Glenmary's Newest Missioner in Its Newest Mission By Jean Bach

Main Street in Ackerman, Miss., on a Sunday afternoon is small-town quiet. Lawn mowers hum and a few cars pass through as Sister Alies Therése takes visitors on a walking tour of the two-block downtown. She waves and greets passersby as she walks. With a slight British accent, she describes the various businesses. She's become a familiar sight as she “walks about town,” getting to know the folks of the town she has lived in for only three months.

She ends the tour at a storefront where the front window announces “The Catholic Community of Choctaw County.”

“Here we are,” she says. “This is home.”

Sister Alies is the new pastoral coordinator of Glenmary missions in Ackerman and Eupora, Miss. Eupora, located 20 miles north of Ackerman in Webster County, is the more established of the two communities. Ackerman, the county seat of Choctaw County, is the site of Glenmary's newest mission community.

Although the Catholic church has a history in Choctaw County, it has struggled to grow. Several years ago, Gene and Mary Helen Grabbe, the now retired pastoral coordinators for the two missions, began sowing the seeds for the Choctaw mission by knocking on doors and inviting folks to the Catholic church.

The Choctaw County Catholic Community stands out in Ackerman because it's the only integrated church in the county. And with only six to 12 people at services, it is probably the smallest.

Sister Alies spent the past 20 years ministering in rural areas of the Diocese of East Anglia in England. She has worked in parish ministry, especially with black and ethnic communities. She has a special concern about racism in local communities as well as in the church. Before England, she worked in South Central Los Angeles and San Antonio.

In her short time in northeastern Mississippi, Sister Alies realizes that the situation in Choctaw County is difficult on many levels. For Catholics, there is no sense of connection to the larger church. Until several years ago, attending Mass meant driving at least 25 miles one way to Starkville. The southernmost county in the deanery, Choctaw County is less than one percent Catholic with Cumberland Presbyterians, Methodists and Southern Baptists in the majority.

African Americans, Anglos and Hispanics make up the Catholic Church of Choctaw County, a fact that doesn't go unnoticed in the larger community. During Holy Week, Sister Alies was invited to the Seder Meal at the local Methodist church. It was sponsored by the Pastors' Association, of which she is a member.

“We arrived at the meal and our members were the only blacks there,” she says. “It seems to me that just doing it (taking part in the events) is a way forward…both for our community to be seen as what we are—multiethnic and universal—and for the wider community to see that it is possible for people to work and play and pray together without sanctions.”

Everyone at the meal was very gracious and hands were shaken that would have never been shaken outside the church service, she says. “There's grace working through that.”

“If our Catholic church weren't here, the model (of racial inclusion) wouldn't be present for others to see. It's critical that we're here.”

And she is “here.” She has taken up residence in Ackerman rather than Eupora, countering the Glenmary tradition of living near the more established mission. “It's essential that a Catholic minister live here,” she says. “A permanent Catholic presence heightens the profile of the Catholic community.”

“It also has raised issues in the Catholic community about what needs doing to grow and flourish and what their responsibilities might be if they want a viable and healthy community.”

People of the area remember a fledgling church community that began in the 1960s and then just died out. They don't want to see that happen again. They see Sister Alies's physical presence as a sign that there is a permanence for a Catholic community.

There are other areas of concern in the county. The unemployment rate is twice that of the national average, with 65 percent of the 9,500 people in the county having only a high school education or less. Wages are usually just above minimum and the job outlook for the county is bleak. Many from both Webster and Choctaw counties are traveling 60 miles one way to a factory to chop fish because it's the only thing available.

People in Choctaw County are on the margins, both politically, socially and “in our case religiously,” Sister Alies says. Yet, as with all Glenmary missions, outreach is given to the greater community. While there isn't a lot the church community can do for the unemployment situation, they offer support and help in whatever way they can.

Perhaps the most tangible matter that Sister Alies is giving attention to is the Catholic community's storefront. While it's in an ideal location in downtown, the building itself is unsafe and inadequate. One large room leaks terribly, and there are no lights in 85 percent of the building.

She is looking into alternatives, but the choices are slim. One building is available, although the community can't afford the rent.

