By Joe Lee
MADISON – Parishioners at St. James Parish of Leland were greeted in a recent church bulletin with this sobering news regarding their annual parish fair:
“The council felt that it was in the best interest of the community to postpone the upcoming fair. Without it, we will have substantial loss of income. Discussion was held regarding ways to offset this loss. Any contributions will be greatly appreciated. Please mark your contributions ‘Parish Fair.’”
A tiny Mississippi Delta town with a population of less than 4,000, Leland is in an economically-depressed area to begin with, and this month’s cancellation of St. James’ biggest annual fundraiser — which debuted in 1933 — was not an easy decision to make. While health and safety concerns came first, the loss of the event puts the parish in a significant financial hole.
“We (usually) serve about 800 spaghetti plates with meatballs, all homemade by the ladies of the church from a very old recipe,” said Debbie Ruggeri, St. James Parish secretary. “They’re served in the parish hall, where we also have a silent auction. The outside booths — a ribeye booth, a ham booth, a bingo booth, and teddy bear and fishing booths for children — usually handle about 1,000 people. Everything is donated.”
Raffle tickets are also sold, and those who purchase the highest-priced $100 tickets are competing for a $10,000 grand prize. Not only are the loyal parishioners of St. James missing the badly-needed fellowship opportunities amid the pandemic, the gaps in the parish budget will be felt for some time.
St. James is not alone. At St. Joseph of Gluckstadt, Germanfest has been a September staple since the 1980s and draws crowds of 10,000. Attendees drive in from neighboring states as well as all corners of Mississippi.
“The family-oriented festival is best known for its delicious German food, including bratwurst, shish kabobs, and homemade sauerkraut,” said Pam Minninger, St. Joseph lay ecclesial minister. “Visitors also look forward to participating in the beer stein-holding contest and authentic German Folk music and dancing.
“A significant amount of the proceeds is donated to local charities. Hopefully we will be able to absorb the shortfall and still be able to support some of these charities this year.”
With no way of knowing what the pandemic restrictions on large groups will be from month to month, St. James has postponed their parish fair until early 2021 and are having initial discussions about possibly having a modified event. Likewise, talks are underway at St. Joseph about cooking up a small-scale Germanfest.
“We are anticipating, at some point after the first of the year, possibly having some type of take-out bratwurst meal that folks can come by and pick up,” Minninger said. “That way they can get their ‘German food fix.’”
Cajun Fest at nearby St. Francis of Assisi in Madison is that parish’s largest fundraiser and features mouthwatering Cajun delicacies and lots of family-friendly fun. With an extensive facilities overhaul and building campaign underway, the cancellation of this year’s event (already delayed from May until October) will leave a deep shortfall in parish fundraising. St. Francis will go virtual, however, in an effort to make back at least some of the losses.
“We will host live the drawing of our annual raffle associated with Cajun Fest at 2 p.m. on October 4,” said Father Albeenreddy Vatti, St. Francis of Assisi pastor. “We chose this date because it is Feast Day for St. Francis, our patron saint. Annually, we celebrate this day with an event, A Taste of St. Francis. It is a time we can gather and celebrate the many cultures that make up our parish with great food and music.”
One of the more disheartening cancellations is the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration at Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksdale. Because of pandemic concerns, the small parish hasn’t yet reopened for services and, without the anniversary event, must find other ways to raise money to fund facility upgrades and insurance payments on the church building.
“It has been customary that a fun gathering with a cookout or soul food dinner is planned during the week of the anniversary,” said Father Raju Macharla, Immaculate Conception pastor. “In January the members met to plan a jubilant celebration, and plans were made for a Mass with a reception planned for Sept. 5 to coincide with Bishop Joseph Kopacz’s trip to Mound Bayou that evening.
“One of the highlights would have been to visit with former teachers, students, sisters, priests, and parishioners. We had already started reminding them to save the date and have received regrets and disappointments since the pandemic has occurred.”
Catholic Charities also lost their annual Journey of Hope fundraising luncheon to COVID-19, but the organization — thanks in part to the flexibility of keynote speaker Elizabeth Smart — is back on the calendar for early 2021.
“We’re still at the Jackson Convention Complex and set for February 25,” said Michael Thomas, Catholic Charities development director. “We would have seated ten to a table and will now seat six, but we will have more available tables. Everyone will wear masks to enter and exit unless the mask order has been lifted by then.
“At the meet-and-greet the evening before, we’ll have a book signing with Elizabeth, a paid event at 6 p.m. at a location that has yet to be determined. Her story covers so much of what we do at Catholic Charities in our counseling: kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, and abuse. She is wonderful to work with and has such a strong faith in God.”
