Love of baking, culinary skills and prayer make religious brother a winner

By Richard Szczepanowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The oven timer dings, alerting Capuchin Franciscan Brother Andrew Corriente the chocolate layer cake he is baking needs to be checked.
A quick test with a toothpick tells him the cake needs about five more minutes in the oven, more than enough time for him to soften the butter that will eventually become the buttercream icing that will top the confection.
The enticing aromas in the kitchen at Capuchin College in Washington signal that Brother Andrew is busy creating another treat for the men who call the friary home.
Brother Andrew knows his way around a kitchen. In fact, he was crowned this year’s baking champion on ABC’s “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition.” The program, which aired during the month of December and concluded Jan. 2, is an adaptation of the wildly popular “Great British Bake Off.”
Brother Andrew said he wanted to participate in the program “because I love to bake, and I wanted to learn from the others” who were part of the production. “They were very good, incredible cooks,” the brother said of his competition. Several of them have since become good friends of his.
“The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition,” now in its fifth season, features 10 amateur bakers who compete in a series of challenges in which they must produce outstanding baked goods. Contestants are eliminated one by one until a champion is selected.
Brother Andrew emerged as the victor after he and the other two finalists were charged with making three individual party desserts of their choice. He earned the crown with chocolate cookies with lime cream and blackberry jam, sponge cakes with fresh cream and fruits, and a puff pastry.
Brother Andrew was given the nod to appear on the show last June, but he applied for the program in 2017.


“In 2018, they (producers of the show) called me, but I said no because I was taking my final vows,” he told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington. “They called me again this year, and I did it.”
He said he spent the month of July “recipe developing and recipe testing” before traveling to London in August, where the entire season was taped over the course of that month. “Filming sometimes took up to 14 hours a day,” Brother Andrew said. “I had to stay focused so that I could get my prayers in, Mass in and meditation in.”
Although it was very hot in the kitchen where the contestants competed, Brother Andrew chose to wear his distinctive brown Capuchin robes as he baked.
“I love my life so much, and I wanted people to see that,” he said. “My ability to bake is so tied to my way of life. Everything I have is from God, and I wanted people to see how all of that is integrated.”
The friary where Brother Andrew regularly creates his bakery masterpieces is part of the St. Augustine Province of the Order of Friars Minor. The 30 men who live at Capuchin College are either studying nearby at The Catholic University of America, preparing for the priesthood, serving in various ministries throughout the Archdiocese of Washington or are retired.
Capuchin Franciscan Father Paul Dressler, the province’s guardian and director of formation at Capuchin College, called Brother Andrew’s appearance on the program “part of the new evangelization.”
“Brother Andrew wanted to be on the show as a witness. He went to evangelize and put before the world the Gospel and our order,” Father Dressler said.