The mission has lost some members because of the inadequacy of the building. It's very difficult to be a Catholic in an area where you are the minority, Sister Alies says. On top of that, while all the other major denominations are attending services in a building with a steeple and pews, we're “mopping up water and trying to get the musty smell out of the building.”

t's very important that the community have a place to call “our church” which is not embarrassing, Sister Alies says. But it is also important to balance this against the need for the Catholics to be and form community. “Then the warmth and celebration of Jesus will make the difficulties wane,” she says.

Glenmary's mission in Ripley, Miss., is an example of what a better church space can mean. That Catholic community recently moved from a weary storefront into a more adequate space. Before the move, 35 people were attending weekend services. Today, about 90-100 people attend.

For now, Sister Alies is looking for other building solutions and working with the Jackson Diocese to remedy the community's present situation.

She is also becoming more and more immersed into the local community. As a result, she says, she feels more comfortable looking ahead to form a plan which will guide where the community wants to go spiritually as well as physically.

At present, Mass is celebrated twice a month. Sister Alies presides over a Word and Communion Service on the other Sundays. Six candidates are preparing for Confirmation and several summer events are being planned both for the Catholic community and as outreach into the county.

“It's an exciting time for this Catholic community,” Sister Alies says. “We are a growing community—one where the hopes of the many children we have will be strengthened and realized.” This article appeared originally in the Summer 2002 Glenmary Challenge, published by Glenmary Home Missioners, PO Box 465618, Cincinnati, OH 45246.



Take the October Challenge: Write a Personal Mission Statement By Glenmary Father Jerry Dorn

Siena_largeA recent trend in the self-help/personal development field is to have seminar participants write a personal mission statement. Many of you have probably been part of efforts—at work, at church, in your community—to capture in a few sentences the “mission” of your group: who you are, what you do—and why! Such an exercise—while often a struggle— can certainly help clarify the purpose of an organization. If the process is successful, the resulting mission statement reveals what is unique about a group and its work. But as I think about personal mission statements, I wonder: How different can the personal mission statements of individual Catholic Christians be? Isn't the main clause of everyone's statement already pretty well-crafted by the fact of our baptism? Our mission is to be in mission, for we are all called to be missionary. The People of God have been called into mission ever since the first disciples heard these words from Jesus himself: “Come, follow me.” The annual observance of October as mission month provides an opportunity for each of us to examine just how well we are responding to that personal call to be in mission today.Sometimes it seems that Catholics in the United States, with so many material resources at their disposal, put Jesus' call to mission aside while pursuing personal and career goals. They choose not to listen too closely to Jesus' insistence that to save your own life, you must first lose it. Responding to Jesus' call does not have to mean becoming a professional missionary—although we could certainly use some more of these both here at home and overseas. It does mean, however, growing into one's baptismal call to become a sacrament of God's love for others. Sitting down and writing a personal mission statement, and reviewing it each October, could be a good way to see if you are putting that baptismal call at the center of your life. Let me offer part of Glenmary's mission statement as a way to get you started: “Alive with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Glenmary Home Missioners go out to rural and small-town USA, where the Catholic Church is not yet effectively present, proclaiming and witnessing to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the power of God's love, mercy and justice transforming the world!” Take the first phrase, “Alive with the fire of the Holy Spirit,” and then fill in your name and the specific locations/circumstances in which you live and work each day. End with the phrase which begins “witnessing to the Good News of Jesus Christ….” Does it fit you? Why or why not? Does this exercise help you get greater clarity about the role of mission in your life?Most Catholics will never leave home and family in order to proclaim and witness God's love in the faraway places where professional missionaries serve. Most Catholics will live out mission in the ordinary circumstances of daily life, trying to be a light in the midst of darkness. Figuring out how to proclaim—and be—Good News is a challenge for each of us. Mission month is a good opportunity to spend a little extra time reflecting on how we are doing as missionaries right now in 2002. God bless! Father Jerry Dorn is the president of Glenmary Home Missioners. Photo Caption: These students from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich., are among over 500 who visit the Glenmary Farm in Eastern Kentucky each year for a life-changing plunge into mission.



