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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holy Week arrives in 2021

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

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

Father Goodyear nominated for Lumen Christi award

By Joanna Puddister King
PHILADELPHIA – At 72 years old, Father Robert “Bob” Goodyear had much to reflect on for his nomination by the Diocese of Jackson for the Catholic Extension Lumen Christi award, that celebrates Christ’s call to service to his church. Father Goodyear truly demonstrates how the power of faith can transform lives – in his case, the Choctaw community.

PHILADELPHIA – Father Bob Goodyear at Holy Rosary Indian Mission in 1982. (Photo from the archives)

When he first arrived on the Choctaw Reservation in 1975 as a newly ordained Missionary Servant priest, Father Goodyear described the “mission” as “having a church workday to cut firewood for the elderly and sick.”

“They were surprised I knew how to use a chainsaw and drive a tractor,” said Father Goodyear – a call back to his very first missionary assignment to Clay county, Kentucky to an Appalachian coal mining town, where he learned to use a chainsaw, dig a foundation by hand and other various construction skills.

In total, Father Goodyear has been assigned to Holy Rosary Indian Mission for 31 years, but not continuously. He served from 1975 to 1990, then was assigned to a mission in Tennessee, then to one in Magee. He returned to the Choctaw Reservation in 2006.

The reservation went through many changes while Father Goodyear was away at other missions. “The dirt roads were paved. There are two casinos that subsidize the tribal programs,” he said.

Roads and casino weren’t the only things that changed. When Father Goodyear first arrived in 1975, Choctaw was the primary language of 98% of the tribe and today that is only true of the elders. Now, most are bilingual.

In his early years at Holy Rosary Indian Mission – a group of three churches consisting of Holy Rosary in Philadelphia, St. Therese Mission in the Pearl River Community and St. Catherine Mission in Conehatta – Father Goodyear read everything he could to learn about the culture of the people he was charged with ministering to.

He eventually gained the trust of the Choctaw community and with the help of three Choctaws he was taught their language.

“As I was first learning Choctaw, I quickly learned there are seven dialects of Choctaw on the reservation and when speaking to someone I needed to know what Choctaw community they came from. Words have different meanings, sometimes very different, in different communities,” said Father Goodyear.

After eight years of studying the Choctaw language, Father Goodyear began translating the Mass into Choctaw with the help of his teachers and an elder, who was the recognized expert on the language. Then with the aid of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Father Goodyear prepared the translation of the Mass to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and then to the Sacred Liturgy office in Rome.

Finally, after eight years with the mission, Father Goodyear was able to celebrate his first Mass in the Choctaw language on May 1, 1983 at St. Catherine Mission in Conehatta.

“The Choctaw language and culture are critical elements in Choctaw self-identity,” said Father Goodyear. “The role of the church here is to believe in the Choctaws, their giftedness, their beauty, their talents, their hopes, so they will believe in themselves as much as God believes in them.”

While his first assignment to Holy Rosary Indian Mission was characterized by “non-traditional” ministries, Father Goodyear learned and did the usual things an associate pastor would do – working with youth, faith education, marriage preparation and the like. When the sisters moved to their new convent building, he remodeled the old convent building and turned it into a recreation center for the youth.

With the Choctaws, he worked with the tribe every chance he could. He worked on a suicide counseling manual, a self-image study, the Choctaw Human Services Council, the Choctaw Most In Need Indian Children and Youth federal demonstration project, and with the Choctaw grant writing office to not only preserve their faith, but the culture and language of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

When he returned to the Holy Rosary Mission in 2006, Father Goodyear’s primary focus has been the preservation of the faith and the development of lay leadership in his three churches.

He developed a training manual for Eucharistic ministers that trains them not only to assist in Mass, but also how to lead a Sunday celebration in the absence of a priest and how to take the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins – a resource used not only on the reservations, but also in other parishes around the diocese and even in parishes in other states.

As a staff of one, what Father Goodyear has accomplished is nothing less than remarkable. Not to mention, rising to the challenge of ministering during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reports have the percentage of Choctaws affected by the virus at about 18%. For a time, Father Goodyear was tending to two to four funerals per week. He has spent a great deal of his time on the phone, writing letters and messaging on Facebook to give his support to those who are grieving. “It is important to know that they are not forgotten and are prayed for,” says Father Goodyear.