Thomas said that a Peer to Peer social media campaign will launch Sept. 15 to begin recouping the loss of funding from this month’s Journey of Hope cancellation. Football coach Lou Holtz drew nearly 1,000 attendees in 2016, and hopes are high that Smart, who was abducted from her Utah family home in 2002 at the age of fourteen before being rescued nine months later, will pack the convention complex in February.
Ultimately, while some events can’t be recreated — Immaculate Conception will never have another seventy-fifth anniversary — many parishes and organizations are thinking creatively and trying to find silver linings in preparing for the future.
“We normally have our Bishop’s Ball each year, and this year we had a virtual event,” Thomas said. “It was a great success and touched more people than the usual ones. We had the live auction online a week before, and everything sold — we were shocked. Wanda Thomas is our new executive director and hosted the hour-long event on Facebook. We were faced with either no Bishop’s Ball or thinking of another way.”
By Mary Margaret Edney
JACKSON – While working as a district sales manager for Nissan Motor Corporation, Father Bill Henry lived a successful, comfortable life. But after one particularly powerful weekend prayer retreat, he knew he was being called to move in a different direction. He answered that call, and today, Father Henry is celebrating his retirement after 36 years of service in the priesthood.
“The Lord just started speaking to me,” Father Henry said of that crucial weekend back in his early adult life. “It wouldn’t quit, like a toothache. I finally said, ‘if this is what You want me to do, I’ll do it.’”
So, Henry set a personal goal for himself — if he was going to quit the car business, he wanted to quit on top. And that’s what he did.
“It was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen in my life,” Father Henry recalled. “On my final day with Nissan, I had 18 dealers in Louisiana, and they broke every sales record. It was just awesome; it was my sendoff. I left there, all I owned was a new car and what was in it, but I felt like a millionaire. I’ll never be able to put my finger on that feeling of freedom and richness, and when I walked in that door of the seminary, there was no doubt that was where I was meant to be.”
Born in Orlando, Florida, Father Henry was raised in Washington state and spent much of his early adult life on the West Coast before moving to Jackson to work for Nissan. He attended Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, and when he finished there, he made his way back to Mississippi.
After being at St. Therese Church, St. Joseph’s High School and the vocations office, all in Jackson, Father Henry became a part-time administrator at St. Anne’s in Carthage before his first pastorship at St. Alphonsus in McComb. He spent 11 years in McComb before going back to St. Therese in Jackson, and finally, his last assignment of eight years at St. Joseph in Greenville.
“A highlight for me was just the ministry as a whole,” Father Henry said of his years as a full-time priest. “It’s been a very interesting journey for me, but it has always been great to see people growing in their faith. That’s what I really enjoy.”
And just as Father Henry kept himself busy as a priest, he plans to stay active in retirement with spiritual direction workshops and events. He has been very involved with the Marian Servants of Divine Providence, a group that serves through retreats and other ministries.
“Sometimes we get stuck spiritually, and we don’t move on. We work on the roadblocks and show people how our woundedness, sin and other things keep us from moving on and growing spiritually,” Father Henry said of a workshop scheduled for late September in Greenwood.
But it won’t be all work all the time — Father Henry is looking forward to a little downtime, as well.
“I also plan to do a little fishing and bike riding as part of my everyday exercise,” he said. “I have a lot of good friends in the area, so retirement is a very enriching experience for me right now.”
CLARKSDALE – Evelyn Campassi Demilio was born with music in her soul in Clarksdale on Feb. 16, 1925. At Clarksdale High School she enjoyed playing the piano for assemblies and school events and went on to attend St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana and studied music, piano and the organ.
Demilio played the organ at St. Elizabeth Clarksdale for over 50 years (beginning in 1946) and taught piano lessons at St. Elizabeth School for over 25 years. She also assisted in teaching the children’s choir for many years. Additionally, she played for numerous weddings and always referred to the organ as “The King of Church Music.” The Moller organ keyboard danced when she played; you knew when Evelyn was upstairs.
She enjoyed her volunteer work at the Clarksdale Care Station and only stopping because her age dictated that she could do no more. The Mag-Pie Gift and Art Shop was a favorite workplace where she assisted brides-to-be with china and table setting selections. Frequently re-decorating the window displays was something she always anticipated.
In her 85th year, she persisted with the landscape at St. Elizabeth Church and School to get the live oak trees and crepe myrtles properly trimmed. It is still done today for all to enjoy.
At 90, driving around Clarksdale “running errands” in her Volkswagen Yellow Beetle was a thrill. She would exclaim how many people wanted to buy her “Yellow Bug,” but she always replied: “I don’t think I want to sell,” often resulting in a playful exchange.