A Lifeline in South Georgia by Margaret Gabriel

ACFF47Carlos opens the side door of the van parked in the middle of the migrant camp where he lives with others who pick Vidalia onions in the fields of South Georgia. He sits on the floor of the van, removes his sneakers—he wears no socks—and shows his visitors a blister that completely covers the ball of his foot. Blisters, broken and drained but still unhealed, cover both of his feet. With Glenmary Father Vic Subb translating, Carlos tells a story of how he got the blisters. He traveled on foot for five days through the southwest desert from Mexico to Phoenix, Ariz. Once in Phoenix, he met a “coyote,” the person who, for a fee, transported him by truck to the migrant camp and onion fields in South Georgia. Carlos spent the last two days of his trip with no food or water. Father Vic explains that the “coyote” allowed his passengers no food during their two-day road trip in order to cut down on the need for restroom stops. Carlos tells of a passenger who spent much of the trip so close to a hot muffler that by the time he arrived in Georgia, he had third-degree burns on his legs. It is difficult to imagine the level of desperation that impels a man to make this torturous journey, leaving family and friends behind. But the reality is this: The $250 to $300 a week that a migrant worker makes harvesting crops in the United States is a fortune compared to the daily wage of 80 pesos ($8) he can make working in the coffee fields in Mexico. Carlos and his compadres are happy to see Father Vic arrive. They know he brings food. These newly arrived workers have gone without food for five days. And it would be several more before they are paid and can purchase food. Some growers make sure workers have access to food, on credit, to tide them over until a first payday. In other camps, like the one where Father Vic visits Carlos, workers have no way to get food until they are paid. This can mean a week without money for food—if they have been lucky enough to begin work immediately upon arriving at the camp. Some migrants, however, have to wait days or weeks before starting work, Father Vic explains, which means their food crisis is even more prolonged. Father Vic, who is a regular visitor to the migrant camps in his mission counties, is the pastor of Glenmary missions in Swainsboro and Metter, Ga. These mission communities, along with St. James Church in nearby Savannah and St. Pius X in Loudenville, N.Y. (a twinned parish to Swainsboro), collect food and clothing for these destitute workers. Father Vic coordinates the effort and then, often accompanied by Anglo mission parishioners, distributes the donated items. “The Catholic Church is, quite literally, a lifeline in this area,” Father Vic says. Some of the migrants Father Vic and his parishioners minister to are documented. But many more, Father Vic says, are not. “There's no great love for the undocumented in this area,” Father Vic reports. “But when I hear people say we shouldn't help them, it makes me furious.” Father Vic sees these migrants only as people who risk death and starvation all in an attempt to provide a better life for their families in Mexico. The men come alone to the United States, very rarely bringing their families. “It's too difficult for the children,” Carlos says. “People die in the desert.” Most of the migrants see work in the onion fields or the poultry factories as temporary. They will work for two years, perhaps, and then return home. In their time off from the fields, the workers play basketball and soccer. “But more than anything, they love to just sit and talk. They love to just ‘spend time,' Father Vic explains. “ I've almost decided that it's best not to visit if I'm just going to run in and out and can't sit and spend some real time with them.” The Hispanic workers “evangelize us,” Father Vic says. “They don't fit into the American mold of ‘every-week churchgoer,' but they have a wonderful sense of community and piety that's just exceptional.” Scripture tells us to welcome the stranger among us. For all those helping the migrant workers in South Georgia, “it's not a question of should we welcome them,” says Father Vic, “but how we can provide the kind of welcome they need.” This article appears on the ‘What’s New’ section of the Glenmary Home Missioners Web site, www.glenmary.org. Please visit!



