Mobile pantries are a lifeline for many

By Laura Grisham
SENATOBIA – A steady stream of cars maneuvered through the parking lot at St. Gregory The Great Catholic Church last Thursday. The mobile pantry in Senatobia had been open for just over an hour. Volunteers and staff, with machinelike movement, gathered boxes and bags of produce, cereals, meats and other staples and placed them in the vehicles as they rolled through.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the nation’s food supply and economy, nearly one in every five Mississippians had trouble getting enough food due to lack of income or other issues. Disruptions to food-supply chains, employment and other services because of COVID-19 worsened the situation.

SENATOBIA – A tractor-trailer full of fresh fruits, vegetables, shelf staples and meats is distributed at each of Sacred Heart Southern Missions mobile pantry sites. (Photos by Laura Grisham)

For more than six years, Sacred Heart Southern Missions (SHSM) has sponsored the DeSoto and Marshall County mobile pantries, providing fresh, nutritious food to struggling families and individuals each month. The mobile pantry program brings regular food distributions to the hard-to-reach places that need it the most. A tractor-trailer full of fresh fruits, vegetables, shelf staples and meats are distributed at each of our mobile sites.
Given the toll the public health crisis has taken on communities across the area served, SHSM has intensified its efforts to safeguard the health and wellbeing of poor families, especially older adults and children, who lack sustained access to healthy food and adequate nutrition.
Since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, SHSM has hosted 22 mobile food pantries across the five counties of their service area. That’s an additional ten distributions on top of their regularly scheduled mobiles. In six months, more than 430,000 pounds of food has been given out to hungry families at these distributions — more pounds than all of last year’s mobile pantries combined.
Tragically, the disabled and elderly are some of the most vulnerable that SHSM serve. Nearly one third of those who come to SHSM social service offices for assistance are the elderly poor. Attempting to balance basic living expenses on fixed incomes, they are presented with an impossible choice — to pay for utilities, life-saving medicine or a meal on the table. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, they are more vulnerable and isolated than ever before.
“These days, at a trip to the grocery store, I only get about half of what I used to,” said Lee, as he waited in line. “I am on a fixed income. The price of everything has gone up, but what we old folks get has not. I can’t hardly afford to eat.”

SENATOBIA – A friend told Mattie about Sacred Heart Southern Missions mobile pantry. She was thrilled to find out another was scheduled the following month. Pictured is Mattie waving “thanks” to volunteers after they loaded her car with fresh produce, cereal, canned goods and other staples.

Lee says the mobile pantries provide him with the extra groceries he needs to make it through the month. For his sister, Carol, who was in the car behind him, SHSM’s distributions are even more critical. Carol has cancer.
“My twin sister, Carol, back there,” Lee motioned to the car behind his, “she is terminal. She can’t afford nothing with buying medicine and all. I told her about this food and it is helping her and her family out a whole lot.”
For seniors and other adults who are at high risk for COVID-19, the mobile pantry program is a blessing in several ways. Besides providing them with fresh, healthy food and supplementing their meager incomes, the drive-through distribution arrangement allows them to avoid crowded retail stores, thus reducing the possible exposure to the virus.
Mattie, another elderly woman in line commented, “This food sure helps me be able to pay my bills.” A friend had told Mattie about the mobile opportunity in Senatobia last month. Eagerly, she inquired when Sacred Heart would be returning for another distribution. “I was so glad that I could get it so close to home. Thank ya’ll so much!”
Food pantry manager Jose Franco said that grateful comments like these are a common occurrence at the mobiles. “You hear them all the time! There are so many people in need, and they are thankful for the help.”
Hunger is a problem that most often affects low-income families. Many hardworking families and individuals are living paycheck to paycheck, then suddenly, an illness or other disaster strikes and they can no longer afford food. Others juggle their bills every month, knowing there will never be enough money.
Jose recalled last month’s mobile food distribution in Senatobia. As he assisted a woman with her intake form, he noticed three young children in the back seat of her car. The woman explained that she and her husband had both recently lost their jobs and they had no food to give their family. Pointing to the form, she said, “We don’t have any income … is that ok?”
“That was heart-breaking,” Jose said quietly.
Unfortunately, this woman’s plight is something SHSM sees often. Yet, no matter how many times they meet people struggling in life and hear their stories, the impact on them never lessens.
SHSM continues to prioritize food distributions in their communities in Northwest Mississippi.
Through the generosity of our donors and the continued support of volunteers, SHSM is able to ensure that people like Lee, Carol, Mattie and countless others facing unimaginable financial challenges have access to nutritious food. Looking ahead, additional pop-up mobile pantries have been added to SHSM’s regular monthly schedule to help even more people in need, providing them an essential lifeline during these difficult times.

