Youth from diocese parishes gather in faith and as one church

MACON – Middle school youngsters from across the Diocese of Jackson stepped away from phones, computers and the world this month to take part in a spiritual retreat and to spend some quality time with the Lord.
“The theme of our retreat was “One Church” focusing on the universality of the Catholic Church,” said Abbey Schuhmann, diocesan coordinator of the Office of Youth Ministry, who helped organize the annual diocesan Middle School Fall Retreat Oct. 12-13 at Lake Forest Ranch surrounded by 50,000 acres of pine forest in rural Noxubee County. “The overnight retreat provided the youth with a high-energy, faith-filled program throughout the weekend,” Schuhmann explained.

MACON – NET Missionary, Molly Shanahan speaks to middle school youth attending the “One Church” retreat at Lake Forest Ranch on Oct. 12. (Photo by Abbey Schuhmann)

The weekend gathering was led by members of the National Evangelization Team or NET, a Catholic ministry program established 35 years ago out of St. Paul, Minn. Net ministers are typically aged 18-24. They volunteer a year of their time to work as trained missionaries without pay and solely focused on creating relationships with young people through retreats and programs and bringing them closer to Christ.
“NET was very popular in our diocese in the 1980’s, and we are excited to have them serving in our diocese once again,” said Schuhmann about the team of young men and women, who visited two schools during their Mississippi mission. At Sacred Heart Southaven and St. Joseph Greenville they staged mini-retreats and shared their own personal encounters with Jesus Christ and their faith transformations, inspiring all in attendance.
The fall program in Macon included talks, small group discussions, prayer, adoration before the Lord in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There were plenty of opportunities for the young people to socialize and have fun. Throughout the weekend there were games of friendly competition including ping-pong, basketball, volleyball and gaga ball, the latest craze. Saturday, there was a bonfire by the lake, and the NET Team performed funny skits throughout the weekend and a drama was also part of the entertainment lineup.
“Parishes from five of our six deaneries were represented at this year’s retreat,” said Schuhmann, pleased about the turnout. Adult youth leaders from the various parishes helped out where needed, and during the weekend, they had the opportunity to meet one another and discuss the youth ministry programs at their respected parishes.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz visited on Sunday morning and celebrated Mass bringing participants together in praise and worship and inspiring all with his message. In fellowship, he joined the teens and adult leaders after Mass.
For information on upcoming diocesan youth events and activities, please contact Abbey Schuhmann, coordinator for the Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson at

Youth news

Making art for a cause

COLUMBUS – Annunciation 8th graders, Patrick Doumit and Jules Gallo assist special guest, Kathryn Davis who specializes in stained glass, make their class art project for our upcoming Art Auction fundraiser on Nov. 8. (Photo by Katie Fenstermacher)

High fives

GREENVILLE – Father Aaron Williams and second grader Charles Beckham celebrate with high fives after the Mass of our Lady of Sorrow at St. Joseph school on Sept. 16. (Photo by Nikki Thompson)

Exploring space

VICKSBURG – Fifth grade students Caroline Ponder and Tyler Roberts were able to explore the solar system in the XR (Extended Reality) Lab. With the addition of the new lab, students are able to go on field trips to the most inaccessible corners of the universe. Vicksburg Catholic School is the “Campus of the Future.” (Photo by Lindsey Bradley)

Patriot Day in Southaven

SOUTHAVEN – Mona Giannini, grandmother of a Sacred Heart graduate and of two current students, spoke to first grade students, Jillian Encarnacion and Kamilla Enriquez Giron about the work of EMTs as the school celebrated 9/11 Day, now known as Patriot’s Day. Students could wear red, white and blue as a way of showing pride in our country on this day of remembrance. Father Greg Schill also talked of our faith in God on good days as well as bad ones. At the end of his homily he talked about the strength it sometimes takes to “Step up to the Plate.” After Mass, Principal Bridget Martin talked to children about practical ways to step up to the plate in our everyday school lives. (Photo by Sister Margaret Sue Broker)

