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"No matter where we are, we are together": Parishes remain together during Holy Week

Holy Week is fast approaching and parishes around the diocese, as are their counterparts around the state and country, are continuing to come up with new ways to worship together. The ideas for how to celebrate Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday differ depending on where one attends Mass. Still, there are most certainly ways to do so at nearly every parish within the diocese.

Continuing to sew the ties that bind: Parishes and schools stay the course during the coronavirus pandemic

The morning prayer at Saint Peter the Apostle Catholic School sounds the same. Still, there is something fundamentally different about it now. These days the prayer is conducted via the Microsoft Teams computer program and streamed to hundreds of students currently stationed in their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We are going to continue our morning prayers,” said Saint Peter’s principal Wynter Kelly of the Savannah school’s new normal. “Our spiritual foundation is the most important part of a Catholic school. We can’t be physically together but we can still be together.”

Daybreak remains a mainstay in Macon

MACON, GA. - Stan Jones looked up at the clock on the wall and hurried to finish cleaning up the kitchen at Depaul Daybreak. Located on Walnut Street a block and a half away from the heart of Mercer University’s campus, the resource center, a project of Depaul USA, a national organization that provides everything from financial assistance to showers to food and clothing for those without homes and the less fortunate, began serving the communities in Macon in 2012. Every weekday the center is open to anyone that needs them. On a recent Monday morning, following breakfast, which is served daily, Jones wanted to play the piano that rests in the corner by a window delivering more than enough sunlight for the 60-ish Jones to be able to play under. He sat down on the wooden bench, his black, red, and green baseball cap read, “I’m not 60, I’m 18 with 42 years of experience”. He began to play several improvisations, more Jazz than classical -- more joyous skill than planned performance.

Jones is one of many participants/volunteers at Daybreak, who give their time to helping the facility run while also utilizing the many on-sight services for themselves. “I was coming down here as part of my daily routine and decided to start volunteering because this place has done a great deal for me,” said Jones who moved to Macon in 1982 and had fallen on tough times not long after having served a nearly 22 year prison sentence. He was homeless in 2014, and Daybreak was there for him when he had nowhere else to go. “I don’t mind giving back. Wherever I can fill in to help, that’s what I’ll do.” 

The volunteers, like Jones, make up the heart of what Daybreak is doing in Macon. It is giving back in its purest form. “You don’t realize that when COVID-19 hit, besides Daybreak, a lot of services and options were closed,” said Daybreak Director Sister Theresa Sullivan, Daughters of Charity. She listed places like local library branches and fast food restaurants as places people go during the day for wifi use, a quick meal or just a place to get out of the elements. It was 95 degrees the afternoon of Monday, July 27. “So many services have gone online so without computer access it’s hard for people to get things done that way. A lot of time, those kinds of resources we are able to connect people with.”

Jones volunteers in the kitchen more often than not but he also plays the piano. “I play after I come in and finish my work,” said Jones who learned to play “as a little boy.” “I do it for the glory of God because he is an awesome God,” Jones says of working at Daybreak. “Plus, working here gives me an opportunity to play the piano for folks and I like that.”

There to serve

Open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. -11 a.m., and 12 p.m.-4 p.m., the hour break allows for cleanup and a reset. Daybreak offers so many on-site services that sometimes it is hard to imagine this much help is available for any and anyone that needs it.

The people who frequent Daybreak are not referred to as clients or customers but rather as “brothers and sisters. They can take showers, get laundry done, use telephones and computers to contact family members, check email, or get online to see about Social Security checks, food stamps and other government benefits. There are health clinics available thanks to a partnership with First Choice Primary Care and Georgia College of Medicine as well. Students from Mercer University Medical School are also among the volunteers helping provide medical services. There was recently an “HIV test day” and a “foot care day” at Daybreak. 

There are many services geared toward helping the homeless, hungry, unemployed citizens of Macon, Daybreak is far from the only of its kind. That said, it is an original in regard to being a kind of “One stop shopping,” said advisory board member Steve Corkery who helps serve breakfast on Monday mornings, going to get the pastries en route to work at Daybreak. “Knowing the poverty in our community here, the unique nature of daybreak is wonderful to see,” says Corkery, a volunteer in one way or the other since the facility opened in 2012. “Some people come here from all over because they heard about daybreak by word of mouth.”