Sisters continue to help on the frontlines

By Berta Mexidor
JACKSON – Catholic Extension, in collaboration with several organizations, has launched the program, Sisters on the Frontlines, to help families impacted by COVID-19 and at the same time ”recognize the vital role of Catholic sisters in communities where needs are great.” The goal of the initiative is to give 1,000 sisters, $1,000 each to provide rapid response to the poor and distressed.
Five sisters in the Diocese of Jackson have received the Sisters on the Frontlines grant, so far: Sister Lael Niblick and Sister Mary Christine Fellerhoff from St. Helen Amory; Sister Nancy Schreck in Excel in Okolona; and Sisters Maria Eugenia Moreno, MGSpS and Obdulia Olivar, MGSpS in St. Michael, Forest.
Excel in Okolona
Excel – a nonprofit organization in the area is the center for the sisters to help, explained Sister Nancy Schreck. There are five sisters from three different religious congregations working in Okolona. The regular outreach includes after school and summer learning, adult basic education, english language learning, a senior center, a resale store and a variety of other programs for community needs. “This provides our ability to know the community and for people to know Excel and to come with their needs. What we do is different from a traditional parish. These Excel’s programs provide us with good knowledge of the community needs,” Sister Nancy said. Due to COVID-19, all the programs have concentrated on providing material and emotional assistance to people living on the edge of poverty, immigrant families in the area who do not qualify for public assistance, families with school-age children and especially the elderly.
Food insecurity has been a major issue for the community. With COVID-19, “food scarcity became an issue to be addressed,” said Sister Nancy. “The assistance we at Excel get is uneven, sometimes people bring meat, at another time it has been dairy products from Prairie Farms in Tupelo, some funds from United Way, and Create, the grant from the Extension Society, and so forth.”

OKOLONA – Pictured, Sister Mary Beth Goldsmith, OSF distributes food to various families through Excel. Sister Nancy Schreck of Excel is the recipient of a grant from the Catholic Foundation through Sisters on the Frontlines that grants $1,000 to sisters to aid those impacted by COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Sister Nancy Schreck)

St. Helen Parish Amory
The grant from Sisters on the Frontlines was used to help families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, “…not because they themselves had COVID, but because their lives were changed by the pandemic,” said Sister Mary Christine Fellerhoff, CSA, the executive director of CHANGE in Amory. The organization is a community-wide, ecumenical nonprofit located in the parish center of St. Helen Parish in Amory, providing financial assistance since 2014 to families living in poverty.
Sister Mary said that CHANGE closed their operations around March due to the COVID-19 outbreak and reopened again in June, taking all the hygiene and social distance measures for the safety of staff and clients. “For me as a religious sister, COVID-19 has intensified the feelings I always experience when ministering to our clients. We share their suffering, their frustrations, their tears, and, yes, their small triumphs,” Sister Mary explained.
Sister Lael Niblick, CSA, lay ecclesial minister of St. Helen Amory says, “I feel both blessed and challenged in assisting our members to grow as disciples of Christ and to build a strong Christian community.” Along with Sister Mary of CHANGE, Sister Lael also received the Sisters on the Frontline grant.
As for the pandemic, she says her ministry has been impacted, with a few of the parish members have been diagnosed positive, a couple of them in a nursing home and two asymptomatic cases in a family. To impact her ministry further, Sister Lael was in a serious car accident at the end of July, putting her physically unable to help others, relying on other parishioners to aid her in continuing her mission to help others in need.
“Nevertheless, we have aged and ill members, several with cancer diagnoses. I am saddened by my inability to visit and take Eucharist to our homebound on a regular basis. Although we have opened the church to Mass on a restricted basis (masking, social distancing, and sanitizing), we feel deeply the fact that we cannot come together as a church community,” said Sister Lael.
Stories are bountiful from Sisters Mary and Lael on how they were able to help others with the Sisters on the Frontline grant. Here are a few of those stories (names have been changed for privacy):

