NATCHEZ – Cathedral School first grade classes were the first to begin Thanksgiving celebrations at the school. At left, Joan David leads her class of Pilgrims and Native Americans in a prayer. The students created their own decorations and hats for the occasion. (Photo by Cara Moody Serio)
NATCHEZ – Workers place a prayer bench dedicated to ‘right to life’ in the Bishop’s Prayer Garden at St. Mary Basilica, on Thursday, May 22. The project is the result of two years of discussions and planning. Brookhaven Monument Staff, owned by David Pace, created the bench, using grey granite to match the stone covering Bishop John Joseph Chanche’s grave. Bishop Chanche is the first bishop in the diocese. Amber Case designed the monument. (Photo by Mike Murphy)
NATCHEZ – On Wednesday, March 12, a group of 20 Vicksburg St. Paul parishioners and their pastor, Father Thomas Lalor, traveled on a Lenten pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Mary. Father David O’Connor, pastor of St. Mary, prayed with the group, then explained the history of the church, its bishops and its people. He led the visitors on a tour of the basilica – telling of its architecture, art in stained glass and marble, and spirituality. He explained its being given the title of minor basilica by Blessed John Paul II. Parishioners saw the oldest shrine honoring Mary, the Immaculate Conception and stopped to pray at the gravesite of Bishop John Chanche, first bishop of the diocese. The Altar Society with the aid of Father Lalor, who served many years in Natchez, organized the pilgrimage and invited the parish. (Submitted by Glenda LaGarde)
By Maureen Smith
NATCHEZ – Bob Willis fell in love with “grievers” when he suffered a devastating loss in his own life. At the time, he was a Baptist minister. His own grief led him to work with others in pain. This, he said, is how his current ministry found him. He went on to work for 17 years in hospice ministry and became a sculptor along the way. He now uses the skills he has developed in both fields for his grief ministry.
Willis is bringing his unique presentation to the Diocese of Jackson for three events. The first, a one-day Faith
Community Nursing event was scheduled March 8 at Jackson St. Richard. Look for coverage of it in the next issue of Mississippi Catholic. The other events are set for Sunday and Monday, March 9-10, in Natchez. Sunday is a conference from 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. at the St. Mary Basilica Family Life Center. Monday he will present to the monthly meeting of the parish grief and loss support group from 6 – 7 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.
During Sunday’s conference, called Caregiver stress, coping with change, Willis will carve a bust of Christ while he speaks about the grief involved in being a caregiver. “My goal is to give people some tools to communicate their
feelings,” he explained. He says everyone grieves change, but caregivers are faced with some especially tough changes and their grief can become internalized.
“I want them to know grief is what they are feeling, but no one can see that. It’s inside them. When they express it, it becomes mourning and Christ says ‘blessed are they who mourn.’ I want to help them mourn in healthy ways,” he said. He calls caregivers care-grievers and encourages them to move beyond being isolated in their feelings.
Willis explained that he offers tools to help people organize their feelings and put them into words so they can better communicate what they are feeling and then develop a support system around those feelings. “When we organize our grief, we take control of our grief so it doesn’t control us,” said Willis. This process can help caregivers express their feelings and love with those for whom they are caring and can sometimes even help those who need care better communicate.
He calls his vocation “a God thing,” saying he knew very soon after starting this work that he was where he needed to be. “I did some grief counseling with groups and I felt like it was the right work. I have a comfort level dealing with grief, loss and death. That’s why it’s easier for me to share in this way, I feel that comfort level with it,” he said.
He uses the sculpting because creative expression “feeds” him when he feels drained. He most commonly sculpts the bust of Christ or a bandaged broken heart with the scripture “He heals the brokenhearted, he binds up their wounds,” from Psalm 147.
Ann Elizabeth Kaiser, a Health Ministry Specialist for Catholic Charities, organized both events. She said he saw Willis sculpting while she was attending a conference last year and felt drawn to watch, even though she did not know anything about him or his presentation. She left with 10 copies of his book to give to friends and colleagues. Kaiser said she hears so many health care workers and caretakers talk about how much stress they feel and she knew Willis’ presentation would fill a need.
In addition to his work in hospice, Willis owns the Rocking W art gallery in Oklahoma City and has written a book, “The Ultimate Caregiver,” about his work in grief ministry. His books will be available for purchase at the events. To read more about Willis’ work visit www.godhealshearts.com.