One of those people is Casey Stitt, a volunteer who comes in every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning to work at the front desk. Well, it’s really the back desk as the entrance is now through a courtyard at the side of the building due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Visitors to Daybreak sign in, get their temperature taken and wash their hands before taking part in any 

“People need help, and we’re able to help them,” said Stitt, a Macon resident who moved to town a few years ago. “With the times the way that they are, we all need to help any way that we can.”

Administrative assistant Sydney Campbell, a Jacksonville native who made her way to Macon four years ago to attend Mercer University and plans to attend grad school in the fall, got bit by the volunteer bug as well. She started volunteering while in school and upon graduation applied for and got the job. The homeless problem in her native Jacksonville is always on her mind when she comes to work. “The way we have adapted during this pandemic, with services like laundry and showers, has been amazing,” said Campbell, 21. “We have done what we had to do to keep things pushing. I love Macon, and I love what we do here.” 

The current COVID-19 pandemic has slowed those clinics a bit. However, the brothers and sisters at Daybreak can still get their temperatures checked, masks, and hand sanitizer. “Along with still needing to eat, people still need medical assistance, and we provide that here,” said Tiya Sprinkle, the volunteer coordinator. She has been at Daybreak for three months after decades working in retail and feels like she has found her purpose. “I’m really excited that I have a job like this because it’s more meaningful,” she said. An incoming volunteer, a young lady, waited in the lobby to get her paperwork started. Sprinkle says there is a need for more volunteers after local seniors that once volunteered had to stop due to COVID-19. 

 All for one and one for all

“The community in Macon has been very concerned about our homeless brothers and sisters,” said Sullivan, who has been at Daybreak for three years. She understands fully how important the contributions from the community and all the churches in town, not only the Catholic churches, are to keeping Daybreak running at full force. “Somehow we have continued to get what we need,” Sullivan said, of the continuous donations that come into the facility daily. “54 different churches, of all congregations, truly the people of God, have all contributed,” she said.

 Corkery agrees, “The neatest thing is seeing how all of the churches come together.”

 The day room, full of comfy love seats and tables, and paintings by local artists donated to the facility all over the walls, is a massive space that was once full of visitors. These days that doesn’t occur as much with the 13-person occupancy limit in place for the moment. Social-distancing having touched Daybreak like it has any and everywhere else people once gathered to do their business. “It’s tugging at my heartstrings that we can’t use it the way we used to,” admitted Sprinkle about trying to have proper social-distancing. “We don’t have a perfect solution for that.”

Daybreak has three caseworkers on staff and a pair of volunteer licensed nurses that work throughout the week. The caseworkers are here to give people one-on-one assessments in order to help get things they need, stimulus checks, disability checks, housing, treatment, food stamps, et al. The nurses are on hand to administer medications necessary for those diagnosed with a myriad of diagnoses. 

Daybreak is there to help, whether a brother or sister is from Macon or not, a Catholic or not, it doesn’t matter. The people of Macon see the importance of having Daybreak in their community doing the Lord’s work and repay that service with service of their own. Seven bags of donations lay at the front desk, the real front desk around 10:30 a.m. The donations, in plastic grocery bags, were dropped off by someone looking to give back to Daybreak.  “Every time we need something, someone from Macon drops it off,” said Sullivan. 



How Diocesan Catholic Charities are Responding to COVID-19

Countless organizations and businesses throughout the world are working tirelessly in order to establish a new normal due to COVID-19, all while attempting to continue offering services and satisfying the needs of their clients. Catholic Charities of South Georgia (CCSG) and other independent Catholic non-profit organizations are striving to do the same with those they serve.

The Diocese of Savannah has its own director dedicated to providing oversight management and support to eleven social service outreach centers throughout the Diocese. Each center is independently operated and funded, managed by its own directors and staff or volunteers, and provides services directly to its respective community.