Fiesta at Columbus

COLUMBUS – Annunciation school, celebrated the end of a thematic unit on Mexico with a Fiesta which included authentic food, dances and games. (Photos by Katie Fenstermacher)


OXFORD – Members of the Catholic Campus Ministry at Ole Miss share their thoughts at “Good Cheer” after a talk by Vocation Director Father Nick Adam on Wednesday, Sept. 18. (Photo by Father Nick Adam)
Spanish Bishop Rafael Cob, apostolic vicar of Puyo, Ecuador, foreground in blue vest, speaks with journalists in Quito Sept. 14, 2019. Bishop Cob said the ordination of married elders — “viri probati” or “men of proven virtue” — would be a possible solution to the lack of priests and missionaries in the Amazon region. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

St. Mary Natchez youth reflections on summer service trip

Reflection By Anna Simmons
Before this year, I had never been on a plane, let alone by myself to a new place without my parents. To say I was nervous to attend Catholic Heart Work Camp (CHWC) was an understatement. Doing new things like this were way out of my comfort zone.
I had no idea what to expect and so many questions. Would the people I would be helping be friendly? Would I really be making an impact? Would I be able to connect with God in the ways I prayed for in all the days leading up to the trip? The answer was a powerful, resounding yes.
Our work in St. Croix consisted of scraping paint, priming and giving an old building a fresh coat of paint. The work was challenging but seeing the looks of pure gratitude and joy on the faces of those who would use it in the future made it worth it. Many of the locals I talked to expressed how much the hurricane shelter meant to them as only two years before Hurricane Maria destroyed the island. It left many devastated and hundreds of people were still trying to recover when we got there almost two years later! To know that helping convert a once unused building into something with a purpose made the work go by very quickly. I wish we could have stayed longer to help even more.
Groups at the camp visited neighborhoods that were still desperately trying to receive help to get over the damage caused to their homes. We were led by Freddie, a maintenance man from the church, who informed us that many of the people we were serving had only just received running water. Many of the homes had tarps for roofs and no air conditioning. Despite this, each home had gorgeous flowers and the residents greeted us with smiling faces and open arms. Needless to say, being able to interact with such a wonderful group of people left everyone with a smile and a much gratitude for what they had at home in their hearts when they left.
In the time when we were not working, we spent time in prayer at a beautiful church, making new friends from around the country and giving glory to God through small acts of kindness within group meetings and mealtimes.
The CHWC experience was inspiring and impactful to everyone. We could all agree that the week taught us patience in waiting on good things to come and to thank God for the things we take for granted. I will never forget my first CHWC trip and the people of St. Croix. The week brought me closer to God and closer to my youth group for which I am truly grateful.

(Anna Simmons is a sophomore at Cathedral High School in Natchez. She is a member of the Emerald Tide dance team, St. Mary’s CYO and volunteers in her spare time.)

Reflection By Parker Murray
My journey with Catholic Heart Work Camp (CHWC) started three years ago when my best friend, Fisher Iseminger, returned from her first CHWC and told me I needed to come on the next trip. I have attended every summer since then.
The camps are a blast; they are filled with fun activities, fun counselors and meaningful Bible lessons. But my favorite part of CHWC is the aspect of service to others. This year for CHWC, we went to St. Croix, Virgin Islands and stayed at a small school, called St. Mary’s.
While in St. Croix, our group worked at three different places. The first was a dilapidated school named St. Dunstan. We scraped and painted the outside of the school and power washed the concrete. The second place we served was a Catholic Church to paint some colorful murals. The third place we aided was a home for the disabled. Our group painted the living room and were able to meet some truly inspiring people there. Because of our large group we were able to get much needed work done very quickly at all of the work sites. This was such an amazing feeling.
After we finished working for the day, we were able to enjoy some free time. Our group of boys went down to the beach and downtown to look around and see what daily living was like. When we did not have enough time to go to the beach or get downtown, we played football and basketball with the other campers from around the U.S.
CHWH has helped me learn more about my faith, while helping others and meeting new people. I plan to continue going to CHWC for as long as I am able and, God willing, be a chaperone for my own children one day. But for now, I am looking forward to finding out where we are going next year!

