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)
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.)
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.
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 GlobalSistersReport.org).
By Terry Dickson
BILOXI – Bishop Roger P. Morin, the third bishop of Biloxi, died Oct. 31 at age 78. He was returning to Biloxi after vacationing with his family in Massachusetts and died during his flight from Boston to Atlanta.
“This is a sad day for our diocese. I was shocked to hear the news,” Biloxi Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III said in a statement.
“Bishop Morin was a kind and gentle man who truly embodied his episcopal motto as one who walked humbly and acted justly,” he said. “When I was named bishop of Biloxi in 2016, Bishop Morin was most gracious and accommodating. I am forever grateful for his support, wise counsel and, most of all, his friendship. He will be sorely missed.”
Bishop Morin was named to head the Diocese of Biloxi by Pope Benedict XVI March 2, 2009, and was installed in April at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the late Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Alabama.
His episcopal motto was “Walk Humbly and Act Justly.” He retired in 2016 at age 75.
A native of Dracut, Massachusetts, he was born March 7, 1941, the son of Germain J. and Lillian E. Morin. He has one brother, Paul, and three sisters, Lillian “Pat” Johnson, Elaine (Ray) Joncas and Susan Spellissy.
After high school and college studies, he earned a bachelor’s in philosophy in 1966 from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts and continued theology studies at St. John’s for two years of graduate school. In 1967 he went to New Orleans to work in its new summer Witness program, conducted by the archdiocesan Social Apostolate.
When he returned to New Orleans in 1968, he became director of The Center, a neighborhood social service organization run by the Social Apostolate. He enrolled at Notre Dame Seminary, studying in the evenings and on Saturdays in addition to his full-time position at The Center. He earned a master’s of divinity degree in theology at the seminary.
He was ordained to the priesthood by New Orleans Archbishop Philip M. Hannan April 15, 1971, in his home parish of St. Therese in Dracut. His first parish assignment was at St. Henry Parish in New Orleans. In 1973, he was appointed associate director of the Social Apostolate and in 1975 became the director, responsible for the operation of nine year-round social service centers sponsored by the archdiocese.
Bishop Morin had a master of science degree in urban studies from Tulane University and in 1974 completed a program as a community economic developer. Bishop Morin was the founding president of Second Harvest Food Bank.
In 1978, he was a volunteer member of Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial’s transition team dealing with federal programs and then accepted a $1 a year position as deputy special assistant to the mayor for federal programs and projects.
Then-Father Morin served the city of New Orleans until 1981, when he was appointed New Orleans archdiocesan vicar for community affairs, with responsibility over nine agencies: Catholic Charities, Social Apostolate, human relations, alcoholics’ ministry, Apostleship of the Sea, cemeteries, disaster relief, hospitals and prisons. He was named a monsignor by St. John Paul II in 1985.
He was in residence at Incarnate Word Parish beginning in 1981 and served as pastor there from 1988 through April 2002.
One of the highlights of his priesthood came in 1987 when he directed the New Orleans Archdiocese’s preparations for St. John Paul’s historic visit to New Orleans. The visit involved thousands of community volunteers and coordination among national, state and local religious and political leaders.
He also coordinated the events of the bicentennial of the archdiocese in 1993. In 1995, Bishop Morin received the Weiss Brotherhood Award presented by the National Conference of Christians and Jews for his service in the field of human relations.
St. John Paul named him an auxiliary bishop of New Orleans Feb. 11, 2003; his episcopal ordination was April 22 of that year. He was vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese 2001-2009.
Bishop Morin was a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development 2005-2013, and served as chairman 2008-2010. During that time, he also was a member of the Domestic Justice and Human Development and the National Collections committees.
Bishop Morin’s funeral Mass was held at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral on Thursday, Nov. 7 in Biloxi.
By Joanna Puddister King
When looking through archives, you cannot help but see the name Father Aloysius Heick listed in connection with the construction of Catholic churches and schools in Mississippi.
Father Aloysius Heick, SVD, a German priest who traveled to America as a missionary more than 100 years ago was posthumously honored in his hometown of Alteglofsheim, Bavaria, Germany on Oct. 27, 2019 at St. Lawrence Church with the blessing of a memorial plaque commemorating his mission work in Mississippi.