The mission of CCSG is: “Impelled by the love and teaching of Jesus Christ, we work in collaboration with parish communities and other organizations to service the needy in South Georgia. Respecting the dignity and potential of each human person, we offer life-giving programs, advocate for the voiceless, and empower the poor and vulnerable to foster a more just society.”

Some of the usual services offered by the outreach centers include food pantries and soup kitchens, utilities assistance, emergency financial help for food/medical/prescription costs, medical assistance, birth certificate procurement, transportation assistance, employment empowerment programs, parenting education, financial literacy classes, and more.

At the beginning of March, the CCSG organized a weekly teleconference with the charities for preparedness and response to the effects of COVID-19. This meeting allows each location to identify current needs, share updates and resources, and discuss next steps.

Due to the pandemic, each organization has had to significantly reduce or alter their service offerings and either limit or fully eliminate contact with the general public. CCSG has offered guidance on how to adequately protect staff and volunteers with necessary protective gear, find alternative ways to provide essential services, and assist in determining best methods of communication to notify the public of updates and temporary closures. In order to distribute pertinent information, groups are utilizing social media, sending mass text messages, and/or updating voicemail greetings.

“The centers who once welcomed clients into their buildings and held congregated meals are now handing out prepared to-go plates or sacked lunches outside the building; all while trying new methods to create social distancing,” said Cynthia Kinnis, Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities of South Georgia. “From the use of shopping carts to deliver groceries while cars line up on the curb, to handing food through makeshift bins on a side window, creativity has been a key player in our everyday activities.”

The department of CCSG has also created its own Facebook page to regularly update the public on the charities’ changes and current needs which can be found by searching for “Catholic Charities of South Georgia.”

See below for a list of the eleven Catholic Charities of South Georgia and what services they’re currently offering:

  • Albany – Neighbors in Need/St. Clare’s Center: Neighbors in Need is temporarily closed. St. Clare’s Soup Kitchen is providing to-go plates.
  • Augusta – Catholic Social Services: Curbside pick-up for food pantry and hygiene items. Remote utilities assistance and limited financial assistance for prescriptions.
  • Columbus – St. Anne Community Outreach: Curbside pick-up for food pantry, limited remote financial assistance.
  • Columbus – St. Benedict Outreach Program: Soup kitchen is providing to-go plates.
  • Columbus – Holy Family Catholic Outreach: Center is temporarily closed. Offering remote service only.
  • Macon – Family Advancement Ministries: Food pantry and baby items by appointment only. Limited financial assistance and remote service.
  • Pine Mountain – Christ the King Outreach Program: Contact office for latest update.
  • Savannah – Social Apostolate of Savannah: Food pantry pick-up available at side window and soup kitchen providing to-go plates. Crisis case management to include prescriptions/limited medical supplies and remote service.
  • Valdosta – St. Francis Center-CSS: Curbside pick-up for food pantry, limited financial assistance, and remote service.
  • Warner Robins – Sacred Heart Christian Service Center: Curbside food distribution and remote service on case-by-case basis.
  • Waycross – St. Joseph’s Loaves and Fishes: Curbside pick-up for food pantry, limited financial assistance, and remote service.

“So far, the biggest overall struggle for our centers has been trying to meet the increasing demands for food and other essential services as other community agencies close their doors due to COVID-19,” said Kinnis. “Just last week, one of our centers had to close their doors to their daily food distribution because they ran out of food within half an hour of opening. Other centers have had to suspend their regular volunteers out of fear that they fall under the vulnerable categories and are now juggling to maintain their daily operations with limited staff.”

If you’d like to help by donating, visit http://diosav.org/offices/catholic-charities and click on “Social Service Outreach Centers” for each organization’s contact information or visit the CCSG Facebook page.

“From individuals buying an extra loaf of bread when grocery shopping to drop off at a center, volunteering to sew face masks, to signing up to assist with distributing food, we are all very grateful for how much support we have been receiving from our local communities,” said Kinnis.

In addition to the outreach centers listed above, there are other non-profit organizations throughout the Diocese which are run by independent boards of directors working diligently to serve their communities.