(Parker Murray is a senior at Cathedral High School in Natchez. He is a member of the Greenwave football team and member of St. Mary’s CYO.)

Youth news

Back to school Masses

GREENWOOD – St. Francis of Assisi School celebrated the feast of the Assumption of the Bless Virgin Mary and the beginning of a new school year at Mass on Aug. 15. Father Cam Janas, OFM presided at the liturgy and delivered the homily with a play, in which the fifth and sixth graders took part. The question asked was “what was it like when Mary entered heaven?” (Photos courtesy of Cherrie Criss)

NATCHEZ – Cathedral school first grader Annie Maxwell and senior Olivia Waycaster walking in to the traditional Opening School Mass at St. Mary Basilica (Photos by Cara Moody Serio)

GREENVILLE – Father Tom Mullaly during the Mass of the Holy Spirit with Bishop Kopacz at St. Joseph school. (Photos by Nikki Thompson )

MADISON – St. Joseph school during the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Thursday, Aug. 29. (Photos by Terry Cassreino)

Students dash into new school year

VICKSBURG – (Above) Fifth grade students are ready to R U N at Vicksburg Catholic School’s third annual Flash Dash! (Photo by Lindsey Bradley)

Welcome freshman

NATCHEZ – On Aug. 18, 10-12 graders gathered at 6 a.m. in front of the St. Mary Basilica Family Life Center for the annual “Freshman Welcome” or “Initiation” of freshman members into the Youth group. Members load up in a bus to travel to the homes of the new freshmen to surprise them and pick them up for a special pancake breakfast prepared by parents at the Family Life Center. The seniors tie-dye special shirts for the new youth group members to wear to the breakfast after being “kidnapped.”After breakfast, students head over to 10 a.m. Mass at St. Mary Basilica. This year over 40 students participated in the event. (Photo by Carrie Lambert)

Grandparents mass

Mass was full not just grandparents, but also parents and friends. (Photos by tereza ma)

Youth news

Father Rusty Vincent blessed backpacks in St. Paul Parish after the 10:30 a.m. mass at St. Paul, Vicksburg on Sunday, Aug. 4 for students and teachers who were preparing for the new school year. (Photo by Sister Margaret Sue Booker)
PEARL – On Aug. 11 St. Jude parish recognized altar servers Dominic Lopez (pictured in the middle) and Hannah Chapman at 5:30 p.m. Saturday Mass and Mary Beth VanLandingham at the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass. They started serving in the third grade. All three have been a part of the Altar Server Ministry through their senior year of high school. Altar server Sian McGregor (pictured on the right) and Lopez precede future Deacon Andrew Bowden and Father Lincoln Dall.
(Photo by Tereza Ma)

Youth news

CORINTH – On July 19 and 20 St. James Parish children and teachers hopped on the Jesus train. Children (not in order pictured) – Aaron, Yuri, Briana, Emmanuel, Kimberly, Karely, Yoselin, Dilan, Cristian, Marlene, Carlos, Maylin, Mia, Evolet, Kelly, Maiying, Ashley, Jeshua and Ailyn. Teachers (not in order pictured) – Tania, Maria, Edith, Roberto, and Luisa. (Photo by Luis Rosales)