Capuchin Father Tom Betz, the provincial of the St. Augustine Province, gave the nod and Brother Andrew was on his way.
“Brother Andrew brought attention to the goodness of God and the goodness of religious life,” Father Dressler said.
He added that it is not unusual for a religious to be familiar in the kitchen. “Religious life has long been a source of nourishment,” Father Dressler said. He also pointed to the ancient tradition of monks brewing beer, making wine and even giving coffee lovers everywhere the eponymous cappuccino.
“It is connected to the fact that all good things come from God,” Father Dressler said.
In episode four of “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition,” Brother Andrew struggled with the challenge of creating a cheesecake tower with at least three tiers, with two of one flavor and one of a different flavor. As he struggled to construct his tower, Brother Andrew stopped, lifted his hands in prayer and uttered the word, “surrender.”
Brother Andrew is a third-year seminarian. After studying filmmaking in college, the now 31-year-old native of California, “had a desk job in the entertainment industry,” working for a talent agent.
“I was searching for other jobs, but never thought about religious life,” he said. “A friend of mine from college became a nun, and when I went to see her profess her vows, I met a Capuchin.” That spurred Brother Andrew to give the order a try. “I met the guys, and the rest is history,” he said.
Brother Andrew regularly bakes for the residents of the friary and one of his specialties is “kouign amann,” a French pastry made with multiple layers of buttery croissant pastry caramelized with slightly burnt sugar.
Baking, he said, “is in a way eucharistic.”
“Jesus gave us himself in the bread and wine,” Brother Andrew said. “For me, I put myself out there with my cooking. It is kind of a sacrificial love.”
His interest in baking, he added, was spurred during his postulancy.
Brother Andrew said he finds time for prayer as he cooks. For example, in preparing meringue – a confection made of whipped egg whites and sugar – he discovered “the best way to time my stirring is by praying the Hail Mary.”
The “guys,” as Brother Andrew calls his fellow Capuchins, sent their favorite baker off to compete in London with “a really nice blessing and prayer.” Brother Andrew’s family – mother Elna, father Rodel and sister Theresa – flew to London to watch the finale.
When he won, Brother Andrew was sworn to secrecy; for more than four months he was not allowed to tell others that he had won.
The residents of the friary would gather each week to watch the show together, cheering their brother on. Father Dressler said it was akin to watching the Super Bowl. The friary, he said, exploded with whoops and shouts and cheers when Brother Andrew was named the winner.
In addition to his baking, Brother Andrew uses his culinary skills to help the less fortunate and the working poor. He and a group of brothers and lay volunteers cook and serve dinner every Sunday for the day laborers who congregate at a local Home Depot looking for work.
After he is ordained to the priesthood in two years, Brother Andrew is unsure whether his priestly vocation will permit him as much time to pursue his baking avocation. “God has already zigzagged my life in so many ways that I am open to anywhere he leads me,” he said.

(Szczepanowski is managing editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.)

U.S. Bishops’ president calls for building the “beloved community,” inspired by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s example

WASHINGTON – Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has issued the following statement to mark the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 20, 2020.
Archbishop Gomez’s full statement follows:
“As our nation prepares to commemorate the life and witness of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are grateful for his courageous stand in solidarity with all who suffer injustice and his witness of love and nonviolence in the struggle for social change. But we are once again painfully aware that we are still far off from his dream for America, the ‘beloved community’ for which he gave his life.
“We have come a long way in our country, but we have not come nearly far enough. Too many hearts and minds are clouded by racist presumptions of privilege and too many injustices in our society are still rooted in racism and discrimination. Too many young African American men are still being killed in our streets or spending their best years behind bars. Many minority neighborhoods in this country are still what they were in Rev. King’s time, what he called ‘lonely islands of poverty.’ Let us recommit ourselves to ensuring opportunity reaches every community.
“In recent years, we have seen disturbing outbreaks of racism and prejudice against other groups. There has been a rise of anti-Semitic attacks and also ugly displays of white nationalism, nativism, and violence targeting Hispanics and other immigrants. Such bigotry is not worthy of a great nation. As Catholics and as Americans, we must reject every form of racism and anti-Semitism.
“Racism is a sin that denies the truth about God and his creation, and it is a scandal that disfigures the beauty of America’s founding vision. In our 2018 pastoral letter on racism, my brother bishops and I stated: ‘What is needed, and what we are calling for, is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change and the reform of our institutions and society.’
“Let us honor the memory of Rev. King by returning to what he called ‘the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.’ Let us commit ourselves once more to building his ‘beloved community,’ an America where all men and women are treated as children of God, made in his image and endowed with dignity, equality, and rights that can never be denied, no matter the color of their skin, the language they speak, or the place they were born.”
The U.S. Bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Your Hearts: The Enduring Call of Love,” and other resources from the Ad Hoc Committee on Racism can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/index.cfm.

March for Life theme borrows page from suffragist centennial

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The March for Life, the annual march in Washington to protest legalized abortion in the United States, is tying itself in 2020 to the women’s suffrage movement for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
The theme of the march is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman.” Jeanne Mancini, head of the March for Life, remarked how two noted suffragists of their day, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony, were themselves staunchly against abortion. A video made to support the upcoming march, to be held Jan. 24, said the women called abortion “the ultimate exploitation of women.”
An unnamed woman speaking in the video said 30 million female babies had been aborted since the twin 1973 Supreme Court rulings in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion virtually on demand.