  • “Sally” lost her job due to budget cuts from COVID-19, she was in the process of seeking a divorce from her abusive husband, with three children. Sister Mary was able to help her with an electric bill to help keep her family in their home.
  • “Sasha” lost her job when the pandemic struck. The restaurant where she worked let her go because she was pregnant and felt she was at a greater risk to catch the coronavirus. Normally able to manage, her income was drastically reduced, even with unemployment, government aid and SNAP benefits. The grant was able to assist her with a utility bill when funds were unavailable through CHANGE to help.
  • “Annie” broke her hip and after a successful surgery, entered a nursing rehab facility as the pandemic struck. She had to quarantine for weeks before therapy was possible. “Annie” learned that she would need a ramp built on her home before she could be released from the facility, but being on a fixed income, she had no extra funds for the project. With the help of the grant and a generous donation of labor from a contractor), CHANGE was able to assist in building a ramp for “Annie” to continue her recovery at home.
    Neither COVID-19 or a bad car accident stopped Sister Lael in her optimism. “This difficult situation calls forth creativity. We are developing ways to connect with our members in a variety of ways through social media, technology, and the written word,” she said. “Thank you FADICA and the Extension Society for the Sisters on the Frontlines grant enabling us to make Annie’s homecoming a joyous one.”
    Sister Mary concluded saying “We feel blessed to share these clients’ stories, their tears and their gratitude. We are privileged to serve them.”
    All the recipients of the Catholic Extension grant agree and share these challenges: trying to find a new way of delivering programs and create socialization this time with heavy safety measures and social distance. Sister Nancy expressed her gratitude for the ”flexibility of the Extension Grant. [It] has been very helpful in this regard.”
    Since the program began in June, more than 378 sisters have received support from the Sisters on the Frontline grant program and another 622 have requested funds.
    Sisters who have received funding are asked to report back to Catholic Extension as to how the funds were used. Catholic Extension will be sharing the sisters’ stories as they are received. To learn more or to donate, visit https://www.catholicextension.org/sisters-on-the-frontlines/.

Hawke talks faith in action at Queen of Peace Olive Branch

Michael Hawke, third degree Knight of the Father Leo John Dehon Council 14051, speaks about living out his faith on behalf of the “least of these.” (Matthew 25)

What does it mean to you personally to put your faith into action?
I was always taught that the best way to bring others to the faith is simply to show them what a person living a faith-filled life can look like. I have never been one to actively evangelize through discussions with people, but I try to do it by living as the best example I can, answering questions when people ask. My Catholic faith is part of my daily living. It shapes how I look at the world and other people. Always looking for Christ in others.

In general, how do the Knights show faith in action?
First and foremost by being an open, welcoming group of compassionate people. I firmly believe that Christ’s intention was for us to be welcoming of all people and walks of life and to refrain from being judgmental. That has never meant changing my own values to match others, but instead always trying to be understanding of where they are coming from. If their actions and thoughts don’t match up with Catholic teaching, it may simply be because they have been misled. But it is not for me to judge. It is always for me to act with compassion to them and treat them with respect.
I believe that the parish and the Knights of Columbus must embody that spirit. We believe in service to others without asking their affiliation or life choices. Simply helping those who need help and, hopefully, through that example, we bring more people to our faith. I believe that by being that example to the public, without using it only to “show off” or “gain publicity,” is the single most important thing any group of faith can do. Those actions are what will generate curiosity in others, sowing the seeds that the Holy Spirit can use to change a person over time.

Describe one or two of your ministries where faith in action is seen.
First, the Knights of Columbus as a group shows faith in action. As a group we stand together as practical, Catholic men, not ashamed to make that claim or wear the signs of our brotherhood. Through that we can seek support from each other on our own faith journey while aiding people in the community who need it. By being visible both in the community and the church, we show that it is still possible to be a practicing Catholic who has compassion and working to make things better for everyone.
A second ministry that is near to me is RCIA. I have acted as a sponsor and teacher for the program, currently and in the past. It is always important to me as the process unfolds to help people understand the misconceptions about the Catholic faith that were taught in my protestant and non-denominational church as a way to scare people away from Catholics. As they learn what our faith is truly based on, they can interact with Catholics in that setting where than can see that many of us have had faith struggles. They see people converting, and a change can be seen in their outlook and faith. It brings me a great sense of peace to know that I have helped sow the seed of faith in someone and brought them to our beautiful Catholic tradition. Through that process I continue to learn more about both our faith and myself. The questions and challenges that people learning our faith go through become a catalyst for me to question things myself in order to learn more about our faith.