He has also spent much time reaching out to those who have been afraid to come to church because of the virus and has worked along side the tribe encouraging Choctaws to take the vaccine.

As COVID restrictions begin to loosen, Father Goodyear is looking to recruit catechist and reaching out to the children and youth again. This Easter, he will baptize nine children at St. Catherine’s in Conehatta and has 15 young people and five adults in RCIC and RCIA. “While attendance is down in my other two churches, the Holy Spirit has been working overtime in Conehatta,” says Father Goodyear.

He says that his focus now is preparing the reservation to assume more responsibility for the future of their churches. “It is unusual for a priest to be in a place for so long. It was not my “plan,” but it has been a blessing I never expected. In spite of the demands of being a staff of one for three churches, I have never been happier as a priest or feel more blessed personally than I am today.”

(Each Lumen Christi Award nominee receives $1,000 in support of his or her ministry, and the award recipient is given a $50,000 grant, with the honoree and nominating diocese each receiving $25,000 of the grant money to enhance their community and ministry. The winner will be announced later in the year.)

Youth

Postponed Ash Wednesday

MERIDIAN – Father Andrew Nguyen, with the help of John Harwell, applies ashes to student Matt Farmer’s forehead Friday, Feb. 19 at St. Patrick School. Due to the winter storm, school was canceled on Ash Wednesday and a special Mass was held Friday for the students. (Photo by Emily Thompson)

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

JACKSON – St. Richard first grader, Iverson Simms celebrates Dr. Seuss’ birthday in Rachel Caver’s class. (Photos by Chelsea Hamilton)

Math Superstars

COLUMBUS – Seventh grade students worked on puzzles from MSMS that are part of the Math Superstars program. They worked collaboratively on building problem-solving skills along with stamina through difficult problems. The puzzles focused on adding and subtracting integers, in addition to the puzzle aspect. Pictured are Jonathan Cooper, Brandon Doumit, Gavin Elliot and Maddox House. (Photo by Katie Fenstermacher)

Visit from the Bishop

MERIDIAN – Bishop Joseph Kopacz and Christopher Caballero-Scott, along with Dailyn Dunn, Anna Harper, Foster Grandmother Mrs. Wilson and Avery Hook, look at Tilly the Turtle in the kindergarten classroom. Bishop Kopacz presided over the Children’s Mass at St. Patrick School on Thursday, March 4 and visited the classrooms afterwards. (Photo by Emily Thompson)

Ice storm geometry

SOUTHAVEN – Sacred Heart School students studied virtually due to the February ice storm. Pictured is Shayna Campbell’s eighth grade pre-algebra class studying the Pythagorean Theorem. (Photo by Laura Grisham)

Read Across America Day

VICKSBURG – (Left) St. Francis Xavier Elementary students celebrated Read Across America Day. Pictured: Cowgirl – Allie Weeks, Opal from Because of Winn Dixie – Mary Hannah Amborn, Thing 2 – Elvie Grace Bradley and Pirate – Benjamin Ponder. (Photo by Lindsey Bradley)

Stations of the Cross

SOUTHAVEN – Second graders pray the Stations of the Cross at Sacred Heart. Pictured back to front: Sterling, Braden, Brayden, Maria, Gracen, Jack, Andrew, Blaise, Valentina, Jaylen, Enrique, Skylar, Kamila, Natalie and MaKenzie. (Photo by Sister Margaret Sue Broker)

Some parishes, schools still recovering from rare winter storm

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – As the week of Feb. 15 unfolded, students all over the Diocese of Jackson jumped for joy at the possibility of a snow day or two as well as having the Presidents’ Day holiday off. But in parish offices, priests and staff had to make urgent decisions as a once-in-a-generation winter storm turned the Deep South into a rare deep freeze and left a trail of damage in its wake.
In addition to a loss of power at St. Michael of Vicksburg and a solid sheet of ice in the parish parking lot, a window in the cry room was broken. St. Mary Basilica of Natchez was hit especially hard, creating the need for a noon Mass on Sunday, February 21, after harm to the sanctuary.