MERIDIAN – Recently the Catholic Youth of Meridian participated in Love out Loud, a week long mission event where local churches come together to serve the people of Meridian. Youth and adults volunteered their time in various ways, such as completing random acts of kindness, visiting nursing homes, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Care Lodge, Hope Village and various schools. Catholic student representatives included Jekalah Keyes, J’Nae Keyes, Carter Eakes, Edwar Hernandez, Macarena Frias, Elena Stroot, Aaliyahmarie Nance, Zemaree Hampton, Wes Pritchard, Zane Pritchard, Reed Gorgas, Ryann Gorgas, Star Cayer, Alana Frias, Miller Hodge, Tom Tom Nguyen, Cassandra Klutz, Hannah Kidd and Sha Hare.Adults who helped included Marvin Nance, Edna Blanks, Ginny Parsons, Liz Bartlett, Janet Reece and Catrina Kidd.
The highlight of the service week was on Wednesday, July 17 when 15 youth and four adults worked at St. Patrick School painting in the main hallway, the cafeteria and in the Pre-K4 classroom.
All together more than 25 churches and over 600 volunteers brought the love of Jesus around the community of Meridian.

CORINTH – St. James Parish, July 19-20. Teachers and kids playing on church grounds during the “Summer School Vacation with Jesus” program. (Photos by Luis Rosales)

CORINTH – St. James Parish, Aug. 4, children getting ready for a back to school blessing from Father Mario Solórzano. (Photo by Luis Rosales)
Pope Francis arrives for an audience with thousands of Scouts in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 3, 2019. Young men and women from 16 to 21 years of age who belong to the International Union of Guides and Scouts in Europe attended the event with the pontiff. (CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

Youth news

Sacred Heart students complete renovation Service Project

By Laura Grisham
SOUTHAVEN – During the first week of June, Sacred Heart Southern Missions (SHSM) was blessed to welcome The Catholic Service Initiative (CSI) for Young Men. Three young men from the six parishes in North Mississippi served by the priests of the Sacred Heart arrived Sunday evening along with their chaperones (and parish DREs), Vickie Stirek and Donna Williamson, to assist on a number of projects. The youth were Michael Marking from Hernando Holy Spirit parish, Alexander Najera and Alex Castro from Southaven Christ the King parish.
Their first stop was at the home of Willie and Thomas. The elderly couple has been on the SHSM project list for a while, but Willie says it was worth the wait. The bathroom at the couple’s home had several issues, starting with a crack in their bathtub. Thankfully this was remedied by a volunteer team earlier this spring.
Next on the agenda was the rotten flooring and dilapidated vanity. Alexander Najera, Michael Marking and Alex Castro jumped in, under the leadership of jobsite foreman Paul Smith, to install a new sink and vanity and lay a new tile floor in place of the peeling linoleum.
Moving just a few miles down the road, the young men made quick work of some minor repairs to a wheelchair ramp for Joy. Next on the list, Alexander, Michael and Alex widened the front door of Robert’s mobile home. Robert can now guide his wheelchair in and out without difficulty.
But it was not all work and no play for the retreat participants. Father Quang Nguyen, SCJ, vice provincial superior and director of the province vocation office, spoke to the teens about vocation choices on their first evening.
A Wednesday evening respite of swimming rejuvenated the young men for the week’s work. The experience for them culminated at the Garden Café on Thursday, where the guys cooked, served and cleaned up after the evening meal in Holly Springs.
Many people have signed up to spend time in the Mississippi Delta with Sacred Heart Southern Missions’ Volunteer Program. By the time this is printed, CSI Young Women from the Sacred Heart parishes and St. John’s from Milwaukee, will be hard at work on home rehab projects and helping with other mission activities. At least nine more volunteer groups are scheduled through the first week of August.

(Laura Grisham is the Public Relations Coordinator for Sacred Heart Southern Missions. Full client names and locations are kept private out of respect.)

