Eye-Witness Reporting from the Mississippi Delta

by Sister Julie Ann on March 1, 2009

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There is so much negativity in  this world that we often forget that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The students of St. Francis School are that light. (Parent of a student at St. Francis School)

Four Francisan Sisters of Christian Charity tell their stories about life in the Mississippi Delta with a Catholic population of only 2.5%. Open to all who come seeking a solid education with a firm foundation based on the Gospel, St. Francis School was founded on the Christian principle that all people have dignity and worth in the eyes of God.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province of Franciscan Friars began ministry in August 1951 building a church and school. Today a growing diverse population continues.

21 thoughts on “Eye-Witness Reporting from the Mississippi Delta”

  1. Rite of Election
    I have the privilege of preparing four of our students to enter the Catholic Church. They will be baptized this Holy Saturday. March 1 we took them and their sponsors to the Cathedral in Jackson for the Rite of Election. There they saw many others preparing to enter the Church. The Rite of Election was a very powerful experience. Sarah, one of our 6th grade girls, has asked me to be her sponsor. Walking up the aisle with her I realized what an awesome responsibility I have to see that she truly knows what the Catholic faith is and that she will always stay strong in it. When we got to the sanctuary where she had to write her name in the Book of the Elect and I had to put my hand on her shoulder as a sign of support I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I then presented her to the Bishop. For her, her grandparents are Catholic but her parents are not. No one was present from her family that day to support her but the parish members and fellow classmates from St. Francis who are also entering the Catholic Church. We have two other students who have chosen to become Catholic even though no one in their family is Catholic. I have wondered if I was that age would I have the courage to make that decision and go for it on my own. Our school is only 17% Catholic but by our witnessing as Catholics and by what we teach in the daily Religion classes our evangelizing is having an affect.

    For Sarah, her family goes to no church so she has chosen to get up every Sunday and ride with a parisihioner to church. She has truly made a commitment to her Call from God. I am proud of her that she is so strong to see it through every week. God works in mysterious ways and I am happy that our community has chosen to be here at St. Francis in Greenwood even though the majority of our students are not Catholic. We are evangelizers!
    Sister Carol

  2. Evangelization works in many ways. I’m reading Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin’s ‘Three Cups of Tea’. Besides enjoying the descriptive mountain climbing feats, I was moved by the important lessons learned from real relationships with people. Here’s an example…

    [Haiji Ali]”Doctor Greg, you must make time to share cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time.”

    [Mortenson]”That day, Hai Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life…Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.”

  3. Sister Kathleen Murphy says:

    I’ve just returned to Greenwood from a 3 day workshop on acculturation. It was for priests and religious new to the diocese and is intended to help us learn about the history and culture(s) of the people we serve. It was very interesting and was also an opportunity to meet others doing a multitude of ministries. We heard from people who were involved in the violence and fear of the Civil Rights movement, those who work with current immigration fears and frustrations with the Hispanic population, those who have grown up with double minorities of being black and being Catholic and many more. We heard many statistics, but I think what will remain with me is the constant refrain of the importance of education. This reinforces the importance of our calling here in the Delta which has been called “The Darfur of America”. It will be fun to return to my class tomorrow and just make Dr. Seuss hats and have green eggs and ham for snack! God works in many kinds of ways!

  4. Sister Julie Ann,

    I, too, have read “Three Cups of Tea”. I deeply appreciated the insights and cultural awareness it presented. Relationships are primary, indeed!