The Kolbe Center in Macon opened in June 2014 to provide pregnancy tests, ultrasound verification, maternity clothing, baby supplies, and referrals for other services as needed for any mother who is pregnant or parenting.

The Kolbe Center has one employee, Director Ann Beall, and several volunteers. Due to the pandemic, Beall said that all calls are being forward to her cell phone and the center is temporarily closed to clients coming in until Governor Kemp lifts the shelter-in-place order.

“We are continuing to provide supplies by ordering what our clients need and allowing them to pick up at the Walmart closest to them,” Beall said. “We are also delivering supplies to clients as we have them available . . . I am providing as much emotional support as possible during this difficult time.”

“My volunteers are staying engaged by praying for our clients and donating funds so that we can continue to supply items they need,” Beall said.

The center’s greatest challenge during COVID-19 has been getting items clients need, especially wipes, some diaper sizes, and some types of formula. If you’re interested in supporting The Kolbe Center, Beall said that financial contributions of any size are a major help. The center will need supplies readily available in-house for when they’re able to see clients again.

Monetary and in-kind donations can be sent to: The Kolbe Center, 833 Walnut Street, Macon, GA 31201 - the center’s new address as of July 2019 after supporters successfully stopped an abortion clinic from opening on the same site. Support from local churches has helped the Kolbe Center grow from a mere handful of clients in its early years to 64 families served in the month of March.

“I am so pleased to see the ecumenical spirit in our community that has grown through our fight against the abortion clinic and now continues to grow during this pandemic,” Beall said. “I can hear my late mother’s voice in my head reminding me that ‘this too shall pass.’”

Sarah Routh is a frequent freelance contributor to the Southern Cross. She and her husband, Lehman, are members of Immaculate Conception Church in Dublin.

Parish collections are surviving and thriving during pandemic

Despite the current working-from-home trend sweeping the diocese, Judi Gast comes into the office on Mondays in order to get the books straight for the week to come. Ms. Gast, the interim secretary at Corpus Christi Church, Port Wentworth, is a volunteer and one of many throughout the diocese that are helping keep things as close to normal as humanly possible. "The church still has to maintain the bills," said Gast by phone. "Ours is a new church, and we still have to pay our loans, utility bills and the like. It is so important for people to continue to give to the church."

Over the past month churches all over the country, of all religious faiths and of all sizes, have had to refrain from having public services due to the impact of COVID-19. With that loss of foot traffic has come the concern that weekly and monthly collections might also have to suffer a new normal. The good news is that Mass has been "attended" by millions of parishioners both online and via social media as has been the case throughout the Diocese of Savannah. Along with that steady virtual attendance has come strong efforts to continue financially giving to the parishes.

"We have gone down a little bit but I can't complain, the parishioners here love the church," said Father Martino Nguyen of St. Boniface Church, Springfield. "The people have been amazing. The collections at St. Boniface have been steady if not better than average, in particular during Holy Week according to Nguyen. "This past week [the week before Easter] we have had the highest [weekly] collection than during any week since I have been pastor here," said Nguyen, who has served the parish the past five years. He added that collections have been almost double what they average at times and joked that he told parishioners via social media that if this was how they were going to continue supporting the church, they might want to stay home and keep worshipping via the parish's daily 8 a.m. Mass and weekly Sunday Mass.

Father Nguyen, who is proud of the fact that the parish is continuing their Wednesday food pantry while being careful to stay within Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended guidelines, sends out a weekly email reminder to go along with those multiple opportunities to worship as a parish. Thus far everything seems to be working well.  "I never talk about money during my homily, the parishioners, they just do their part, Nguyen said.

Over at St. Michael Church, Tybee Island things are also going well with parishioners both paying online and the old-fashioned way via their weekly envelopes. "Some people pay online and others still drop [them] off, just placing them through the mail slot at the church," said Father Jerry Ragan. "I think we're doing pretty good."

Father Ragan also reaches out to parishioners with a weekly email on Tuesdays and feels his parish's close-knit community makes for an easy transition to giving back to the church despite not gathering together. "We are staying in touch," said Ragan about the numerous live streaming Masses the church offers. "This is a little village, so there's a wonderful sense if community here. People are being extraordinarily generous. We're surviving."

