Mañanitas and Guadalupana Mass, Thursday, Dec.12, 4:30 a.m.
Pearl, St. Jude – Saturday, Dec.14, 7 p.m.
Pontotoc, St. Christopher – Wednesday, Dec. 11, 6 p.m. Mañanitas, Thursday, Dec. 12, 5:30 a.m.
Ripley, St. Matthew – Bilingual Mass, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 7 p.m.; Mañanitas at midnight; Mass, Thursday, Dec. 12, 7 p.m.
Senatobia, St. Gregory – Thursday, Dec. 12 at 5:30 pm
Southaven, Christ the King – Mañanitas, Thursday, Dec. 12, 5:30 a.m. and Mass at 7 p.m.
Tupelo, St. James – Sunday, December 15, 11 a.m.

The sisters of Holmes County, integral to community

By Dan Stockman
LEXINGTON – It’s a Wednesday, and three teenagers are in Sr. Sheila Conley’s tiny office, learning about finances.
Less than a block away, Sr. Mary Walz, a social worker, is at the Lexington Medical Clinic, running a diabetes education program.
Down the road in Durant, Sr. Madeline Kavanaugh is working on a statewide re-entry program for people being released from the state prison system.
The three sisters are continuing the ministries of Sr. Paula Merrill, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, and Sr. Margaret Held of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee. Held and Merrill were murdered Aug. 25, 2016, after working in the area for six years and ministering to those kept poor for some 30 years, mostly in Mississippi. They were nurse practitioners and both worked at the Lexington Medical Clinic.
On Nov. 20, 2017, Kavanaugh, Conley and Walz moved into the house Merrill and Held had shared and started their own work in the area. Their arrival “meant a new beginning, a fresh start. It meant that we were going to survive,” says Sam Sample, a parishioner at St. Thomas Church in Lexington and a friend of all five sisters.
Conley’s students have already completed the Career Ready 101 class at the Lexington Multi-Purpose Complex, which consists of 200 hours of learning how to be employable, such as understanding you have to show up to work, on time, every day.
“There’s a great vocational school where they can become an electrician or be certified to drive a forklift,” Conley, a Sister of Charity of Halifax, Nova Scotia, says later. “But they don’t know how to keep a job.”
Today, the subject is credit: credit cards, credit scores, credit card bills. They know there are credit cards and debit cards, but the only difference between them they know about is that a debit card needs a PIN; they don’t know one operates on credit and the other requires money in the bank.
The classes that provide real-world lessons existed before Conley got here, but they were only online, and the students didn’t have much success afterward. Now, they have Conley, a no-nonsense sister with a sharp wit, lots of stories and experience, and a mission to change their lives.
Since so many patients at the Lexington Medical Clinic have some form of diabetes, Walz, a Daughter of Charity, comes in contact with almost all of them.
“It gives you access to people who would never consider talking to a social worker,” Walz says. “There are so many social aspects to diabetes. The doctors say, ‘Lose weight, eat right, blah blah blah,’ and it just overwhelms them. But one-on-one, you can really address the issues, from poverty to transportation to healthy cooking.”
Like many rural areas, Lexington has few grocery stores and little fresh produce. Most people don’t know how to make healthy food choices, she says. They can’t find healthy food to buy and don’t know how to prepare it if they find it.
Walz also helps patients navigate the often-bewildering world of public assistance and nonprofit programs to cover co-pays, find transportation, or get expensive hearing aids.
“The staff told me, ‘They’re calling you the Diabetes Lady,'” Walz said. “I told them, ‘I’ve been called worse.'”
Kavanaugh, a Daughter of Charity, works with Marvin Edwards, a Secular Franciscan, on the prison re-entry program, the Mississippi Association for Returning Citizens (MARC). The program, “Getting Ahead While Getting Out,” is designed to help people get out of poverty.
“They learn a lot of self-evaluation skills — how to evaluate their anger and their personality,” Kavanaugh says. “It’s very strong on studying the financial reality of the country so they can understand how it works and how to get ahead. Before they leave prison, they have to have a plan. Not just a plan for the first 72 hours, but a plan for life.”
Plans often go haywire, and none of the three sisters had ever planned on ministering in rural Mississippi. But it didn’t take long for them to realize they are exactly where God wants them to be.
Though it had been more than a year since Held and Merrill died, the community they served was still reeling when Conley, Kavanaugh and Walz moved in.