This commemoration is through much efforts on behalf of Heick’s descendants, in particular his great-great nephew, Richard Heindl, also of Alteglofsheim. After seeing a picture of his great-great uncle, Heindl went on a quest to research the extraordinary life and accomplishments of Father Heick.
In the early 1900s, Father Heick worked to form churches and schools in Vicksburg, Jackson, Meridian and Greenville, in addition to the first seminary in Mississippi to train African Americans for the priesthood. Much of the work of Heick was controversial at the time and he often received death threats for his belief that all children, no matter their color, should have access to education.
An early assignment in the small Delta community of Merigold nearly cost Father Heick his life. In 1904, he was asked by Chicago millionaire, David Bremner, to establish a mission in Merigold for 140 black families sharecropping on his plantation. Father Heick started with about 12 students in a small warehouse in the downtown area, but within a week the school was closed. Heick was run out of town by whites, who did not share his passion for educating all citizen. According to lore, Father Heick narrowly escaped hidden in either a piano box or coffin and carted out of town to safety.
Father Heick is credited for baptizing over 685 people during his time in Mississippi and founding St. Mary Vicksburg in 1906, Holy Ghost Jackson in 1908, St. Joseph Meridian in 1910 and Sacred Heart Greenville in 1913. The Greenville seminary for African Americans was established by Heick in 1920 but was subsequently moved to Bay St. Louis in 1923.
To the German founded community of Gluckstadt, Heick was instrumental in the completion of the first church building in 1917, which was dedicated in honor of St. Joseph. Originally a mission, St. Joseph was named a parish in 2006.
Father Heick died at the age of 65 in 1929. After his passing, Bishop Gerow of Natchez wrote of Heick: “He might justly be called martyr to his missionary zeal.”
Descendants of Heick have traveled to Mississippi on several occasions to research his extraordinary life. Heindl, his wife and son attended the 100th anniversary of St. Joseph Gluckstadt and the 100th anniversary of Holy Ghost Jackson in 2009.
Pat Ross, parishioner of St. Francis Madison and descendant of one of the original German settlers of Gluckstadt, traveled to Germany for the dedication of the plaque in honor of Father Heick in late October.
“October was chosen for the dedication due to Pope Francis’ proclaiming October the Extra-ordinary month of Missions,” said Ross.
“The Catholics of Alteglofsheim are very proud of their priest and the work he did in the United States.”
In a letter to Father Matthias Kienberger of St. Lawrence church in Alteglofsheim, Bishop Joseph Kopacz stated that “Father Heick was committed to spreading the Gospel in some of the poorest communities of our diocese; and was dedicated to providing a solid education and faith formation to the underserved. We are forever in his debt.”
The plaque commemorating the extraordinary work of Father Heick was designed by Julia Heindl, Heick’s great-great-great niece. Made of bronze and steel, the plaque will occupy a prominent place on the wall of St. Laurentius church in Alteglofsheim.
JACKSON – Michael Earl Raff, a bold champion of civil rights, public service, the Arts and the city of Jackson, died on Oct. 23, 2019, at Hospice Ministries following a long illness. He leaves behind a broken-hearted family and a legion of relatives, friends and associates.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Michael was the son of the late Mary Nash and Earl Raff. The eldest of five children, his childhood was spent attending Catholic schools where he excelled in academics and sports, especially football. He developed a work ethic for which he later became famous. The family moved frequently during his childhood, and Michael often recalled the difficulty of attending seven schools in a five-year span. This gave him the resilience and the appreciation for friendship that marked his character.
Michael attended Notre Dame, majoring in business and earning membership in the coveted Blue Circle Honor Society. After graduation, Michael answered the call from God to the priesthood. He attended the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri, earning a BA with Honors in Philosophy in 1965 and an MA in Theology, with Honors, in 1969.
His abiding sense of justice and disdain for bullies propelled Michael to Mississippi to join the fight for Civil Rights. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese by Bishop Joseph B. Brunini, on May 24, 1969 at St. Peter’s Cathedral, in Jackson – the church he served so faithfully, first, as an assistant pastor and, later, as a beloved parishioner. This is the same church where his extraordinary life was be celebrated on Monday, Oct. 28.