What impact has this faith in action ministry had on the people served and on those involved in the ministry?
I think the biggest impact that I have seen with RCIA is to help bring people to our faith. Most importantly, providing some ways for them to develop a personal relationship with Jesus and God the Father. To understand that he is someone they can talk to as long as they are willing to listen. When I see people continuing to go to Sunday Mass after completing the program and becoming a full member it brings a sense of peace to my soul.

What challenges have you faced in developing this ministry and what kept you going despite the challenges?
I have faced a couple challenges, both personal and because of work. I travel frequently for work which makes it more difficult for me to participate at times in parish activities. But Queen of Peace parish, and the Knights of Columbus have always been understanding of those difficulties and been willing to work with me on schedules. I was always apprehensive to get involved because it was hard for me to commit, knowing that a sudden business trip could call me away. However, once I started into the parish as a lector and Extraordinary Eucharistic minister and realized that the parish and people in it would work with my scheduling issues, I slowly became more involved in other things.
As a teacher and sponsor within RCIA, it is sometimes a challenge to remember that we are all in a different place in our faith journeys. There are tenants of our faith or ways that the church has acted that some may accept and others will struggle with. It works both ways. It is important to remember that we each come to the Lord’s table as who we are, bringing our own doubts, sins, gifts, and talents. The Lord accepts all of us and expects us to do the same of others. Everyone has their own struggles of faith they are working through. I would guess that very few people besides maybe the Pope fully accept everything or understand everything the church presents or teaches. That is why as Catholics we believe that conversion and being “saved” is a lifelong process and not something that happens in an instant.

What suggestions do you have for people that aren’t sure how to put their faith in action?
To start somewhere, simply. The easiest and most comfortable place to start is with like-minded people. If your family shares your faith, that is a place to start. If not, work to find a group at your parish that you can act through. There is plenty of fellowship in the available groups of people, like the Knights of Columbus, or men’s and lady’s clubs, etc.
The important thing is to start somewhere. Once you start, you will continue to grow. And don’t be afraid to try a different parish if you can’t find what you need. Every parish has its own personality and groups of people. No one should feel bad about wanting to try a different parish to get what you are looking for. Our faith is a journey, that means accepting change and going to new places to find what you are looking for.
I have been blessed with living many different places in the U.S. and traveling abroad for most of my life. That has allowed me to experience parishes throughout the country and made me come to the realization that everyone is different. From the people, to small changes in how Mass is celebrated, or the flow of the church. All those things are part of the faith experience and you must be willing to hunt around and find what you are looking for. No one else can do it for you.

Calendar of events

SPIRITUAL ENRICHMENT

NEW ORLEANS Our Lady of the Cenacle Retreat Center, Women’s Retreat “Joy in the Face of Adversity,” Oct. 16-18, check-in is at 3 p.m. on Friday and concludes after lunch on Sunday. We will reflect on God’s unconditional love for us and His desire that we live lives filled with joy. Presenter: Father Doug Doussan, retired and currently serving as Resident Chaplain of the Retreat Center. Cost: $350 and includes accommodations and meals. Because of the special circumstances of the COVID-19 situation, no deposit is required to register. Full payment will be collected upon arrival at the retreat center. Details: to register, contact Susan Halligan at (504) 267-9604 or https://www.neworleansretreats.org/retreats. If you need financial assistance, contact Kim Gandolfi at (504) 887-1420.