“What happened was catastrophic to this town,” says Sample, a real-estate agent who helped the three new sisters rent Held and Merrill’s house.
Held and Merrill had been stabbed to death in their bedrooms in a breaking-and-entering. Rodney Earl Sanders of Kosciusko, a town about 18 miles east of Durant, was convicted of two counts of murder and is serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole plus 30 years for burglary and stealing one of the sisters’ cars.
Sam Sample says he stood dumbfounded in front of the house, which was surrounded by police tape, when he got the news, unable to process it. When he called his wife, Jamie to tell her, she collapsed. She was so distraught, she was unable to drive.
“Our little world just crashed,” he says.
Cardell Wright, city manager for the City of Durant, says he didn’t know Merrill and Held personally, but it is impossible to escape their reputation.
“They exemplified holiness,” Wright says. “Something that tragic — it shook the community. When something like that happens to people of that caliber, it has a big effect on society.”
Today, the work of Conley, Kavanaugh and Walz is having a big effect, as well.
“When you see them, you know what they stand for. You know what they embody,” Wright says. “They’ve changed my own mentality of what I thought sisters were. I thought they were isolated and stayed off by themselves. The sisters here are invested in our community, and especially our young people. They’ve been very instrumental and one of our biggest donors and supporters.”
For example, Walz helped Wright organize a project for the Mayor’s Youth Council. The teens collected hundreds of pounds of plastic bottle caps, and Walz put them in touch with Green Tree Plastics in Evansville, Indiana, which makes benches out of the material. She then arranged for Wright to stay with the Daughters of Charity in Evansville so he could deliver the plastic and pick up the completed benches.
“We collected 950 pounds of plastic, and the Daughters of Charity donated another 300 pounds to us. They had sisters around the nation sending them in,” Wright says. “They’re unstoppable.”
The project resulted in several benches now installed around Durant, but more importantly, Wright says, it showed the teens how to follow through on a project and accomplish something.
Even more meaningful, though, was when students held a protest against gun violence after the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, and Wright spotted the sisters joining the march.
“Just to see their involvement — they support us,” he says. “It made my day to see one of the sisters come out and march with us. They were right there, talking about protecting our kids.”
Wright marvels at the sisters’ creativity and resourcefulness.
“It’s the connections. It’s about uplifting one another,” he says. “They want the community to progress.”
Though none of the three sisters had lived in Mississippi before, when the Sisters of Charity Federation asked for sisters to consider serving in Durant, they each answered.
Conley, who works with the youth programs in Lexington, had a career in education. Kavanaugh, who works on the re-entry program, spent 17 years serving in Bolivia, four years in the Cook Islands and three years as the pastoral administrator of a parish in tiny Georgetown, South Carolina. Walz, now at the Lexington Medical Clinic, had a career that included 25 years in social work and three years developing health and social service centers for people who live in poverty. She worked for 14 years in rural Gould, Arkansas.
Holmes County, though, is a challenge: 41% of the population lives in poverty, and the median income is $20,330 a year, less than half the median income for Mississippi and the second-lowest in the nation. The national median income is $57,652. The unemployment rate is 12.2%, more than triple the national unemployment rate of 3.7%. Twenty-five percent of those over 25 do not have a high school diploma.
“It’s generational poverty. You have children having children, and it’s the third or fourth generation of that,” Kavanaugh says. “Now, we’re hearing about job opportunities, but people don’t have the skills to get them or keep them.”
There’s a new plastics factory opening soon — a big deal in a county of 17,622 where businesses only employ 1,981 people — but there is no public transportation. Holmes County Central High School ranks 228th out of 233 high schools in Mississippi. Wages in the area are low, so even those with jobs often struggle.
Conley says people living in poverty don’t have stable lives, so they often lose Social Security cards and birth certificates, the documents needed to apply for jobs, job training or almost anything else.
“There’s a lot of discouragement,” Walz says. “There’s so many parts of their lives that are out of their control, whether it’s financial or transportation or housing.”
Walz says the sisters know they won’t change Holmes County overnight, but it’s important they make an effort, and their ministry makes an important statement about the church and women religious.
“It’s our little attempt to be present. The county was traumatized by [the murders]. Durant was traumatized by this event,” she says. “It’s that sense that sisters haven’t given up on them because of this tragedy.”
Walz says people often ask if she is afraid to live in the home where two sisters were killed.
“Not for one second,” she says. “It’s like holy ground.”

(Reprinted with permission by Global Sisters Report, visit