From 1969 to 1971 Michael served as pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Ocean Springs, after which he returned to Jackson as executive director of the Mississippi Council of Human Relations to improve racial relations, to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, and to act as a liaison for businesses, labor and government to work towards equal employment in state jobs. It was a fateful assignment for it was during this time that Michael met Linda Glass, whose commitment to racial equality was the same as his own. His resignation from the priesthood and marriage to Linda created a partnership for social justice that is unequaled in our time. They each supported the other in their ministries to care for “the least of these.” Their marriage has been a source of delight and inspiration to all who know them.
Instrumental in the founding of Legal Services, Michael developed legal assistance to the poor from 1978 through 1983. He brought his skill in advocacy to the Mississippi Legislature. His experience with Legal Services and battles against unfair energy services led him to run for Public Service Commissioner, a race he lost by a heartbreakingly small margin. Michaels’ expertise in public service led him to work for two governors and for several Jackson mayors, as he developed and administered programs for the poor, the homeless, the young, the old, the hungry and the otherwise forgotten. Along the way, he has accumulated honors only Princes of the Realm accrue: The NAACP Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner Award to Individuals Contributing Most to the Political Power for All Citizens; The Southern Center for Human Rights “Founders Award for Advancing the Cause of Justice;” the Association of Community Action Award for Outstanding Dedicated Service; the Mississippi Religious Leadership Founder Award for Exemplifying Ideals of Peace and Justice; the Center for Justice’s Champion of Justice Award; and the Friendship Ball Honoree in 2000.
But most people reading this will remember Michael best as the Pasta Man and, later, as the consummate and abiding host at Thalia Mara. Beginning in 1989, Michael opened “My Favorite Spaghetti,” in a closed service station on the corner of Jefferson and High Streets. A total departure from his public service career, My Favorite Spaghetti was a great success; Jackson’s first healthy option for fast food. Doris Ward was his mainstay, but he hired his children and many of their friends and taught them the famous Raff work ethic, which is still talked about to this day. Michael talked about them too, relishing in and taking pride in their successes in life.
A kind and gentle single-mindedness of purpose is what folks remember about Michael’s work as Director of Cultural Services for the City of Jackson, his final and, according to him, favorite job. As Director of Cultural Services, Michael oversaw Thalia Mara Hall, Smith Robertson Museum, The Arts Center and the Municipal Art Center. He supported the efforts of the Museum of Art, Ballet MS, the IBC, the Symphony, the Muslim Museum, MS Opera and Very Special Arts.
At Thalia Mara, Michael advocated for and oversaw the refurbishment of the auditorium, a Herculean effort, completed in 2014. No one who saw him, battling arthritis and struggling to walk, will ever forget the transcendent joy the gift of being at Thalia Mara brought him. He retired in November 2018.
Michael was preceded in death by his parents and brothers Richard and Mark Raff and Linda’s parents, Marvin and Mary Emma Glass. Surviving him are his beloved wife Linda; daughter Lauren (Ney) and children Clayton and Olivia; and son Matthew (Ginger) and children Mary Emma and Nash. He is also survived by his sister Sharon Kelly (Jerry); his sister Margie Labelle (Ron) and their children and grandchildren; and Linda’s sisters, Sandra Waide (David) and Mary Beth (Roland) and their children and grandchildren.
Memorials may be sent to Catholic Charities or The Mississippi Center for Justice.
By Berta Mexidor
JACKSON – A Mexican altar at the entrance of the church, a family’s “kermes,” rosaries and a Mass, reflect how parishioners of St Therese celebrated the All Souls’ Day (El Día de Los Muertos), during the first weekend of November.
At St. Therese, this is the third year that Latin American parishioners have staged a traditional Mexican altar in memory of the family members that passed. During the event, the altar received pictures of the dead, food and drinks that the dead enjoyed in life, as well as, plenty of paper crafts and sugar figurines. In the days before the parish festivities, the parish’s youth group built the altar, carrying on the tradition of their parents.
It is a Mexican tradition to gather around the altar and celebrate as a family, the memories of those who are waiting for the resurrection in another place.