JACKSON – Leah Clark, a senior at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison, helps unload cases of bottled water on Thursday, March 4, for the Carmelite nuns in Jackson. The Carmelite Monastery in South Jackson has been without water since the ice storm that hit Mississippi last month. When St. Joe students learned Tuesday, March 2, about the need for water at the monastery, leaders of the St. Joe chapter of Quill & Scroll International Honor Society for High School Journalists sponsored a bottled water drive. In the span of one day, the drive collected and delivered to the monastery 26 gallon jugs of water and more than 40 cases of various sizes of bottled water. (Photo courtesy of Terry Cassreino)

“We have removed a lot of ceiling tiles in St. Therese Hall as well as sections of flooring on both levels,” said Father Scott Thomas on the St. Mary Facebook page late that week. “The extra Mass time is because an entire aisle will be blocked off, making every pew section on that aisle unavailable. Additionally, the elevator does not work due to water damage. It will be out of commission for a while as it is being repaired.”
Father Scott added in the social media post that nothing of historical value at St. Mary was lost, but water damage – or loss of water – swiftly became a serious problem in Jackson.
“We had no structural damage and no water pipes that burst, but we were out of school for four days,” said Jennifer David, principal of St. Richard Catholic School. “One positive from COVID is that we went right to our virtual plan and won’t have to make up any days.
“The water is less than ideal, but we are making it work. We have two amazing maintenance men who have kept our facilities running. We have sink water but don’t have good pressure in the toilets. Our first day back in classrooms for traditional learning was Feb. 26.”

In addition to parents donating bottled water and hand sanitizer, the school purchased sixty-five cases of bottled water. St. Richard was also helped immeasurably by Adcamp, Inc., a Flowood company that donated two 1,000-gallon water trucks.
“That’s been a lifesaver,” David said. “Without that, we couldn’t have kept the school running like we did.”
Another group hit especially hard in Jackson was Carmelite Monastery, where Carmelite nuns have lived for seven decades. Without water at their Terry Road location, the nuns resorted to boiling melted snow for water and – once the snow was gone – collecting rainwater. The journalism department at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison is one of many groups who have answered a call to help the sisters.
As arctic air plunged into the region and brought accompany bands of snow, sleet, and freezing rain, Msgr. Michael Flannery found himself celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass in front of exactly of one parishioner that morning – even the parishioner that livestreamed the service did so from home. And that was before the power went off in the neighborhood where St. Francis of Assisi is located.
“The neighborhood was without electricity for sixteen hours,” Msgr. Flannery said. “A utility pole split, and power wires were on the ground. Because of the driving conditions and weather, we cancelled the evening Ash Wednesday Mass and gave ashes to parishioners at that weekend’s Masses.”
Though there was extreme cold in the northernmost reaches of the Diocese – with record-breaking single-digit temperatures and below-zero wind chill readings – most of the precipitation came in the form of snow.
“Desoto County’s 911 system was down for a large part of a day due to a power outage,” said Laura Grisham, communications director for Sacred Heart Southern Missions, which serves six parishes and two schools in Desoto, Tate, Tunica, Marshall, and Benton counties. “Most areas in Desoto, including Walls, Horn Lake, Southaven, and Olive Branch, cumulatively had around ten inches of sleet and snow.”
Several Masses and all but one Ash Wednesday service, Grisham added, were cancelled during the week of Presidents’ Day. Both Sacred Heart and Holy Family Schools went immediately to virtual learning for the week. The monthly Mobile Food Pantry at Landers Center in Southaven was also cancelled.

Not surprisingly, temperatures around the Magnolia State (and all over the Southeast) roared back into the 60s and 70s, melting all traces of ice and snow and sending students back to their classrooms for the final weeks before spring break. Repair work is underway at parishes which sustained damages and, as usual, the people of Mississippi are displaying their inherent generosity toward those less fortunate.
“Our morning announcements serve as a reminder that we need to think about all the people in Jackson who don’t have water in their homes,” David said. “We’ve been praying for them and the people in Texas.”