A young woman joins other pro-life advocates outside the U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 27, 2017, during the annual March for Life in Washington. The theme for the Jan. 24, 2020, March for Life is “Life Empowered: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.” (CNS photo/Leslie E. Kossoff)

Mancini said speakers lined up for the pre-march gathering include Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat who authored a bill in 2014 to require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. It was ruled unconstitutional in 2017, but that ruling in June Medical Services v. Gee was reversed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court said in October it would take up the case, its first abortion-related case since the death of Antonin Scalia and the retirement of Anthony Kennedy.
Also on the speakers’ list is U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, R-New Jersey, long a pro-life advocate, who has sponsored the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act, which would bar the killing of any baby who survives an abortion. Two such survivors will speak as well, according to Mancini.
The 2020 march will be the 47th such march. “We march regardless,” Mancini said during a Dec. 3 news briefing in Washington about the march. In 2016, “we had ‘Blizzard-geddon,'” she added. An even stronger blizzard in 1982 that crippled the Washington region and its transportation network did not deter those hardy but few marchers who had already made it to the nation’s capital.
The 2019 march was “the first one we marched during a government shutdown,” Mancini added. She said she is working with the U.S. Park Service to assure that there would be no complications to conducting the march should the government be shut down again.
The March for Life now bills itself as “the world’s largest human rights demonstration” and “the world’s largest pro-life event.” Mancini, during the news briefing, called it “the single unifying pro-life event” bringing together people from all points on the pro-life spectrum.
Mancini said more legislation on the abortion front is being advanced at the state level, and that the March for Life would be replicated elsewhere, including Virginia, Connecticut and Chicago.
While the march promotes legislation reflecting pro-life interests, it also aims to “change hearts and minds,” Mancini said.
Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, which is the sister organization of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund headed by Mancini, also spoke at the briefing. “If Roe v. Wade is overturned or weakened,” he said, “there will be even more action in the states.”
(Editor’s note: Groups from around the Diocese of Jackson will be in attendance at March for Life 2020, including students from Natchez Cathedral and St. Joseph Starkville Catholic Campus Ministry.)

Nativity sets keep Christ in Christmas year-round for Vermont Catholic

By Cori Fugere Urban
GUILFORD, Vt. (CNS) – Christmas comes early to Shirley Squires’ Guilford home.
Actually, it never quiet leaves her home if the scores of Nativity sets she leaves on display year round count as keeping Christ in Christmas 365 days a year.

Shirley Squires of Guilford, Vt., stands near a cabinet that holds only a fraction of her Nativity set collection Oct. 23, 2019. Squires, a parishioner of St. Michael Church in Brattleboro, has collected more than 1,500 Nativity sets. (CNS photo/Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic)

