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A Symphony on the Hill

Author/Contributor: Michael J. Johnson
Publication Date: 2021-06-29

St. Joseph, Macon is one of the largest parishes in the diocese, with nearly 1,100 registered families. Established in 1898, the large brick church sits high on a hill and its cross-topped steeples rise 200 ft. above the pavement below.

The November 15, 1903, edition of the Macon Telegraph began its coverage of the church’s dedication with, “If architecture may be fittingly described as frozen music, St. Joseph’s Church, to be dedicated today, is a symphony.”

“The interior of the church is breathtaking,” said Jordyn Tarpley, a bioengineering student who entered the Catholic Church last year during the Easter Vigil. She and her family began attending Saint Joseph about two years ago and “fell in love with the community and their ideas.”

Perhaps the most intrinsic idea of this community can best be summed up by their mission statement. Simply put: “to bring Christ to our community and our community to Christ.” This was demonstrated in a very literal way on June 6, the Feast of Corpus Christi, which began with Sunday Masses and culminated in a Eucharistic Procession and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Parishioners of St. Joseph's in Macon, Ga, adore the Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament.

True to their mission, the parish fosters spiritual development among the congregation with ministries like Salt & Light and Dinner & Doctrine, and is also active in outreach ministries such as the Kolbe Center, Family Advancement Ministries (FAM) and Day Break.

The parish is commemorating this year of dedication to their patron saint in a number of ways, from participating in the 30 Days Prayer to St. Joseph — which honors the 30 years Joseph spent with Jesus and Mary on earth — to a program based on the Consecration to Mary by St. Louis Marie de Montfort (Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father by Father Donald Calloway).

“I think it’s very important to recognize that many of our parishes have a patron saint,” said Father Scott Winchell, pastor. “Are we actually thinking about that patron saint in a proactive way and saying, how can we leverage the intercessory power of this saint that we have been given? I would love to see that being brought out more in this particular parish and probably many of our other parishes in our diocese.”

The parish will also be hosting a pilgrimage for their diocesan brothers and sisters on Sunday, August 15, 2021 with a reflection by Sr. Terry Bretthauer, MSTB at 10:15 a.m. and Mass with Bishop Parkes at 11 a.m. All are invited. SC

Column: Run Towards Mercy (in English and Spanish)

By Father Pablo Magone 

As I left the beautiful, colonial Franciscan church in downtown Lima, Peru, with a college friend who had traveled with me to my native country for a few weeks, five military trucks with water cannons raced down the narrow street beside the imposing structure.  I had watched the news before driving downtown – protestors were gathering near Congress.  My friend, alarmed, said, “what are we going to do now?”  Calmly I responded, “we will just walk the opposite way from where the trucks went.”  Had we walked three blocks behind the church we would have found violent protestors at the Plaza Bolivar in front of Congress.  However, we chose to walk two blocks the other way, where we enjoyed a wonderful outdoor lunch sitting by the main square of the city.

As a priest, I meet many who struggle with reoccurring impatience and anger.  These may be directed toward a particular person or a situation that has emerged in their lives.  The inability to effect a change rapidly leads to these two common sins.  The mere mention of the offending person or a reminder of the hurtful situation initiates a process inside the person that adds salt to the wound.  As hard it is to understand, when the water cannons of life rush by in front of us, we tend to run behind them right into the trouble, rather than walking in the opposite direction.  There is a tendency to allow the offending parties to continue to hurt us even in their absence.  We walk into the trouble ourselves.

I oftentimes reflect on the passage from the Gospel of Saint John where Jesus stands next to a woman caught in adultery and invites the elders to cast stones at her if they have no sin.  None of them do and walk away.  I imagine the woman picking up a stone dropped just seconds before by one of the scribes and then proceed to hit herself on the head with it.  Jesus, absolutely stunned, would ask, “what are you doing?  Nobody has condemned you; why are you condemning yourself?”  As ridiculous as my imagined scenario is, it reflects a common tendency to hurt ourselves without others’ assistance.  Again, rather than walking away or letting go, we run into the protest or we hit ourselves with a stone.

One of my greatest joys as a priest is sharing the mercy of Jesus when I hear confessions.  Burdened and troubled hearts approach and they leave uplifted and joyful.  No sin is too great, no offense unpardonable – there is true freedom in God’s mercy.  As a confessor, I understand that I am in a privileged position, not for my sake, but so that sinners may experience first-hand God’s mercy and His loving embrace.  I can reassure others to accept forgiveness and encourage them to extend it to their neighbor so that the restlessness deep within can be quenched.  Rather than running along with the military trucks right into the protest where only further damage happens, Jesus invites us to walk away from sin and its effects, to embrace mercy, and to enjoy a peaceful moment instead.

 En Espanol:

Corre hacia la Misericordia

Al salir de la hermosa iglesia colonial de San Francisco en el centro de Lima con un amigo de la universidad que había viajado conmigo al Perú por unas semanas, cinco camiones militares con cañones de agua pasaron apresurados por la calle estrecha junto a la imponente estructura. Había visto las noticias antes de ir al centro y sabia que manifestantes se estaban reuniendo cerca del Congreso. Mi amigo bastante alarmado me dijo: "¿qué vamos a hacer ahora?" Tranquilamente respondí: "vamos a caminar en el sentido contrario de donde van los camiones". Si hubiéramos caminado tres cuadras detrás de la iglesia, habríamos encontrado manifestantes violentos en la Plaza Bolívar frente al Congreso. Sin embargo, decidimos caminar dos cuadras hacia el otro lado donde disfrutamos de un maravilloso almuerzo al aire libre sentados en la Plaza Mayor de la ciudad.