Integrating the Prom By Margaret Gabriel

Kevin-largeOn May 21, 1999, Kevin Flack's 17th birthday, he piled into a limousine with friends bound for the Metter High School prom. That night was destined to be remembered not only by the students in the limo and at the dance, but also by the entire community of Metter, Ga. For the first time since the mid-1970s, black and white students from this southern Georgia community attended the same prom—not two separate ones segregated along racial lines. And that was largely because of the efforts of Kevin, a member of Glenmary's mission parish in Metter, the only active Catholic in the 1999 Metter High School junior class, and president of the Junior Club, which sponsored the prom. Metter integrated its student body in 1966. And when black and white students began to go to the same school, the prom integrated as well. For a while. Carvy Snell, editor of the Metter Advertiser and father of one of Kevin's classmates, described what happened as a “classic example of rural South Georgia.” In order to skirt integration, the proms became private events, separated by race and sponsored by clubs rather than by the school. When the Junior Club began planning the 1999 prom, they not only questioned that tradition of segregated dances, they overthrew it. “Because it was the right thing to do,” Kevin explains without fanfare. When the school year started, it was understood that, as in the past, only white students would attend the Junior Club prom-planning meetings. Kevin remembers talking with his friend Justin Jones, shortly after the beginning of school, about the injustice of separate proms. They decided to encourage their black friends to break the ice. That day it was announced on the school intercom that the Junior Club meeting that night would be open to “anybody and everybody who is interested in going to the prom.” Other pro-integration juniors told Kevin that the announcement started people whispering, “What does this mean?” They could sense a change in the wind, he says. “Four black kids did come to the meeting that night,” Kevin reports, and the ball started rolling. “We were always a tight-knit class,” Kevin says of his fellow juniors at Metter High School. “We played a lot of sports together, and sports really cuts across the races.” Kevin played basketball, ran cross-country and was the starting catcher on the baseball team his sophomore, junior and senior years. “When you're on a team together, you get a lot closer,” Kevin says. But there were still hurdles to overcome. The “junior dues” of $135, which provided admission to the prom both junior and senior years, was a barrier to low-income students, both black and white. The black kids had traditionally held their prom at the Metter Community Center, the only facility available to them, with music provided by a DJ. The white kids arrived at the Armory in limousines and danced to the music of a live band. The high cost of the prom could be seen as an economic rather than a racial issue. But Kevin believes that the high dues, unaffordable for more black families than white, were intended to bar black students. “If you want to keep people out of the country club, you raise the dues,” he explains simply. When Kevin first mentioned to his mother, Jane, his desire to integrate the prom, he said he didn't think there would be an adverse reaction from his fellow classmates or from their families. He was wrong. Jane is quite forthcoming about the many difficulties Kevin encountered. “From the time he was very young,” she recalls, “Kevin would sit around listening to people say that segregation wasn't right.” When he decided to act on that conviction, she says, “that snowballed into the best and worst time of his life.” “I wasn't the most-liked student at Metter,” Kevin says. Jane calls that a bit of an understatement. “The hardest part was that the phone didn't ring,” she remembers. “Here he was, a teenager, and he was home on Friday night. He was home on Saturday night. He spent Sundays with us. Nobody called. Nobody asked him to go out.” The phone stayed quiet for three or four months, Jane recalls. But while she worried about the isolation from his classmates, Kevin was worrying about the success of the prom. He remembers being concerned that no one would come. “I prayed and I prayed and I prayed for him during all that,” Jane says. I asked God, ‘Is he strong enough to go through this?'” Sister of Mercy Paul Marie Westlake, the pastoral associate at the Glenmary mission in Metter, prayed for Kevin, too. She explains how hard it is for young Catholics in small, southern towns like Metter. They often stand slightly apart from their classmates, especially if they really live their faith. In many mission churches there is no peer group to support a young person—not even one other Catholic the same age. “Kevin was our only altar boy at Holy Family for years,” Sister Paul Marie says. Some Catholics in the area, she reports, have even left the Catholic church so their children could join the youth groups of other denominations and have more social opportunities. Before long, parents as well as students began attending the prom-planning meetings. And it was some of the parents, Jane reports, who created the most difficulties for Kevin. Jane and Elon, Kevin's father, offered to attend as well, but Kevin preferred to chair the meetings alone. “Just be there for me when I get home,” Jane recalls Kevin saying. “We learned that our role was to be his port in the storm,” she says. “He would come home and talk about what had happened at the meetings. He could filter his feelings through us, and the only perspective we had was his perspective.”As the date for the prom drew nearer, tensions began to ease. “Once the ticket money began to roll in, we knew everything was going to be OK,” Jane says. No one was terribly surprised when white students bought tickets. But when black students began to buy tickets as well, it was evident that the difficult times were passing. A week before the prom, everyone came together to start decorating the Armory. The students had settled on the theme “Forever Young,” and even rigged up a “fountain of youth” that prom-goers passed as they entered the Armory. “There were black kids and white kids, and black parents and white parents, and laughing and tomfoolery,” says Jane. “That's when you knew it would work.” It turned out to be the “biggest and best prom ever,” according to Jane. Other parents and students agree, even four years later. Sue Donaldson, the mother of Ashley, a black basketball teammate of Kevin, recalls that the class was very close, a quality she believes was key to the success of the 1999 prom. “They were united in athletics, they were united in the classroom; that night they enjoyed one another on a social level,” Sue says. About six weeks after the prom, Jane and Kevin were stopped on the street by the father of a classmate, a man who had lived in Metter all his life. “He said he was proud of Kevin for what he had done,” Jane recalls, “and that it was a shame it took so long for us to change.” He told Kevin: “None of the rest of us had the courage to do it.” Many people today recognize that the Metter community has benefited from Kevin's gifts of courage and leadership. But Sister Paul Marie made sure his service was officially recognized. She nominated him for the Bishop Gartland Service Award, given by the Diocese of Savannah in recognition of outstanding service and faithfulness. Inscribed on his award medal is the Latin phrase Vincit Veritas: “Truth Conquers.” Kevin is now a University of Georgia student on track to graduate with a degree in agricultural engineering in December 2005. He downplays the importance of his efforts in 1999, saying simply, “An integrated prom is the way it always should have been.” As he looks back now, he remembers that junior year at Metter High School as “a good experience, a rewarding experience.” He appreciates all the support and encouragement he received from his parents, friends and fellow parishioners. Sister Paul Marie stresses the key role played by Jane and Elon Flack—not only in Kevin's work to integrate the prom, but also in encouraging his steadfastness in church involvement. She likes to think the support of their Holy Family Catholic faith community played a role as well. “It's not easy to be a Catholic young person in the South,” says Sister Paul Marie. “Especially if, like Kevin, you really live the faith.” Margaret Gabriel, a freelance writer based in Lexington, Ky., works on contract with Glenmary’s Communications Office. This article appearted in the Autumn 2003 Glenmary Challenge, published by Glenmary Home Missioners, O,O, Box 465618, CinCinnati, OH 45246. www.glenmary.org.