  5. Sister Sharon Paul says:

    Srs. Carol, Julie Ann & Kathleen. You are soooo right that one learns so much being with many types of people and learning a bit of their cultural backgrounds. We, Srs. here at West Point profited so much from having two exchange students with us from Egypt & Palestine. You may have seen it in our Monthly Memo.
    Sr. Carol, GA School also had two baptized last week and two children will be baptized this coming week. This is so good for the other students to witness this at a school Mass.
    We, now have 5 students living at St. Joe’s Retirement Community as they do their Internships at FCS (Hospital). It’s an added blessing sharing with them also.
    God’s choicest blessings in each of your ministries and do have a holy Lent in the Lord! Sr. Sharon Paul

  6. Sister Judy Norwick says:

    I am also presently at St. Francis of Assisi in Greenwood, MS. My work is a bit different, -since I am not teaching in the school. I help out 2 days a week in the local Food Pantry, which gives out a little more than 300 boxes a month filled with canned goods, and other items like bread, flour, and similar staples.
    My ministry also includes visiting the “home-bound”, and bringing them the Eucharist when they are unable to come to church. They hunger for the Body of Christ, and for company.

  7. Sister Kathleen Murphy says:

    We’ve just returned from a day of teacher inservice in the Jackson area. It was a beautiful spring day and the drive there offered a bit of a Lenten reflection. Along the highway and in many yards was a beautiful blooming tree which we think might be wisteria(no, not hysteria!). It has a uniquely wonderful color that is a shade or two more potent than lavendar, but not as serious as violet. It’s lacy, airy branches were a mark of hope among the grays and browns of early spring. It made me think of the hope we experiece during this season of Lent. Yes, it is surely a time of penance and turning away from sin, but it is also that time of returning as the prodigal son did. It is a time for a taste of rejoicing too as we journey toward the great Feast of Resurrection. God gives those little joys along the way and I am grateful

  8. Beauty comes in many colors–even basic white! In contrast to ‘Green’wood, Wisconsin had some new wind-formed snow etching yesterday. The white-washed Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes here at our Motherhouse in Manitowoc was exquisite!

  9. Sister Sharon Paul says:

    Hello, Sr. Judy Norwick, from West Point & from many here who remember your great service for 9 years at St. Joseph’s Retirement Community. Thank you! I’m still transporting some of your ole standbys & Elda Jahnke is still in her home & would want to say hello. We are up to 15 St. Joe’s Meals to the homes & recently a couple residing at Super 8, for the time being, due to a home fire. Please remember them in prayer. You work at the Pantry & service many people. Do you anticipate that number to increase due to loss of jobs & the economy? You also bring the Eucharist, the spiritual nourishment. Keep up those dedicated and needed ministries! Peace & all blessings! Sister Sharon Paul

  10. Sister Kathleen Murphy says:

    It’s Friday the 13th, but for us it is the last day of school before a week-long spring break. I think maybe our students started the break a couple of days ago! I tutor a little Hispanic boy one day a week after school and then drive him home as he usually rides the bus. The 25 minute ride with him is pretty entertaining, but this week his dad was not at the cotton gin where I usually drop him off. After making a call, my little friend helped me to find our way to his house. It’s a little home sitting on miles and miles of flat cotton fields which are newly planted and brown. There is no grass in the yard and the only signs of enjoyment were a little bike and an old plastic horse tied with rope between two trees for him to pretend to ride. His great joy at coming home to this apparently barren spot was a reminder to me of what’s important. He has a loving family that places a great value on their faith. This is the little boy that was found at dismissal one day kissing a little picture of the Blessed Virgin that had been given out in the morning’s religion class. He gives me a wonderful picture of what Jesus meant when he told us that we must be like little children. Hurray for spring break!

  11. Sister Carol says:

    Prayer Wall
    I woke up this morning and thought-ahhhh-it is Spring Break! Thank you God! I slept later and as I was praying in bed while eating breakfast in bed I looked at the wall alongside my bed. It is my “prayer wall”. The first picture is from my days in Yuma, AZ and is from a dear friend. It shows two Native American women coming together to share a gift of friendship. Next to that is a picture of Jesus with the eyes that penetrate deep within you. This comes from the pastor in West Point, NE who used to put this large picture in church during holy hours. It truly touched me. He made a smaller picture for me. Then I have a gold, jeweled cross from a teacher in Greenwood, MS and alongside of that is my TEC cross. It reminds of the young adults who are on fire with God and gives me promise for the future. I look at that and pray for these young adults that they may carry on our Catholic faith. As I prayed this morning I thought of the journey God has taken me on from AZ to NE to MS. The people I have met there who have enriched my life and how God spoke to me at each place and led me along the path of the life He has chosen for me. It is true that people and places come and go in our life and some leave footprints forever on our hearts.