PARISH, SCHOOL AND FAMILY EVENTS

CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth, Parish Fair, Tuesday, Oct. 6 from 5-7 p.m. This year the fair will be drive through food items only with some surprise booths. The sweet shoppe and frozen casseroles will only be offering their top five items to be purchased. Details: (662) 846-6273.
GREENVILLE St. Joseph, The Parish Fair originally scheduled in Sept. has been rescheduled for Nov. 2020. More information will be forthcoming. Details: church office (662) 335-5251.
LELAND St. James, Annual Parish Fair originally scheduled in Sept. has been rescheduled for 2021. Details: church office (662) 686-7352.
JACKSON St. Richard, Bereavement Support Group, resumes Thursday, Oct. 8, at 6:30 p.m. The topic will be general sharing on the difficulty of grief during the pandemic. Many have lost loved ones right before or during this time. The group is for all who are hurting from losing a loved one or for those who are trying to comfort and understand the grief of a family member or friend. If you know someone who is bereaved, please invite them. Masks are required and social distancing adhered to. Only bottled water and canned drinks will be served. Please RSVP as soon as possible in order to plan accordingly. Details: Nancy McGhee (601) 942-2078 or email ncmcghee@bellsouth.net or Suzie Cranston (601) 982-5464.
NATCHEZ Assumption of BVM, Grief Support Group, a 13-week program on Tuesdays beginning Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. in Tuite Hall. Cost: $15 for workbook. Details: Carolyn Verucchi at (601) 807-1698 or church office (601) 442-7250.
St. Mary Basilica, Women’s Retreat, Sunday, Oct. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Family Life Center. “Making Room for God in the Busyness” with Becky Eldredge, author of Busy Lives & Restless Souls. Come renew your spirit and explore practical ways we can make time for God and prayer in our lives, even amidst the busyness. Please join in and bring a friend. Cost: $15 includes box lunch. Details: Ruth Powers at ruthprocoordinator@cableone.net or (601) 445-5616.
St. Mary Basilica, “Into the Breach,” Tuesdays, Oct. 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 6-7:15 p.m. It will be held in the Family Life Center and is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. This is a Faith Formation program specifically for the men of the parish. Many men receive mixed messages concerning who they are and what their role is. This program is focused on helping men of all ages grow into an authentic Catholic masculinity as men, as husbands and as fathers. Facilitator: Kevin Friloux, Lecturer and Faith Chairman of Bishop R. O. Gerow Council 1034. There is no cost for the program. Details: the church office (601) 445-5616 or Ruth Powers at ruthprocoordinator@cableone.net to register.
SOUTHAVEN Christ the King, Pumpkin Patch Fundraiser, Monday, Sept. 28 to Saturday, Oct. 31 from 12-8 p.m. sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council #7120. Some of the specific programs these funds support include: Coats for Kids, relief for persecuted Christians, Gary Sinise Foundation (for disabled veterans), priests’ formation and priests’ retirement. Details: church office (662) 342-1073.

YOUTH BRIEFS

NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, CYO Youth Day, Sunday, Oct. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Facilitator: Stephanie Clouatre Davis, who was spent more than 23 years in youth ministry as a retreat facilitator, teacher and youth minister. The day will include lunch, fun, games and prayer. Cost: $10 registration fee; lunch and snacks will be served. Details: email stmaryyouth@cableone.net to register your teen or for further information. Payment can be made via Venmo. You will receive the Venmo account information when you send an email to register. You can also call the church office (601) 445-5616.

COVID-19 REMINDER

In person Masses are now open at many parishes within the Diocese of Jackson. Check with your local parish for details and follow guidelines in place for attendance. All over the age of two are required to wear a mask.
The obligation to attend Mass continues to be dispensed by Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, so if you do not feel safe attending, or have an underlying health condition, or feel sick, please stay home. Be safe and stay vigilant!