Squires, a parishioner of St. Michael Church in Brattleboro, has collected more than 1,500 Nativity sets, and though she leaves many on display in hutches and in one bay of her detached garage, come August she begins setting up the others throughout her white clapboard home.
“It used to be a two-bedroom,” she said with a smile, explaining that those second-floor rooms are now the permanent home of part of her collection; one room holds a Nativity set of more than 200 pieces.
She now sleeps in a daybed in the first-floor sunroom, where plenty of sunshine pours in, shimmering through glass Nativities and illuminating colorful ones that fill two shelves built in front of the windows overlooking woods and fields.
When she takes the Nativities down in that room at the end of January, she replaces them with scores of family photographs.
Squires is the mother of eight and has 20 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren.
Members of her family have made Nativities for her – one uses photographs of family members as the faces of the angels and people in the Nativity scene. Another is made of shells.
Squires herself has crocheted or made of ceramics some of her sets.
Friends and family, children from St. Michael School in Brattleboro and even people she doesn’t know, have been giving her Nativities since she began collecting them in the early 1990s after the death of her husband and son. She had long liked Nativities and had a few sets, but collecting them at that point helped her forget the tragedies she had endured.
At least 55 countries are represented in her collection – Brazil, Italy, Peru, Ecuador, Israel, Germany, Tanzania and Switzerland, to name a few. Some Nativity sets represent different cultures, like the Amish, and some feature penguins, bears or other animals in human roles. In a couple of the scenes Joseph holds the Baby Jesus.
The Nativity sets – with anywhere from one piece to a couple hundred – range from the sophisticated and expensive, the whimsical and handmade and the tiny to the nearly life-size (the latter displayed outdoors). She has a tissue box with a Nativity design, paper gift bags, music boxes, ornaments and even a footstool with a nativity picture. Some are vintage, others new.
And they come from a variety of manufacturers such as Lladro, Jim Shore, Fontanini, Willow Tree, Avon and Belleek, and they are made of various materials including wood, ceramic, glass, wool, beeswax, paper and wire. There’s even a Lego Nativity her great grandson made, and she won a pewter one at a St. Michael’s bazaar raffle.
Although much of her collection has been given to her, she has bought some sets – some on sale, some on trips, some in increments. It’s difficult for her to pick a favorite, but the one her daughter Donna Rhodes made with photos of family members is one of them along with the large Fontanini set in an upstairs room.
And even though she is surrounded by Nativity sets, Squires never feels like there is too much Christmas. “It’s my favorite time of year. It’s always been my favorite time of year,” she told Vermont Catholic, Burlington’s diocesan publication.
From the first of December until the end of January, Squires opens her home by appointment to those who would like to see her Nativity collection, often wearing a special light purple Nativity sweatshirt. “When I see the joy on people’s faces, it makes it all worthwhile,” said the 89-year-old, who is living in the house she grew up in.
She makes friends with some of her visitors, and some have returned each year since she began displaying her collection for others to see 21 years ago; she’s only missed one year after triple bypass surgery about six years ago.
She receives nearly 300 visitors to see the Nativity sets each year.
The Nativity scenes represent is what is most important: her faith. “Looking at them keeps it in my mind that it all started with a little baby,” Jesus, she said.
“Without my faith I would not have gotten through all the struggles,” she said, pointing to a photograph of one of her grandsons and his girlfriend who died in an automobile crash. “My faith means everything to me.”

(Urban is content editor/staff writer for Vermont Catholic, official publication of the Diocese of Burlington.)

50 years since White House conference on food, hunger issues remain

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Fifty years ago, the White House sponsored a Dec. 2-4 conference on food, nutrition and health designed to set the groundwork for a national nutrition policy and to advise President Richard Nixon on the best ways to eliminate hunger in the U.S.
The conference succeeded in initiating policies to improve school lunch programs and nutrition education and to give more consumer protection – which led to the nutritional labeling food buyers are now accustomed to.
The conference also helped develop the Women, Infants and Children program, which offers supplemental food assistance to low-income pregnant women and mothers and children up to age 5, and it paved the way for the first major expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps low-income individuals and families buy food.
Fast forward 50 years and food policy advocates still have a lot on their plates, in efforts to address food insecurities as well as growing food-related epidemics of diabetes and obesity. They also want to ensure policies that took shape 50 years ago do not face pending cuts by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Several of the event panelists cited troubling statistics on hunger. Notably, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2019 Household Food Insecurity report said more than 37 million people in the U.S. struggle with hunger.

Two girls receive food at an outdoor soup kitchen in Washington. Fifty years after a White House conference on food, nutrition and health, policy advocates say the overall lack of access to healthy food and good nutrition remains a major issue today in the United States. (CNS photo/Jim West)