Coincidentally, the large family of the Latino community of St. Therese had a fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 2 where parishioners enjoyed a family gathering on St. Therese’s fields for hours, even under the inclement weather of a cold morning, to enjoy soccer and other games, food and Christian brotherhood. The weather improved during the day and the celebration ended up being a huge success, raising more than $7,000.
On Sunday, Nov. 3, parishioners concluded all of the celebrations with a Mass in Spanish for Father Juan, priest of Santa Teresa.
From the Gospel, Father Juan illustrated the example of Zacchaeus. Like Zacchaeus, every Christian should have an open heart that wants to see Jesus, welcoming him for only one day, today.
“Today, that is the most important day for all of us,” said Father Juan. “Today, we may be looking for the Lord, as Zacchaeus did and, in the end, due to conversion, to feel the true happiness, the happiness that only Jesus provides,” he concluded.
At the close of Mass, Father Juan blessed the Jorge and Rosita Valderas’ family celebrating 42 years of marriage, and the family with the responsibility to pray for vocations, during the week. The congregation also congratulated Joel and Rosalinda Montoya, who received a Family of the Month certificate from Ben Mokry, Treasurer of Council 8285 of the Knights of Columbus. Father Juan thanked all parishioners for their support and with a prayer to St. Michael, he dismissed all to return to the routine of today’s life.
CLARKSDALE – The youth director in Clarksdale is still getting settled in his new parish position but has already launched an exciting new ecumenical program that is bringing youth and adults of various faiths and backgrounds together in unity and in the love of Christ.
Meet Derrick Faucheux, youth director of Clarksdale’s St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish and School and Immaculate Conception. “When I was in Greenwood, North Greenwood Baptist Church would put on this event. I was always impressed with it so I had an idea that we could bring it here,” said Faucheux about the new program “5th Quarter,” taking place after local high school football games and receiving a great deal of attention.
Faucheux arrived to Clarksdale in July with his wife Mary. He is the former youth director of Greenwood’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish and St. Francis of Assisi for the past three years. Shortly after arriving in Clarksdale, he met with Todd Bailey, youth director of Clarksdale Baptist Church and Chandler Nail, youth director of Clarksdale United Methodist Church.
Faucheux said the ministers welcomed him with open arms and took him “under their wings” giving him information about the small community of nearly 16,000 in the northwestern region of the diocese and an insight into the needs and opportunities of the youth there. “I’m so appreciative of these guys and the love they have for the youth of Clarksdale. They just don’t care about their individual youth groups but care for all the youth in town,” said Faucheux.
After meetings, discussions and brainstorming sessions, the men came up with the idea to create events throughout the year designed to merge the various youth groups from the different Christian organizations in events and activities. “That is when the idea of the “5th Quarter” came to be,” said Faucheux.
The new program takes place after the local private high school’s Colts take the football field. Lee Academy with its Colts is a private high school with an enrollment of more than 400 youngsters and the football games are a highlight for everyone in town.
Faucheux and the other two youth ministers team up organizing 5th Quarter nights that include an array of activities including sports, food and games. The events are rotated and held at the different church grounds.
The youth event still new has been well attended during football season according to Faucheux with an average of 50 youngsters coming to each event. He hopes that interests will grow as word spreads about the program. “All youth in town are welcome and invited. We have a very diverse group of youth from both the public and private schools.”
Bailey, happy with the success of the program, pointed out that 5th Quarter is twofold. First, it brings youngsters of the community together in fellowship and to enjoy activities in a safe Christian environment with adult chaperones. Parents, volunteers from the various churches and people from the community-at-large are also meeting, socializing and uniting as they get involved to help in efforts. “It’s not about us but about churches coming together to help these kids,” he said.
Jordan Bryant who is a volunteer worship musician believes that “5th Quarter” is unique, helping establish a greater sense of community in Clarksdale and connecting people of all backgrounds and faiths as brothers and sisters in Christ.
“It’s important for the community to come together and put aside the denominational and racial barriers that divide us,” said Bryant. “We must be in one accord in Christ.”
Oct. 25 marks the conclusion of 5th Quarter for this year. The ministers are hoping to bring the program back next year but are also continuing to collaborate and work together throughout the year on other projects. Nail is challenging members of his United Methodist Church and other citizens of the community to get involved. “We need to let down our own barriers because in the end we worship the same God,” Nail said.