  12. Blessings on your Spring break. We are getting some “southerly” breezes bringing 40+ degree weather. The snow is, once again, melting.
    I loved the story of the little boy, Sr. Kathleen. Children teach us so much in their simplicity and honesty.

  13. Sr. Carol,

    I appreciated you sharing your prayer wall. I, too, have images that inspire me while I pray. Gifts from people in a variety of places that remind me of the meeting of our hearts and our shared service/ministry.

    I hope your break is delightful!

  14. Sister Judy Norwick says:

    Our Monday of Spring Break was “a delight” and an inspiration! We went to Memphis to tour the National Civil Rights Museum which is located where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. The time spent viewing the exhibits reminded us all of the early days of the civil rights’ struggle, the people who suffered and/or gave their lives for justice, the work still to be done – here and in many parts of the world. It makes me grateful that I am in Greenwood, MS, doing this apostolate at this time of my life

  15. Sister Kathleen Murphy says:

    It’s spring break–God is good!!!
    On Monday we went to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. That’s about a 2 hour drive, but it sure was worth it. We had mass at our house and then hit the road. We got there around 11 and decided to have some lunch before we started in the museum. Just a block away was the oldest cafe in Memphis which has had a part in the filming of several movies (none I ever heard of but I don’t keep up very well with that). They had quite a menu, but I decided to have the sweet potato pancakes. They were very good! One of the sisters had french toast, but it was deep fried. That’s a southern trait–just about everything is better if it is deep fried! We went straight to the museum and we were there till 4:00. It is an extraordinary place. It is built around the motel where Martin Luther King was shot. The displays begin with the bringing of slaves from Africa and there is just an amazing amount of information on every phase of civil rights. There are rooms on the various areas that were hot spots like Atlanta, Little Rock, Selma, Jackson, and a lot of others. They also had rooms on issues like desegregation, police brutality, sit-ins, and the Freedom Rides on the buses. Then they have preserved the motel room where Martin Luther King was staying as well as the neighboring room and you walk through between them and can see in through glass walls. You can look out on the balcony where he was shot and they have one small square of the orginal concrete with the blood stains still on it. That surely was a sobering sight! Then you go across the street and into the building where the shooter was and they have all of that area preserved as well as the displays on the detective work that resulted in his arrest.
    I couldn’t help but to recall my little kindergarteners’ response to our lessons on the civil rights era as well as the reality of slavery. They simply said, “That didn’t happen!” In a sense that is good. It shows their belief in an inherent goodness in the human race. But, on the other hand we always need to appreciate our past whatever it might be. This came across so strongly in our visit to the museum. People were so courageous and righteous in their non-violent battle. To forget would be such an injustice. It was a wonderful visit and will give me much to ponder in the days and months to come.

  16. Sister Judy and Sister Kathleen, it was easy to ‘walk’ with you through the Civil Rights Museum since I, too, have been blessed to be there. Yes, I also agree that it is good that the two of you are called to be in Greenwood, MS at this time in history.