Other statistics they shared, compiled by Hunger Free America, include:
– 14.3 million households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food.
– More than 11 million children are food-insecure.
– Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for SNAP and rely on local food banks.
No one needs to tell these facts to those who work in public policy at Catholic Charities USA or its local agencies providing food to those in need.
Anthony Granado, vice president at Catholic Charities USA, said there are several food policies that have the support of Catholic Charities, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Rural Life and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Those groups submitted a joint comment objecting to the Trump administration’s proposal to tighten eligibility standards for SNAP that would cause about 3.1 million to lose food stamp benefits.
The comment, submitted Sept. 23, called SNAP the “first line of defense against hunger.”
They also said the proposed changes to SNAP would bring more people to charities for help when they are already feeding millions each year.
“Our organizations already struggle to meet the needs in our communities and are forced to turn away many for lack of resources. The proposed rule, if implemented, will only add to a demand that we cannot meet,” their comment letter said.
Lizanne Hagedorn, director of Nutritional Development Services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, knows all about food needs and hasn’t seen them decrease by any means.
As the head of agency that administers local federally funded child nutrition programs and a community food program, Hagedorn said those who come for help are not always atypical; in recent years the agency has seen more senior citizens and college students. She also has seen a shrinking pool of volunteers to serve those in need at food pantries.
“It’s in our blood as Catholic Christians to be good stewards of food and money and to bring everybody along,” Hagedorn said. “Not in an overbearing way but understanding ‘there but for the grace of God go I.'”

Priest delivers powerful testimony during Homeland Security hearings

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

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

(Linda Reeves contributed to this story.)

The sisters of Holmes County, integral to community

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

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

(Reprinted with permission by Global Sisters Report, visit GlobalSistersReport.org).

U.S. bishops examine challenges faced by church, society

By Carol Zimmermann
BALTIMORE (CNS) – During their Nov. 11-13 meeting in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops elected new officers and discussed challenges in the church and the nation. They spoke of their renewed efforts to help immigrants, youth and young adults, pregnant women and the poor as well their steps to combat gun violence and racism.
On the second day of the meeting, Nov. 12, the bishops elected Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles to a three-year term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit as conference vice president.
Archbishop Gomez, the first Latino to be elected to this role, was chosen with 176 votes from a slate of 10 nominees.
At the start of the meeting, the bishops voted overwhelmingly on a revised set of strategic priorities to take them into the next decade. The next day, they approved adding new materials to complement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their long-standing guide to help Catholics form their consciences in public life, including voting.
Bishops also heard a wide-ranging report on immigration Nov. 12, which included updates of policy, how programs to resettle refugees, including those run by the Catholic Church, have closed or reduced activity because the administration has moved to close the country’s doors to those seeking refuge, and efforts on the border to help asylum cases.
The bishops’ second day of meetings also included a presentation of the pope’s document “Christus Vivit,” which was issued following the 2018 Synod on Young People. Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, a delegate at the synod, urged bishops to do more to support Catholic teens and young adults and to use the pope’s apostolic exhortation as their guide.
The previous day, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles told the bishops the church is losing young people in greater numbers and must face the challenges of how to get the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” particularly young people, back.
He presented a three-minute video on the issue and spoke of his concerns and ideas for bringing young people back to church which involved: not dumbing down the faith and involving young people in the social justice aspects of the church. Discussion about this from the floor lasted for more than an hour with bishops from across the country agreeing that the issue is of great concern and sharing other ideas to bring young people back which primarily involved catechism but also an increased devotion to Mary.
The bishops also heard that a new “pastoral framework for marriage and family life” should be ready for a vote by the U.S. bishops by next November at the latest, according to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
At the start of their meeting Nov. 11, the bishops raised pressing issues that included the priesthood shortage, gun violence and the need to provide support services for pregnant women.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, mentioned some of these challenges in his opening remarks, along with the need to welcome migrants and fight racism. He also urged the bishops not just to focus on the challenges before them but to consider how they could further develop collegiality and collaboration with one another.
In his final address as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston told his fellow bishops that it has been “an honor to serve you, even in the difficult times.”
“Let’s begin anew,” he said, at the close of his address.

Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, listens to a speaker during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 11, 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