In May 2017 at 92 years of age, Demilio agreed, with hesitation, to move into Flowers Manor for her well-being and then to the adjoining Fiser-Spradling Green House. She appreciated all the wonderful help and assistance she got from the staff of caregivers.
In October 2019 at 94 years old, Demilio moved to the Clarksdale Nursing Center for the nursing care she now needed. Alice Mayo still visited with faith and Communion and Father Raju Macherla, too.
Demilio was a happy person with a smile and she remained that way to the end.
She passed at age 95 on Aug. 2, 2020, and was preceded in death by her husband, Louis Demilio, her two brothers Louis and Willie Campassi. Demilio leaves behind six nieces and three nephews, and her son, Ronnie Demilio of New Orleans.
By Joanna Puddister King
NATCHEZ – In past summers you could find youth from around the country taking part in the annual Catholic Heart WorkCamp, but this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic many youth were sidelined from the service projects that brought them to much needed communities near and far that need help. But the St. Mary Basilica Natchez CYO group did not let it get them down, they found projects in their own hometown to tackle.
Between July 20 and July 31, 2020, groups of CYO members and adult sponsors worked to beautify the outdoor areas of Cathedral School and the yards of six elderly and homebound parishioners as well as help with a local Habitat for Humanity project.
Youth director, Carrie Lambert said, “This felt like it had more of a spiritual impact on the teens than going out of town to a work camp because the youth knew the people they were working for, asked questions about Habitat, and really felt like they had accomplished something and were appreciated when they were done.”
“They feel this way at Catholic Heart as well, but when the smiles looking back at you are from people you know – you’re touched in a different way.”
Bonding is a big part of mission trips, like those taken through Catholic Heart WorkCamp. Last year, the youth spent time in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, working to beautify schools and churches damaged by Category 5 Hurricane Maria in Sept. 2017. After working, the youth enjoyed the beach and the sights of island life.
This year, the youth bonding experience was still special even though work was only completed in their own hometown.
“I loved watching the team work, the leadership and the hard work my teens put into this camp. I am so very proud of what they did and their attitudes while they were doing it.,” said Lambert.
“We at St. Mary are so blessed by the number of adults and parents who volunteer their time and energy to work alongside our teens throughout the year. The overall experience ended up feeling a bit like traveling on the Road to Emmaeus – feeling like we were accompanying one another and finding Christ in what we were doing and He was working there alongside us.”
Going forward the CYO will pair up with the Knights of Columbus for work days during the year.
“The main theme of our youth programs is ‘Faith in Action,’” said Lambert.
“Doing work for people simply because you want to help someone out is a wonderful way to put your ‘faith in action.’”
By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – The Catholic Foundation’s 38th annual Bishop’s Cup Golf Scramble is slated for September 1, 2020 at the Lake Caroline golf course in Madison.
Due to COVID-19, the Catholic Foundation has been closely following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Mississippi Department of Health, as well as working with the Lake Caroline Golf Club to ensure a safe environment for golfers and staff during the Bishop’s Cup golf scramble. New protocols will be followed for this year’s event to avoid large gatherings and improve the safety of everyone involved.
Tee times will be determined to assure safety restrictions are upheld.
Rebecca Harris, executive director of the Catholic Foundation says, “We hope that our golfers return and come enjoy a day out on the course. We hope the day brings back some normalcy to their lives.”
New this year is the Bishop’s Cup website where golfers can sign up to sponsor the event, register each golfer, and purchase mulligans.
Mulligans have always been a bonus part of the tournament. “It is a chance for a golfer to have a ‘do-over’ when they hit a bad shot,” says Harris. For the Bishop’s Cup, mulligans are $10 each with a limit of four.
The Bishop’s Cup website can be found at https://one.bidpal.net/bishopscup2020/welcome.
The site will also include an online virtual auction that should prove to be quite fun. Bidding on items will begin a week before the tournament and will end the night of the event. Winners of the tournament, as well as auction items, will be posted to the website.
Harris says that this year the auction will be paired down from its normal size. “We appreciate all of the businesses around the diocese who have helped make our auction such a success through the years. However, we knew that COVID-19 has affected many of those businesses, so we decided to have a small auction.”
The proceeds from this year’s tournament will benefit the Catholic Foundation Grant Trust. The Foundation manages 378 trusts for the Diocese of Jackson, which help Catholic parishes, Catholic schools, and other Catholic organizations under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson. The goal this year is to raise $35,000 through the golf scramble.
For more information, please contact Rebecca Harris, executive director of the Catholic Foundation, at 601-960-8477. Tickets and sponsorships can be purchased online or contact Julia Williams, assistant development director at 601-960-8481 for assistance.