Sacraments

MERIDIAN – (Above) St. Patrick Parish Confirmation, Aug. 22, First Row (l-r): Father Andrew Nguyen, Hannah Grace Hannington, Kirstie Graves, Maci Manning, Dennilyn Hoang, Callie Matthews and Marisol Garcia.
Second Row: Miller Hodge, Zane Pritchard, Toan (Tom Tom) Nguyen, Seth Auzennne, Father Augustine Palimattam, Zachary Purdy, Rebecca Lee and Maria Mayo-Ramos.
Pictured Below: Hayden Dickerson receives the sacrament of Confirmation from Father Augustine Palimattam. (Photos by John Harwell)
VICKSBURG – St. Michael Parish, Confirmation, Front Row: Faith Beamish, Samantha Graves, Alana Latorre, Anna Lamanilao, Christina Waisner and Keely Ramshur. Middle Row: Victoria Morehead, Katlyn Donovan, Julia Liggett, Mary Reilly Powell, Grace Gannon, Leah Larson and Maggie Roberson. Back Row: Father P.J. Curley, Dillon Chambers, Andy Bufkin, Father Robert Dore, Jack Gannon and Carter Magee. (Photo by Helene Benson)
JACKSON – Gemma Metzger celebrated her First Communion at St.Richard Parish on June 21. (Photo by Gina Metzger)
OXFORD – St. John the Evangelist, First Communion, July 17, Pictured (l-r): Garrett Klawitter, Daniel Peters, Jack Whelan, John Whelan, Emily Guerrero, Alyssa Schamell, Hailey Thompson, Ashley Neal, Father Joe Tonos, Celestina-Ly Rodrigues, Lila Merkel, Madeline Thornton, Mary Elizabeth Brents, Collins Helveston, Jacob Albright and Grayson Knapp. (Photo by Gene Buglewicz)
AMORY – Georgie Hesse and Loretta Seifert received their First Holy Communion on Saturday, Aug. 29, at St. Helen Church in Amory in a special Mass with their families. (Photo by Jean Pinkley)
PEARL – Patience Beatrice-Celeste Brown received the sacrament of Confirmation on July 26 at St. Jude Parish. She is pictured with her proud parents Allison and Kimberley Naylor. (Photo by Kimberley Brown)
VICKSBURG – (Above) St. Michael Parish, First Communion, Front Row (l-r): Ashlyn Naya, Blakely Farrell, Andrew Blake and Sophia Purdy.
Back Row (l-r): Lanie Weeks, Mary Helen Bradley, Father Robert Dore, Noah Ponder and Jackson Ratliff. (Photo by Helene Benson)
FOREST – St. Michael Parish, First Communion class. (Photo courtesy of Father Roberto Mena, ST)
GREENWOOD – Father Joachim Studwell, OFM celebrated the sacrament of First Communion on Saturday, Aug. 1 at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. (Photo courtesy of Father Joachim Studwell)
SOUTHAVEN – Henry Bowling of Holy Spirit Hernando celebrated his First Communion at Christ the King Parish on Aug. 1. (Photo by Terra Bowling)
CARTHAGE – St. Anne Parish, Confirmation, Front row: (l-r) Father Gustavo Amell, ST, Tracy Lopez, Daysy Modesto, Yazmin Gonzalez, Yocelyn Gonzalez, Evelio Ramirez and Nicodemo Lopez (catequist). Back row: (l-r)Edgar Modesto, Anthony Garcia, Sandra Perez, Father Odel Medina, ST, Efrain Lopez, Giovany Garcia and Karol Lopez. (Photo courtesy of Oscar Aguilon)
St. Anne Parish, Confirmation, Front row: (l-r) Hugo Agustin, Marco Vasquez, Mirna Miranda, Yesica Lopez, Cheryl Salvador, Suleima Anahi and Nicodemo Lopez (catequist). Second row: (l-r) Anderson Morales, Father Odel Medina, ST and Hector Raul. (Photo by Gionavy Garcia)
FLOWOOD – Alexander Jose Quintero celebrated his First Communion at St. Paul Parish on Aug. 9. He is pictured here with his family after the service. (Photo by Carolina Quintero)

Parishes postpone and cancel events due to COVID-19

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.”

Father Bill Henry retires after 36 years

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.

Father Bill Henry retired in June 2020. He served the Diocese of Jackson for 36 years at the following parishes: St. Joseph Greenville, St. Therese Jackson, St. Alphonsus McComb, St. Teresa of Avila Chatawa and at St. Joseph High School.

“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.”

Long-time organist at St. Elizabeth Clarksdale passes at age 95

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.

In her own words: My guiding principle. By Evelyn Demilio
My first priority has been to make our services liturgically correct – trying at the same time to make it a beautiful experience for all who “participate.” Next, I always kept abreast of the times in what the leaders in Catholic liturgy were doing. I never visited a church without researching a new response, acclamation – or any new, good material I heard. I always used the best of the new. It was fun to do and it keeps our congregation engaged. I wanted to elevate the taste of our community in what was the best in music. I always felt that our St. Elizabeth community could be the best – anywhere, anytime.
Of course, there have been new trends and new directions (some good, some bad) and that will always be; but, in the big picture our old, traditional Catholic music will still survive and flourish because it continues to be the best and most beautiful in praising our Lord, Jesus Christ. In retrospect after 50 plus years as organist at St. Elizabeth Clarksdale, I believe the liturgy and our congregation are best served by our traditional Catholic music and song. Without this, we lose our history and identity as “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
Just listen to the organ and sing the music … beautiful!

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.

St. Mary Natchez youth find love of service at home

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.’”