In a presentation on gun violence, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, said Catholic clergy and lay leaders can play a role in bringing together people along the rural-urban divide to build understanding of the need for sensible policies that can end the scourge of gun violence.
The bishop, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, outlined the USCCB’s long-held stance of the need for “common sense” legislation that governs the availability of guns. He also said it was time for people to come together so that there is greater understanding of how gun violence affects urban communities in particular.
He told Catholic News Service that the USCCB’s work on the legislative front was important, but that a pastoral response to gun violence was needed.
“It’s time for a different approach,” he said.
In a new approach for the bishops’ pro-life efforts, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, invited his fellow bishops to devote a year of service to pregnant women starting next March.
He said Catholic parishes can be one of the first places a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy can turn to for assistance rather than think of seeking an abortion and they could offer a variety of support services to women who may be thinking about whether to carry their child to term.
The bishops also voted for a new sixth edition of of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ existing Program of Priestly Formation for U.S. dioceses; before it can be implemented, it must first receive approval, from the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy. They approved a text translation to be used in the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults and OKd close to 300 new hymn texts for the Liturgy of the Hours.
The three-day meeting wrapped up Nov. 13 with a presentation by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, who spoke about the ongoing work of the committee, highlighting the listening sessions that have taken place around the country.
At the meeting’s close, Archbishop Gomez thanked outgoing president Cardinal DiNardo for his “excellent service to this body and to the church.”

(Contributing to this report was Rhina Guidos, Mark Pattison and Dennis Sadowski.)

Pastoral against racism is starting conversations, healing, bishops told

By Carol Zimmerman
BALTIMORE (CNS) – One year after the U.S. bishops approved their pastoral letter against racism, the document is hardly just sitting on a shelf but is the basis for listening sessions in dioceses around the country and is an educational tool for individuals, schools and parishes, the bishops were told Nov. 13.
Bishop Shelton T. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, reminded the bishops that in the two years since the ad hoc committee was formed, it has been “hard at work as the church works to acknowledge past harms and cultivate racial reconciliation.”
The document, titled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” sold out its first 2,000 copies eight months after it was printed and was recently sent out for a second printing. It is available online in English and Spanish along with study guides at www.usccb.org/racism.
Bishop Fabre said the ad hoc committee’s most important work has been the listening sessions that began last August. So far there have been 13 sessions around the country, and more are scheduled for next year.
These sessions spring from the very words of the pastoral letter: “We must create opportunities to hear the painful stories of those whose lives have been affected by racism.”
In these sessions, starting with the first one in St. Louis, the bishop said the committee’s members have heard both the hurt caused by racism and the hope that church and society will root it out.
Diocesan bishops attending these sessions have been linked to the laity in ways that open “new possibilities for further healing,” Bishop Fabre said, adding the bishops’ committee is helping these dioceses with follow-up sessions or other ways to implement the pastoral letter.
All the offices and committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are committed to ending racism, he said. He highlighted the educational outreach of the USCCB’s Justice, Peace and Human Development Office, which is helping to develop a children’s book in response to the pastoral on racism called “Everyone Belongs.”
The ad hoc committee has addressed several national Catholic organizations about their possible use of the pastoral letter. It also is working on developing catechetical resources for schools and supporting or developing Catholic college programs, seminary training and ecumenical efforts.
In closing, he said the “single cry” committee members hear most often at listening sessions is that “the laity never seems to hear homilies on racism.”
“I would ask you to work with me to change that perception,” he told the bishops, “so that we all will come to hear regularly, and with one voice, that racism is opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that the Catholic Church in the United States is committed to standing against the evil and sin of racism with all its strength.”
To this end, he said his committee would seek to provide more homily resources to bishops and priests.
He also stressed that the committee’s work “goes beyond simply calling out the evil of racism” but involves urging “all people to see the deeper reality of God’s purpose and the in creating all of us with unique and unrepeatable value.”
The bishop didn’t say the work was easy, but he finished his presentation by saying: “With God’s grace our efforts will bear fruit in these challenging times.”
(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim)

Cardenal Ramazzini visitará Jackson

Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri of San Marcos, Guatemala, was one of 13 new cardinals named by Pope Francis Sept. 1, 2019. Cardinal-designate Ramazzini is pictured in a June 3, 2010, photo. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

El cardenal guatemalteco, Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri de Huehuetenango, Guatemala y conocido por el trabajo de justicia social en su país, visitará la Diocesis de Jackson en diciembre de este ano. En su agenda tendrá visitas a parroquias afectadas por las redadas de inmigración, en las cuales viven muchos ciudadanos guatemaltecos. En su vista se reunirá además con autoridades eclesiásticas de la diocesis.