(Editor’s note: As of press time on Tuesday, March 9, the Carmelite Sisters now have running water. The pressure is low but they can now at least flush toilets. Sister Jane Agonoy still welcomes donations of drinking water, since the city of Jackson is still under a boil water notice. She can be reached at (601) 373-1460.)

Youth

Snow day fun

GREENWOOD – St. Joseph student, Jerrian King tries his hand at sledding on a Mississippi snow day. (Photo courtesy of Nikki Thompson)
JACKSON – St. Richard fourth grader Hank Harkins attended class virtually during the recent ice storm. (Photo by Haley Harkins)
MERIDIAN – Father Andrew Nguyen applies ashes to Laney Palmer’s forehead Friday, Feb. 19 at St. Patrick Catholic School as her classmate, Charli Robin, looks on. Due to the winter storm, school was canceled on Ash Wednesday and a special Mass was held Friday for the students. (Photo by Emily Thompson)

Chapel time at Sacred Heart

SOUTHAVEN – Monica Winans conducts Friday chapel for Sacred Heart School second graders. (Photo by Sister Margaret Sue Broker)

Catholic Schools Week Service Project

MADISON – (Right) St. Anthony students painted flowerpots and planted succulents for residents of St. Catherine’s Village as part of a community service project during Catholic Schools Week. Pictured are fourth grade students Markin Klar (left) and Mamie Heitzmann (right). (Photo by Kati Loyacono)
CLARKSDALE – St. Elizabeth students Emery Ellis Alderson and Amelia Freeman, experiment with different types of eggs after learning about them on a virtual field trip during Catholic Schools Week. (Photo by Mary Evelyn Stonestreet)
NATCHEZ – Father Scott Thomas blesses the throat of Cathedral fourth grade student Tenley Wilson. Tenley is dressed as Mary Magdalene for her saint project. (Photo by Cara Serio)
COLUMBUS – Students at Annunciation get in line to enjoy sno cones on “Students Day” during Catholic Schools Week. (Photo by Katie Fenstermacher)

Black Catholic education in diocese “Cradle Days” – part II

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – When I was in the eighth grade at Bailey Junior High in Jackson, this is what I was taught in American History class about the cause of the Civil War: The people of the South enjoyed importing shoes from France as they liked nice shoes. Massachusetts was home to a large shoe-making industry and wanted to sell shoes in the southern market. To force southerners to buy Massachusetts-made shoes, the government imposed high tariffs on imports from France. This angered southerners; so southern states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederacy.
There was never any mention that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Even though all the key leaders in the South continually based their secession on maintaining the way of life in the South with slavery at the forefront, our eighth-grade class was taught that it was about shoes.
At the same time (1978-80), we were being taught this “white-washed” version of history, a controversial new textbook was being written and proposed for use as a textbook for ninth grade Mississippi History curriculum. “Mississippi: Conflict and Change,” edited by James Loewen of Tougaloo College and Charles Sallis of Millsaps College, gave a clear history of the state, especially in addressing difficult subjects such as slavery and lynchings. The textbook was not accepted for use in Mississippi school curriculum due largely in part to a graphic photograph of the lynching of a black man.
This reflects how history can be manipulated systemically to make it more palatable, especially considering at that time 97% of Bailey’s students were black. By rejecting the tough history in Conflict and Change, the board of education continued to present softened history to students throughout the state.
Having prefaced with 20th century education, let us journey back to 19th century Natchez education. Last issue we discussed early efforts by Bishop John Joseph Chanche and Bishop William Henry Elder to educate slave children in the afternoons in the rectory in Natchez. We continue that theme this week as we journey through the Civil War and into post war education efforts and the establishment of a school.
The custom of having slave children attend catechism classes in buildings on the church grounds continued throughout the Civil War. After the Emancipation Proclamation was given by President Lincoln in 1863 at Gettysburg, several thousand slaves, now emancipated by the proclamation, gathered in and around Natchez since it was occupied by Union troops.
We find the following letter from Bishop Elder to the Propagation of the Faith Society from early 1864 addressing the conditions in Natchez:
The proclamation of liberty caused several thousands of Negroes to gather in and around Natchez. And, although the military authorities provided them as well they could with shelter and food, yet great numbers of them sickened and died – and they are still dying every day. Almost all that we could get an opportunity to see were well disposed to receive the teachings of the Church and glad to be baptized, and we have been occupied, sometimes one and sometimes three of us, a part of almost every day, preparing them for death. Personally, I had the happiness of baptizing more than five hundred during the sickly period last fall.
After the war in 1868, Msgr. Mathurin Grignon, who had arrived in Natchez from France at the end of Bishop Chanche’s tenure as bishop, and was now Vicar General of the diocese, began a school in the church basement for Catholic children who were former slaves. According to “Cradle Days of St.