By Berta Mexidor and Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – On Aug. 7, 2019 at least four Catholic parishes were shaken after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided chicken processing plants across the state, arresting 680 undocumented workers. The day left many children in fear and pain on their first day of school, as they were left with no place to go with their families taken from them.
As some were released from ICE custody to care for their children, a new reality set in. The loss of income, along with an unforeseeable future and questions on how their families may survive without loved ones in ICE custody.
About seven months later, between court appearances, possible deportation, and legal incertitude, pain for these communities came again, now in the form of an illness affecting everyone without discrimination of legal status. But for the families of affected families in Canton, Forest, Morton, and Carthage, the fear of COVID-19 was less than the fear for immigration officials.
Hundreds have gotten sick, and friends and family members have died due to COVID-19. Many undocumented immigrants are avoiding tests and hospitals regardless of the authorities’ promises of not to check legal status during medical tests due to the immense fear the ICE raids caused.
The situation is not localized only to Mississippi, but around the country too. Several of the families affected by the raids migrated to other states due to fear of another raid. The church’s membership was reduced by this migration as well.
Right after the raids last August, the church became a humanitarian hub for food, goods and financial resources to pay rent and utilities. At that moment, the immigrants noted that God was sending several helping hands, even a Cardinal from Guatemala.
On Nov. 7, 2019, Rep. Bennie Thompson held a congressional hearing at Tougaloo College in Jackson. He was accompanied by two more representatives; as well as, state, community and religious leaders, including Father Odel Medina, ST of St. Anne Carthage, to question Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Jere Miles about the mishandling of the massive ICE raid months earlier.
During the hearing, Father Medina took the opportunity to read a letter from a child in his parish, who was hurting and traumatized in the aftermath of the raids.
Shortly before Christmas, Cardinal Álvaro Ramazzini Imeri of Guatemala, visited the affected parish communities with a message that “God never abandons you.” He consoled families affected by the raid with words of the Gospel and accompanied them during three days of the advent season, participating in “Las Posadas” – a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s attempt to find lodging before the birth of Jesus.
While in Mississippi, Cardinal Ramazzini spoke with media, advocating for a “migration policy with a human face” and spoke of the economic conditions that force many to leave their home country and asked for the elimination of the custom where immigrants are treated as criminals, without having a criminal record.
During the same visit, Catholic Extension, which sponsored Cardinal Ramazzini’s visit, announced their Holy Family Fund, a relief program that assists families in the United States who are financially dependent on a parent that has been detained or deported for immigration reasons. Through the fund, Catholic Extension has been instrumental in ensuring the flow of aid to support delivery of basic resources to the churches serving the humanitarian and spiritual needs of the families in Mississippi affected by the ICE raids.
The help from Catholic Extension, Catholic Charities and many within the Catholic community has helped affected families in the parishes of Canton, Carthage and Forest-Morton communities.
In Forest and Morton, close to 120 families were affected, and now 20 of those families have been affected by COVID-19. Father Roberto Mena, ST sacramental minister of St. Michael Forest says that ”the loss of jobs and an uncertain school year for the children” is a huge challenge right now for his community.
Blanca Peralta coordinates the activities of the Hispanic community, under the leadership of Father Mike O’Brien, pastor of Sacred Heart Canton. Both began offering aid even as the raids were still being conducted. Father Mike and Peralta, along with a network of volunteers including Patti Greene, Jerry Perez and John Scanlan, have been helping 120-150 affected families since the raids. They have been providing food, payments for rent and utilities, and pastoral care.
The team from Sacred Heart Canton, along with constituents from Grace Episcopal Church, were recently announced as nominees for the Lumen Christi award from Catholic Extension for their work after the ICE raids.
For Father Mike, the decision to close his church doors for a period of time after COVID-19 hit earlier this year was very painful. His main concern was how to continue the labor of helping those affected by the raids.
Peralta navigated the struggle due to the virus, but Sacred Heart never stopped helping. They continued assisting by phone, by mail and by accompanying immigrants to the hospital and court appointments. Additionally, every Wednesday since June, they have distributed 300 boxes of food, fruits and vegetables, provided by Partners of Mississippi.
She says that families deeply felt the closure of the church. “They understand perfectly why, but the church ground is the only place where they feel that they belong. In church they can meet, share, hug, be happy and enjoy a moment of protection from the Almighty Father,” Peralta said.
Since Aug. 9, Sacred Heart has opened two services for Mass in Spanish, with space for only 40 people. The challenge now is communicating the importance of social distancing and sanitary measures, as well as, calming the fears immigrants manifest in going to the hospital for tests, says Peralta.