For other parishes survival may be the best way to describe their current fiscal situation. "We are using our radio station, emails and text messages to inform our parishioners," said Father Rafeal Estrada of St. Francis of Rome, Alma. "We have let everyone know they can also mail their offerings in as well."

Despite the numerous ways the parish has gotten the word out the church has taken in much less that they normally would, in particular during Holy Week and Easter Sunday. 'The collections have come in but not as usual," says Estrada whose parish is majority Hispanic. "I believe maybe 20% are contributing at the moment and I do not believe it is because they do not want to give, some people are just not used to giving any other way but with cash."

Educating parishioners on ways they can continue to give to their parishes during this unprecedented time is something the entire diocese is getting familiar with. "I think [they] are waiting to learn how to contribute," added Estrada.

The Diocese of Savannah has recently launched the #FaithIsAlwaysOpen campaign. The movement offers parishioners a way to give to their parish or any other parish they are willing to support via weekly offertory commitments that begin as low as $10. Those that are interested can visit the diocesan website at diosav.org for further details.



Parishes find new and innovative ways to enlighten and entertain during pandemic

Father Jason Adams in his customary collar and co-host Ben Davis in a red Boston Red Sox baseball cap, both with half-empty or half-full, depending on how you see things, glasses of beer in front of them, sat at a small table and began episode five of Theology on Tap Wednesday night. Produced by Rob McGhin and Alan Sanderson, the show has a conversational feel and warm tone similar to buddies talking at a local bar or old friends catching up after Mass on an easy Sunday morning. Adams opens the show with a prayer and then they’re off. The show’s topic on this evening was “Young adults and the future of the Catholic church,” and by the looks of the oncoming comments posted on the church Facebook page and the show YouTube page where it is streamed live and archived for later viewing, it was going to be an interesting hour. “With families self-quarantining at home, people are searching for ways to still stay connected with the outside world,” said Adams, the Parochial Vicar at St. John the Evangelist, Valdosta. “As a parish priest, you realize you now have an opportunity to engage with the people of God in new ways outside of virtually celebrating Mass.” 

After nearly two months of having local and statewide stay-at-home orders in place, ideas on how to engage parishioners have evolved from live masses streamed via social media accounts like Facebook and video conferencing applications like Zoom to even more innovative ways to get together by way of their computer screens at homes. “When we had to shelter in place, there was a definite need to reach the parishioners, so we came up with the idea of to stream a virtual version of the show,” said McGhin, a local realtor and co-producer of the show which had been in existence for what he calls “a while.” This new-look Theology on Tap however has taken on a life of it’s own. “St. John’s is a great parish and we have amazing parishioners that have jumped right in with us,” says Davis, a co-host. “Our live viewership has averaged a couple dozen, while reaching over a thousand in the days after it airs.”

The show, only in its fifth week in its current form, goes live Wednesdays at 8 p.m., has question and answer and trivia segments and is reaching parishioners, if not personally, then socially. The show was once held at a local bar or restaurant and is sticking with its roots, sort of. “One social component people miss is fellowship with others over a drink,” says Adams. “The concept now is why not hold one virtually too? Now people can partake of their own beverage and respond to matters being presented on faith from the comfort of their home.” 

Parishes around the diocese are getting creative and at the same time creating new ways to reach their respective flocks in even greater numbers.

“We have been streaming Mass [via Facebook] for two years but our viewership is up through the roof now,” said Father Robert Schlageter, OFM Conv of the virtual impact of the “Friar Side Chat” and “Storytime with the Friars” shows that take place at St. Anne Church, Columbus. The shows take place once a week and come on back-to-back, making it possible for a family to have their kids and the adults share in the experience. “We just talk to our little ones, read bible stories, sing songs and give shout outs to all the kids before they go to bed,” said Schlageter of “Storytime.” 