Msgr. Mathurin Grignon was born in Brittany, France on Nov. 29, 1822. He served under Bishop John Joseph Chanche, Bishop James Oliver Van de Velde, Bishop William Henry Elder and Bishop Francis August Janssens for the Diocese of Natchez. In 1868, he established the Society of the Holy Family to help support the poor among the Black Catholic community in Natchez. Grignon served St. Mary Cathedral, now Basilica, for over thirty-seven years, longer than any clergymen to date.

Mary’s,” Msgr. Grignon taught catechism to the children and hired teachers for other subjects. In 1868, he established the Society of the Holy Family to help support the poor among the Black Catholic community in Natchez.
Hoping to fortify the school with Sisters as teachers, Bishop Elder wrote to the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1873 promising a house for the Sisters and a playground close by for the children to play. The Oblates were unable to fulfill Bishop Elder’s request however and the school enrollment dwindled.
A description of the school in 1878 is included in “Cradle Days” as: The basement of the Cathedral was divided into two large rooms. The one nearer Union street was vacant; the other was used as the schoolroom. The teacher in 1878 was a Mrs. Sarah Daigle, whose piety made quite a profound impression upon the children. … When Mrs. Daigle fell into ill health, the account continues: the school was moved from the basement of the church to the brick building just south of the Bishop’s Residence. This school was taught by Miss Beauvais and then for a short time by Miss Hammond.

Francis August Janssens was appointed the fourth Bishop of Natchez in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII. He served the Diocese from 1881 until 1888, when he was appointed Archbishop of New Orleans. Catholic education was a hallmark of his time in Mississippi. When he arrived in 1881, there were 15 schools; when he left for New Orleans seven years later, there were 26. (Photos courtesy of Diocese Archives)

When Bishop Elder was named Archbishop of Cincinnati in 1880, Bishop Francis Janssens was appointed the new bishop for Natchez. He, too, was committed to providing a school for Natchez’s Black Catholic community. Enrollment in the early 1880s was 25 students.
Bishop Janssens arranged for the Sisters of Charity, who were staffing St. Joseph School for white girls, to teach in the school. Here is a quote from his diary dated Oct. 4, 1886: Today, the Colored School was opened by the Sisters of Charity in the lower room of the house next to our residence. The number of pupils the first day was 24. Sister Mary Elizabeth and Sister Louise were the teachers.
By the end of 1886, the enrollment was up to 15 boys and 35 girls. The school was named St. Francis. In 1887, the school was flourishing with 65 students. The building had to be adjusted to fit all the students. A room on the second floor of the building became a classroom for the older girls.
The evolution of education for Black Catholics in Natchez from the establishment of the diocese, through the Civil War and into the 1880s does reflect a dedication on the part of the early bishops and pastors to evangelize in this community. As we move forward in exploring this ministry, we will see it evolve even further as a parish is established in Natchez for African Americans in 1890 under Bishop Thomas Heslin.