Father Odel, of St. Anne Carthage, has also been an advocate for families affected by the raids. He has also been distributing humanitarian aid and coordinating volunteers from around the country to those affected by the raids in his community since last August. Additionally, he fought COVID-19 in April and has been sharing his story with migrants, so they will not be afraid to seek the help they need if they contract the virus. He says that in some instances, entire families have been infected with COVID-19 in his community.
In total, Father Odel says approximately 80 families at his parish were affected by the raids and now COVID-19. The challenge for the whole undocumented community is ”… to break the stereotype propagated by some political outlets, of not being hard working individuals. They get arrested while working, and during the pandemic, when most people were home, they were working,” said Father Odel. “The chicken plants are considered essential industries; therefore, immigrants were needed, regardless of legal status.”
Father Odel says the biggest challenge for his community now is “the consequences of family separation, now worsened by COVID’s restrictions.”
After a year, the undocumented population has mixed feelings of pain and faith. Due to their lack of documentation, they lost jobs and some their freedom last August. Now, due to COVID-19, many in chicken factories and agricultural harvesting are considered essential workers. Many hope that this situation can soften the laws toward immigrants looking for an honest way of living.
Still, the community has faith even after the trauma suffered one year ago lingers on.
By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – In January 2020, the Diocese of Jackson established a hotline system for individuals to report potential fraud, compliance issues, ethics violations and human resource issues.
The use of a hotline has been discussed for several years at the National Diocesan Fiscal Managers’ Conference, that members of the diocese attend. A hotline is considered a ‘best practice,’ as having an independent hotline can help alert companies to and reduce the possibility of inappropriate or illegal actions.
Carolyn Callahan began researching hotline platforms after presentations at the conference, even before she entered her current role as director of temporal affairs at the diocese in May of 2019. Previously she acted as controller, internal auditor, and coordinator of special projects for the diocese, director of finance for St. Joseph School in Madison, and as an accounting support person for all Catholic Schools.
“Although we have always had procedures in place to handle complaints, events of the past few years helped us see past any potential misuse of the hotline, so our parishioners and employees have a confidential and effective way to report issues,” says Callahan.
The diocese hotline system is operated by Lighthouse Services. For the past 15 years, Lighthouse Services has maintained ethics, safety, and fraud hotlines and now services over 4,100 organizations between the U.S. and abroad.
Any concerns relative to financial misconduct, fraud, compliance issues or human resources issues within the diocese may be reported anonymously by calling the hotline’s toll-free number or filed online. Lighthouse Services will field and process the information reported.
Immediately upon receipt of a complaint, Lighthouse Services will email three designated recipients.
“Two recipients are chancery employees and one is a diocesan priest who does not work for the chancery office,” says Callahan.
“If one of the three recipients are named in the complaint, that person does not receive the email notification and cannot access the report.”
After receipt, the three designated recipients access the complaint through the secure Lighthouse Services web portal. If the reporter files anonymously, the designees only see a PIN number, but never a name. Communication occurs between the reporter and designees via the Lighthouse online portal. Files and other documentation can be uploaded for review.
“Discussion ensues and a plan is created for investigating the claim either internally or using an outside investigator,” says Callahan.
“Depending on the results of the initial investigation the diocesan attorney and/or law enforcement are notified.”
Callahan’s hope is that anybody concerned about fraud, compliance issues, ethics violations and human resources issues will feel comfortable knowing they have an objective and confidential platform to file a claim that will be investigated immediately.
“Questions asked within the filing process are meant to only identify the complaint and allow the reporter to give as much or as little detail as desired. Use of the hotline gives us the ability to know about and respond to complaints in a timely and effective manner,” says Callahan.
To make a report individuals can visit www.lighthouse-services.com/jacksondiocese or call toll-free 888-830-0004 (English) or 800-216-1288 (Spanish).
Vicar general, Father Lincoln Dall, who works closely with Callahan, says “The Lighthouse hotline is part of our overall strategy of strengthening our control procedures and oversight of the assets and gifts that God and his people have entrusted to our diocese, our parishes and schools. We have been improving upon such policies, procedures and controls within the past two years and continue to do so through the current agreement we have with the federal government.”
The hotline information is published regularly in Mississippi Catholic and at least quarterly in parish bulletins. It can also be found at www.jacksondiocese.org.
Mississippi Catholic will publish Sacrament pages in upcoming editions.
This means we need First Communion and Confirmation photos.
Due to COVID-19, we understand there may not be group shots,
so individual pictures are accepted.
email to: email@example.com
Please include, full names, parish, date and name of sacrament celebration and name of photographer, if possible.