“Friar Side Chats” is more geared towards adults but most because the subject matter is on schools, local charities and, at least for the time being, COVID-19. Thursday night’s show featured St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School President and Principal Ronnie Collins, who spoke about the impending graduation that will be taking place with CDC safety guidelines (social-distancing, non-contact) being adhered to. 

The information being dispelled through these shows and others like it- Father Patrick May, Parochial Vicar at St. James The Less Church, Savannah, hosts “Two Minute Theology, St. Anthony of Padua Church, Ray City hosted a men’s group Wednesday night via Zoom, and Dr. Brent Stubbs was the virtual host of a recent virtual Adult Catechism class sponsored by St. Anne Church, Richmond Hill. The class made its virtual debut last week after taking place in-person at the church for the past year and a half. “All of this media is showing its potential,” said Stubbs, the Vice President for Economic Development at Savannah Technical College and along with his wife a member of St. Anne Church for the past four years. “[We] are in a tough time right now in the church, so we’re going to use these tools, slides, pictures, readings and question and answer sessions to connect to parishioners.” 

There’s also a weekly “Sacramento del Matrimonio” (Sacraments of Marriage) class streamed on the Sacred Heart Church, Warner Robins Facebook page and St. Joseph’s Church, Macon offers online Bible study. The unique ways parishioners are being reached by parishes is opening the door for new methods of fellowship. “We look for every possible way to communicate to our parishioners,” said Schlageter. “Now we have a chance to talk to 300 people and we don’t get a chance to talk to that many during a regularly scheduled Mass.” 



Questions and Answers with the Vicar General about the current sacramental practices

“ How are funerals and weddings impacted by this?   Bishops' response to April 20 update?

We received that question in our Facebook comments section after posting the Georgia bishops’ response to governor Kemp’s April 20 update - (see page 11 print edition or click the link above.)

Father Daniel Firmin, Vicar General and Pastor of Saint James the Lesser Church, Savannah spoke with us about those concerns and other sacramental directives during the Quarantine Our conversation is below.

Southern Cross: The reason I called is with the posting yesterday about holding off on holding public Mass until the end of May. We got a response from an individual. And I know other people that have asked about weddings. I don’t know how many dozens of couples there are that have scheduled weddings that have been interrupted. But what’s the position on weddings? Can we accommodate them or are they just all on hold?

Fr. Firmin: Well, what we’ve been doing and what I’ve been telling priests to do is to give the couple a choice. First of all, we can postpone it and find another date and we will accommodate them on another date that’s good and we will do it at different times than we normally would do it, perhaps. So that’s number one. And then if they want to keep the date, we would say there can only be 10 people present. There has to be the priest or the deacon, the couple and two witnesses. So if they want to do that, that’s perfectly fine. We can do that. Most of them choose the latter route because they want family there. And they want music and want to make it beautiful. So that’s what we’re we’re recommending to all the pastors, and the same thing is true with baptisms. I’ve given the same kind of directives, but then I tell them, make sure you tell the parents to please go ahead and baptize the child. You know that the child does get sick, baptize them and we will supply the the ceremony later. Just let us know that you did it and that that will be fine. So with those two, those are the directives that we’ve been operating under.
Southern Cross: And then, Father, just only because of what’s going on in Georgia. I know we’re limited to 10, but with the governor eliminating that restriction , are we still saying to 10 or will we say, as long as you’re six feet apart, we can have 50 people?

Fr. Firmin: We’re going to stick with the 10 right now and just hold what we’re doing for the next month.

Southern Cross: So how about drive-thru confessions, is that something we’re still going to do?

Fr. Firmin: We’ve asked priests not to do that, even though we’re not going to penalize them if they do. Some priests have done that. I was talking with Father Tim McKeown in Brunswick the other day and he said that he did it one weekend and he had 10 people, and then the next weekend he did it and only one came through. So I’m not sure if we want to do that. But to continue what we’re doing now and maybe, maybe that’s part of our our fazing as we opened back up.

Southern Cross:  And then what about directives for the sacrament of the sick and Masses of Christian burial.