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

Black Catholic education in diocese “Cradle Days” – part 1

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – When I think back about my 12 years in the Jackson Public Schools, I remember the many classmates and teachers who were a part of my education. I began the first grade when JPS implemented integration completely.
In the third grade, Harry Reasoner of “60Minutes” visited my classroom at Power Elementary. His crew filmed us all morning and he talked to us about integration and how well it was going in JPS. Apparently, we were a model school district because people from around the world would visit to see how we did it. I guess people were expecting riots as in previous situations, but that did not happen. And so, we got to meet Harry Reasoner and our classroom was showcased on a national broadcast for a total of 15 seconds.
I give this introduction because for the next two columns we will be looking at education. This week we will look at early attempts at educating slave children once the diocese was established and Bishop John Joseph Chanche had arrived in 1841. Next week will focus on how history was taught to me in JPS.
I will preface by saying I am again using “Cradle Days” written by Bishop Gerow and his Chancellor Msgr. Daniel O’Beirne, who did most of the research for the book. History can be recorded in various ways only to be further researched and adjusted later when more resources become available. When using direct quotes and transcripts of letters, I will use the original language of the book using terms such as “negro” and “colored.”
From “Cradle Days” we read that after Bishop Chanche’s arrival in 1841 he wrote the following letter to the Archbishop of Vienna in an attempt to gain some funding for his fledgling diocese from The Leopoldin Society.
I have begun a mission amongst the Negroes. On my arrival here there were only two who called themselves Catholic; at present many frequent the Sacraments. They are given an instruction twice every Sunday and from 150 to 200 are present and are preparing themselves for baptism.
According to “Cradle Days” evangelizing and educating the local African American children was a mission he held very dear because he assigned a priest, Father Francois “to the special care of the Negroes.” In 1844 again seeking funds, Bishop Chanche wrote to the Propagation of the Faith Society in Paris the following description of his mission:
It would be very important for religion in the country here that we would have zealous Priests who would be willing to give themselves entirely to the instruction of the Negroes. … I have already commenced one of these missions near Natchez, and I have every reason to be hopeful.
In the baptismal records of the 1840s there is evidence that when clergy and Bishop Chanche were travelling to faraway places such as Jackson and Yazoo City, slaves were baptized on plantations. This ministry would have most likely continued under Bishop James VandeVelde, our second bishop (1853-55), but his short tenure and untimely death leaves him out of this section of “Cradle Days.”

Bishop William Henry Elder photo from his early days as Bishop, possibly in the 1860s. (Photo courtesy of archives)

Bishop William Henry Elder, our third bishop (1857-80), continued the commitment to evangelizing and educating the slave community in the Natchez area. In the 1860 announcement books from St. Mary’s, we find:
Your prayers are required for the repose of the soul of Sam – colored servant of Mr. Owens. He died this morning, after having received the Sacraments and other rites of the Church.
Also, from 1861 we read:
Colored persons, especially those old enough for their first communion ought to attend in church this afternoon at 3½.
A more telling announcement comes in May 1862, when an earnest appeal is made to the “masters and mistresses to arrange the work of those under their care in such a manner that they may have an opportunity of coming to instruction,” which would be held in the rectory.
I find the use of the phrase “under their care” interesting. Was it a way of appealing to the goodness in the person who owns another person to entice them into letting them be educated? Was it a way to guilt people into doing what was right?
Earlier language from Bishop Chanche’s same letter quoted above sent to the Propagation of the Faith in 1844 is phrased:
The Negroes are inclined to religion and they have not the permission to go outside the limits of the plantation. The good which would be done would be a permanent good. Besides, the good would reflect upon their masters. When these would see the change that would be produced in their slaves they could not but esteem a religion which could produce such effects, and esteem would lead them to embrace it.

NATCHEZ – Perspective view of south and west elevations in 1936 of 311-313 Market Street (Parish House) where classes might have taken place. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington DC)

In reading through this chapter entitled “Colored Catholics in Natchez” from the lens of today, the language and phrasing are very difficult to swallow. But I began to wonder if church leadership was trying to make something good out of something really bad. Was there a genuine concern for the souls of these enslaved people? Since slavery was an accepted institution at that time in that place, were the actions of the bishop and his priests carefully calculated so as not to offend their slave-owning parishioners and lose financial and spiritual support?
These letters and announcement books, language and phrasing aside, does seem to reflect concern for the dignity of the human person and a recognition of that individual as God’s creation.
Next time we will explore a little more of Bishop Elder’s actions during and after the Civil War and we will meet Msgr. Mathurin Grignon, rector, administrator, vicar general.

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