Youth news

Blood drive at West Point

WEST POINT – On Wednesday, May 29, the youth group from Immaculate Conception Parish hosted a blood drive in their parish hall. (l-r) Michelle Aguda; Dominic Borgioli, first-time donor and youth group member, and Jack Elliott III, in the background, donate blood. Parishioner Cathy Johnson and Interim CYO advisor Penny Elliott coordinated the project with the young people. Johnson said she worked on similar projects in her previous parish. Prior to donation day, the young people recruited donors and helped spread the word about the event within the community. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Johnson)

St. Patrick youth take on liturgical roles

MERIDIAN – On Saturday, June 15th, Cassandra Klutz led the Choir during the Youth Mass. She picked out and arranged the music, organized the practices and then led the choir during Mass. Pictured are (l-r) Alana Frias, Elena Stroot, Macarena Frias and Cassandra Klutz. Kirstie Graves is playing the piano during the Communion song “Holy Spirit.“
Additionally Noah McCaffrey and Helena Rutledge served as lectors and Vanessa and Diego Espino served as altar servers to complete the youth involvement during the Mass. (Photo by John Harwell)

Vacation Bible School at St. Jude Parish

PEARL – St. Jude pastor Father Lincoln Dall celebrated a childrens’ Mass during the parish Vacation Bible School in June, in photos above, attendees enjoyed snow cones after some fun outdoor and indoor activities. (Photos by Rhonda Bowden and Stacy Wolf)

Power of prayer helps spell teen victory

Christopher Serrao, a 13-year-old parishioner from Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Whitehouse Station, N.J., holds the trophy after being named the co-champion of the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee held at National Harbor, Md., May 30, 2019. (CNS photo/courtesy Dominic Serrao)

By Christina Leslie
METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) – Though 13-year-old Christopher Serrao studied long, complicated and obscure words for hours on end to win a prestigious spelling bee, the most important word in his arsenal had just five letters: F-A-I-T-H.
Christopher, a resident of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, and member of the town’s Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, joined seven other contestants in taking home a trophy and $50,000 grand prize May 30 in the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland.
A seventh-grade student at Readington Middle School, he had been inspired by his older sister, Danielle, to compete in the annual test of knowledge and endurance.
Studying word roots and language patterns two to three hours daily, and longer on weekends, helped enlarge his vocabulary and sharpen his spelling acumen, but Christopher relied upon his faith to get him into the winner’s circle.
“When I was nervous, I said a prayer to God and would hold the cross in my hand. I also wore a rosary around my neck,” Christopher told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
Christopher said his pastor, Father Leonard F. A. Rusay, “told the congregation that I was in the contest and had everyone pray for me.”
Christopher is a member of the parish choir and a lector. Danielle is a cantor and sang the national anthem at the spelling bee the day Christopher competed.
Daily 8 a.m. Mass on competition days in nearby St. Columba Church in Oxon Hill, Maryland, also reinforced his faith. “They were really nice,” he said. “The congregation prayed for me. The community was really supportive.”
This is the third time Christopher qualified for the national competition. He finished in 34th place last year. He and the other seven “octo-champions” survived 20 rounds of competition, 12 of them in the evening. He spelled “cernuous,” (which means pendulous or nodding), before being declared one of the eight winners.
With the money he won, Christopher plans to “maybe buy a dog, but save the rest for college.” But the lessons he said he learned throughout the whirlwind experience were just as important: to be calm, how to study and how to deal with the media. Then, he returned to that all-important word: faith.
“My win is a reaffirmation of the power of prayers,” he said. “When the odds were against me, I knew faith in Jesus and prayers would help me overcome any obstacle.”
“We are proud of the effort Christopher put in and the gracious God-loving attitude he has displayed throughout,” said his father, Dominic.
“We didn’t expect him to win, even though we knew he would place well. We truly believe that his feat was a miracle that can only be attributed to God. We believe with God all things are possible and this has reaffirmed our faith.”
“This journey began seven years ago with our daughter, Danielle,” said his mother, Matilda. “There were a lot more downs than ups along the way.
“However, our faith carried us through. This win has strengthened our faith even more and that our God is the one that makes impossible things possible.”

(Leslie is a reporter at The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.)