Fr. Firmin: So for the sacrament of the sick priest can go anoint and and bring last rites and leave. We’ve had parishes do that. Father Patrick May, Saint James the Lesser Church Savannah, went out a couple days ago to the Marshes, out in the Landings and to give someone last rites. So that those sacraments are still operative and we’ll still go. We did issue some special directives about anointing people who possibly have COVID-19 or have symptoms, and so we’ve asked in those cases, we’ve issued some directives about only priests under 60 years old and those who don’t have any underlying conditions. And when you administer the sacrament to follow all the hospital guidelines, use a Q-Tip to anoint and to touch any part of the body, and you only have to touch it once. With funerals what we are doing is giving the family the option of a burial service at the graveside and then setting up a memorial mass for when we can all come back.

Fr. Firmin: And that has worked out. I’ve had one funeral like that.

Fr. Firmin: We went to the cemetery, the whole family was there but spaced out and we had to set up one tent above the coffin and the plot and no tent for the family, no chairs, so they just kind of spread out.

Fr. Firmin: We did a service that way and kind of a more involved graveside service than we would normally do. A stronger liturgy of the word. The homily asked of the family if they wanted to say anything, and then we rescheduled her memorial mass, June 27. So we’re doing that with funerals.

Southern Cross:  Are there any opportunities at all to receive the Eucharist?

Fr. Firmin: We have asked that not happen for a number of reasons.
Any time someone does that people come from all over the place. We asked that distribution not happen because of the crowd would be bigger than even normal when word gets out because it would be more difficult to the practice social distancing. Also because we don’t, if there’s no service with reception of Holy Communion, we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to just distribute Holy Communion.

Southern Cross: You don’t want to separate it from the mass?

Fr. Firmin: Correct, a priest shouldn’t be doing a communion service. It’s precisely because we believe it is the Body and Blood of Christ and that we want to treat the sacrament with a little more reverence than a drive through. And that is difficult to do outside of that context of the Mass and so we’ve discouraged and asked our priest not to do that.

Southern Cross:  Well, I think you’ve touched on and given a lot of good answers and rationale and behaviors regarding these things, because people have these questions? I really want to thank you for speaking with me about this.

Southern Cross:  On another note. The synod about the Amazon and the reality that there are so many people in so many places, but definitely highlighted there, that go for long periods of time without the sacraments or a priest. So we now have solidarity or we should have an appreciation for what our brothers and sisters in remote areas are dealing with. Any thoughts?

FFr. Firmin: The experience of not being able to receive Holy Communion, being separated from the sacraments like these in solidarity with the folks in the Amazon and other places. Father Peter Lanshima did a nice little video on his experience in Nigeria. When he went back for his ordination, he went to his father’s home village and that was the first time they had seen a priest in three months. And then when he was back home for vacation in January, he went back again, and that was the first time they’d seen a priest since he had been there in July.
And so here he was telling the story and just giving a reflection on that experience. It should be our Facebook page or on the videos.

The spirit of St. Camillus lives on through a much-needed clinic and volunteers

Sylvania, Ga.- Amy White, a middle-aged Black woman wearing a colorful facemask and blue jeans, checked in with Margueritte Driggers at the front desk. White was early for her appointment. She was the third woman to arrive at the Saint Camillus Health Clinic on Monday, December 14, the last appointment day of the year. The clinic only takes appointments; no walk-ins are allowed to remain socially-distant during the current pandemic better. White knew she would be seen, but she wanted to make sure she was early. The clinic is the only option she has if she’s looking to remain healthy. “It’s a blessing for me to be able to get medical services like this without an income,” White said after sitting in the makeshift lobby of the Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Sylvania hall turned part-time clinic. White is currently unemployed, and she has been attending the clinic for a couple of years. White, who said this is her only option “Until I can get on my feet,” is grateful for the opportunity to see her doctor, even if it’s only once a month. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said.