  17. Sister Sharon Paul says:

    A blessed FEAST of St. Joseph to each of you Sisters at MS. We celebrated again at St. Joseph’s Retirement Community by inviting the Staff & the Board Members & their wives or husbands, to join our residents for a delicious meal & to view our re-furbished dining room & our new library with lovely oak bookshelves made by Frances Meiergerd who is studying to be a lay Deacon in our parish. We’ve added two wireless computers also and a new divan & are awaiting two chairs and a lamp. We have a generous lady, Paula Herrmann who belongs to a Book of the Month Club who reads the books & then donates her LARGE print books to St. Joseph’s. They are brand new & on varied subjects. How blessed we are too with benefactors. The Lord will reward them. Happy SPRING to you also as we contemplate our Lenten Journey & enjoy the awakening of God’s Creation as we listen, see the GIFTS opening up right before our eyes. As each of you return after Spring break may you be revived and renewed as you minister in your varied Apostolates. Gratefully in St. Joseph & St. Francis, Sister Sharon Paul

  18. Sister Kathleen Murphy says:

    Spring is really blossoming on its very first day here in the Delta. Baby leaves with their delicate green color are peeking out everywhere as our temperatures warm up. Last night as I made a late trip to the dumpster with garbage I heard the frogs singing down by the creek. It’s a familiar sound to me from childhood. It’s an unmistakable sound effect of spring. As I walked under the stars, it ocurred to me that in all the years that I’ve heard the frogs singing, I’ve never really seen very many of them. They make their presence known in the darkness, with a voice we recognize, with a voice that can comfort or maybe disturb. Sounds like Someone Else, doesn’t it? Happy spring!

  19. Sister Carol says:

    I was teaching my First Communion class today and I had flashbacks to my First Holy Communion. How about you? Listen in on my class. We are in church and I am telling my students that we are going to practice today receiving the host and the wine. I will use crackers for the host and water for the wine. Joshua, one of my Hispanic boys, quickly pipes in and says, “I’ve been practicing at home with tortillas. I cut a little piece and practice with that.” Dominique across the aisle says then, ” I practice with nuts.I walk up,bow, cup my hands and then put the nut in my hand and say the Body of Christ, Amen.” That open it up for lots of questions from all the students. If we make our First Communion on Holy Saturday can we come on Easter and receive communion again? I tell them, if you come on Holy Saturday that will count for Sunday so you don’t have to come again on Easter. “But can we come?” “Does this mean we can now receive communion at the school Masses?” Needless to say the excitement and joy was building greatly to making their First Holy Communion. Think back to your First Holy Communion. Did you practice at home or play Mass? Did you wait with excitement for that day and for that first school Mass when you could walk up with the other students and receive the Body of Christ? If all who receive Communion could just still have the excitement of that First Holy Communion.

  20. Sister Sharon Paul says:

    Sister Carol, I enjoyed your shared experiences concerning Holy Communion. YES, some of my sisters & my brother re-enacted parts of the Mass & pretended we were the priest, altar servers etc. We used the round, flat colored necci candies about the size of a quarter & juice or water. In teaching, we practiced one time with the unconsecrated host and explained this to the students and after partaking of this he said: S’ter, this tastes like cardboard–will it taste different on that day after Father blesses the host?” Out of the mouths of babes, right? Blessings to you on your students who will be receiving our dear Lord in the greatest sacrament of the Eucharist and may their love for Christ bud forth throughout their lives and be THE SOURCE of strength & comfort.
    Blessings as we continue in LENT & approach HOLY WEEK, which is a wonderful time to teach the students about Ordination, Eucharist & Our Lord’s great LOVE for us in HIS Death & then Resurrection. Sr. Sharon Paul

  21. Sister Kathleen Murphy says:

    On Wednesday the second graders to whom I teach Religion are in charge of the school liturgy. We have the practice of anticipating the coming Sunday at our school Mass so we have the privilege of celebrating Palm Sunday in advance. The students will dramatize the Gospel story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Although we don’t have a real donkey we do have the cardboard one we painted for the Christmas play and we have a wheel chair. Are you getting the picture? Yes, the donkey is securely attached to the side of the chair and Jesus can sit in style as he is pushed across the sanctuary. Other students are putting down their shoulder-tied pieces of fabric to form the carpet for the King as they wave their construction paper palm branches. What we lack in realism is made up for in enthusiasm. Those “Hosannas” really ring right up to the rafters. It should be a real event! Hope your Passion Sunday will be a holy one ringing with Hosannas too!

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