New Mission Education Materials From Glenmary

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What’s New | Lay Mission Options | Vocation Info

Image_LogoA major commitment of Glenmary Home Missioners is to call young people into mission and to raise awareness of mission need here in the United States. That's the goal of the new Educate & Inspire: Home Mission Materials From Glenmary, a joint project of Glenmary priests, brothers and sisters. The first materials were released in time for Mission Month (October) 2006 and the latest titles were released in January 2007—with more to come later this year. “We hope our new materials, geared for use in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs, will help you call your students into a deeper sense of mission—right here at home,” say Glenmary Home Missioners president Father Dan Dorsey and Glenmary Sisters president Sister Rosemary Esterkamp in a brochure mailed to all Catholic parishes and Catholic grade schools in January 2007. Items currently available include —two 17-by-22-inch posters—one for grades 1-4 (“We Are All Connected”) and one for grades 5-8 (“Light Our Land1”)—and age-appropriate prayer cards that relate thematically to each poster. The back of each poster contains a note to teachers and reproducible prayer and activity suggestions that reinforce the poster's message. —a one week Vacation Bible School program (“Caring Close to Home”) —a five-unit supplement for Confirmation programs (“Sacrament of Mission”). Each of these items can be viewed and ordered online at www.glenmary.org/mission-ed. Later this year additional items in the series will be available: a second Vacation Bible School program (Missionaries in Our Land”) and a spiritual guide to enhance high school mission trips and service experiences. All materials have been developed and reviewed by teachers and religious educators.


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