The St. Camillus Health Clinic examination room is in a mobile medical unit, a trailer, to be more precise, that rests outside of the hall doors. The trailer’s back wall lets down to become a ramp for the occasional patient who uses a wheelchair. Climate-controlled and, for the most part, fully outfitted, the trailer health clinic has helped assist Screven County residents of all faiths since the summer of 2008. The clinic is operated by Father Louis Lussier, M.I., the pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Sylvania. Ongoing services are provided by operations manager Charles Kimbrough, the sole full-time employee and a native of Sylvania, and a host of volunteers like Driggers, Virginia Moats, a local nurse, and Sophie Kent, who runs a similar free community clinic in neighboring Millen.

All medical checkups and minor procedures are free of charge. The medical professionals involved in the monthly services are protected by the state’s Good Samaritan Law, which deems citizens helping fellow citizens exempt from legal liability. Without volunteers, the clinic would not be possible, said Kimbrough. “Getting more folks to volunteer is more important than money,” he said. The doctors and nurses at the St. Camillus Health Clinic, physicians like Dr. Mary Sparkes, who was the attendee this day, are volunteering to help because they want to, not because they feel they have to. Getting out of her red Toyota Prius a half-hour past noon, Sparkes looked forward to seeing patients. She retired from a long career as a neurosurgeon and emergency room doctor at St. Joseph’s/Candler in Savannah and decided she still wants to practice medicine, just on a smaller basis. “I’m ready to go again, so I told Charles [Kimbrough] I’d give him a clinic once a month,” said Sparkes.

Having worked in a hospital the size of St. Joseph’s/Candler, Sparkes understands the security that comes with patients having health insurance and how a rural county like Screven, population 2,445 (2018), just doesn’t have as many insured patients. The unemployment rate in Sylvania rose from 4.4% in February to 8.2% in August, according to homefacts.com. Sparkes believes the St. Camillus Health Clinic is a necessary vocation. “This clinic is really important,” she said. “There are two different economies going on in this country, and one is poor and cannot afford health insurance.” 

Father Lussier, a native of Montreal, Canada, agrees with Sparkes. He came to Our Lady of the Assumption Church 15 years ago and immediately saw a need for a health clinic. Along with 12 volunteers, a plan was made to create a free clinic for area residents and whoever was in need. “When I came down here, the idea was to attempt a different approach to health care so that we as an order could look at this country because it’s so complicated to work within the [health care] system,” said Lussier, who is a member of the St. Camillus Order. “Our vows include a vow to care for the sick, so I wasn’t coming here to just do some parish work, I was coming to do some Camillin ministry, and the people here just responded very generously to that goal.”

 Six of the eight appointments on the books were seen by 2:30 p.m. that afternoon. All of the patients were given follow up appointments for the next time the clinic is open, January 12, 2012. Some received prescriptions for medicine, others like White were told to keep up the good work with their blood pressure and glucose levels. All were served. “We have been at it for almost 12 years now, and it’s not easy because we kind of have to work isolated because we don’t have access to other things,” said Lussier. “I am thankful to St. Joseph’s/Candler because they assist us with blood work, and so on.” Lussier mentioned that X-rays and EKGs are not covered by the hospital or any other outside entity. The St. Camillus Health Clinic helps pay for patients to have specific procedures done. There have been occasions where medical specialists have provided services, but rarely, if ever, is it free. “If I send somebody to get an exam by a specialist, he’s going to have a lot of ideas about what’s going on, and that’s where the financial numbers go up, and that’s where the system is really not friendly to the poor,” said Lussier. “Sometimes if you have good contacts that can help, but you run the risk that these patients can get a bill.”

And that’s where St. Camillus Health Clinic comes in. The clinic is not financially supported by the Diocese or any private donor. Kimbrough explains that this is so the clinic can give support to its patients without any red tape. “Our clinic is basically for patients who have no means of getting medical care,” he said. “We are here for them.”

 Ending his volunteer shift, retired United States Army nurse Eddie McCorkle, a Sylvania native and a childhood friend of Kimbrough, turned in his ID badge and stethoscope. A volunteer since 2016, McCorkle, a non-Catholic, wanted to give back to his hometown. “You see needs in your community, so when I first learned about St. Camillus,  I said, ‘I’m in,’” said McCorkle who spent 20 years in the military. “Sylvania has always been a depressed area, so If you can give a little back to the community, then that’s OK.”


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