Como sacerdote tengo contacto con muchas personas que luchan contra la impaciencia y la ira. Estas pueden estar dirigidas hacia una persona en particular o una situación en sus vidas. La incapacidad de efectuar un cambio conduce rápidamente a estos dos pecados comunes. La mera mención de la persona o un recordatorio de la situación dolorosa inicia un proceso dentro de la persona que agrega sal a la herida. Por difícil que sea de entender, cuando los cañones de agua de la vida pasan rápidamente ante a nosotros, tendemos a correr detrás de ellos directamente hacia el problema, en lugar de dirigirnos en la dirección opuesta. Existe una tendencia donde permitimos que aquellos que nos han ofendido o herido sigan haciéndonos daño incluso en su ausencia. Nosotros mismos aumentamos en el problema.

A menudo reflexiono sobre el pasaje del Evangelio de San Juan donde Jesús se encuentra con una mujer sorprendida en el acto de adulterio e invita a los escribas a arrojarle piedras si no tienen pecado. Ninguno de ellos lo hace y se marchan. Me imagino a la mujer recogiendo una piedra que unos pocos segundos antes había caído de las manos de uno de los escribas, y luego procede a golpearse en la cabeza con ella. Jesús, absolutamente atónito, pregunta: “¿Qué estás haciendo? Nadie te ha condenado, ¿por qué te estás condenando a ti misma?” Por ridícula que sea esta situación hipotética, refleja una tendencia frecuente de lastimarnos sin la ayuda del prójimo. Nuevamente, en lugar de alejarnos o de soltar, corremos hacia la protesta o nos golpeamos con una piedra.

Una de mis mayores alegrías como sacerdote es compartir la misericordia de Jesús cuando escucho confesiones. Se acercan corazones agobiados y angustiados y parten animados y alegres. Ningún pecado es demasiado grande, ninguna ofensa imperdonable: hay verdadera libertad en la misericordia de Dios. Como confesor reconozco que estoy en una posición privilegiada, no por mi bien, sino para que los pecadores puedan experimentar de primera mano la misericordia de Dios. Puedo asistir a los demás para que acepten el perdón y animarlos a que se lo extiendan a su prójimo para que se calme esa inquietud que sienten. En lugar de correr junto con los camiones militares directamente a la protesta donde solo ocurre más daño, Jesús nos invita a alejarnos del pecado y sus efectos, a aceptar la misericordia y disfrutar de un momento de paz.




Diocese of Savannah ordains five new clergymen

Author/Contributor: Jason Birkelbach
Publication Date: 2021-06-29


The Diocese of Savannah ordained five new members of the clergy this year, two as transitional deacons and three to the priesthood.

The diaconate and priestly ordinations, held May 29 and June 5respectively, allowed full access to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah, the first major diocesan events to do so since 2020’s COVID pandemic.
Among the recently ordained are transitional deacons Esteban Mallar and William Cook, and the new priests Nathanael Swann, Emmanuel Antwi and Christopher Awiliba.

“When we look for young men to join the seminary, we’re looking for men that are able to connect with a variety of people,” said Father Pablo Migone, director of vocations. “A big thing in the seminary world is cultural competency: are our guys able to engage and understand others?”
For Esteban Mallar, Migone believes this will be easy, as his affability allows him to connect easily with anyone, especially the youth of the diocese.

“He has shown in his various parish assignments that he is very effective working with young people,” Migone says. “He has a way of connecting with them that it’s not about himself but about Christ and bringing him to them.”
Among the ordinandi, Mallar is the only one to have been born and raised in the Diocese of Savannah.

Deacon Will Cook has a similar connective ability. Both the Diocese of Savannah and the Diocese of the U.S. Military sponsored Cook after he had served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Throughout college and his military service, Cook felt the call to the priesthood, but finally took a chance on faith. He decided to immerse himself in God’s mission.

“When I was in the military, I began to take my faith more seriously,” said Cook. “I matured and then I did a year of mission work with the Salesians, and I lived in a community with priests and brothers. It was eye-opening to get to know them and see that they’re just normal guys doing their best.”
Thus began Cook’s six-year journey to becoming a transitional deacon.

The Diocese’s new priests have had lengthy journeys as well. For Fathers Antwi and Awiliba, this is quite literal.

Antwi and Awiliba are each from Ghana, hailing from the Archdiocese of Kumasi, one of the largest in Africa. They are two of the Savannah Diocese’s 15 priests from Africa. Awiliba had been a schoolteacher before choosing to serve God, whereas Antwi had always felt a call to the clergy, having been involved in the church since his days at St. James Minor Seminary.

Swann’s trip was physically shorter—he was born in Delaware—but with just as much variance. He moved to Virginia Beach and stayed in Virginia for college, attending Virginia Wesleyan and Virginia Tech before relocating to Georgia for work where his path to priesthood became clearer.

“Some argue that, more and more, it’s a ‘post-Christian’ world,” said Father Migone. “So we need men that not only understand different cultures and different people, but can speak the Gospel to a younger demographic that doesn’t see the Gospel and the message of God as pertinent.”

Migone said that three more young men from the Diocese had been accepted into seminary. The Diocese currently has 10 seminarians and anticipates ordinations each year for the next five years. Next June, Mallar and Cook are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood
This year’s ordinations were Bishop Stephen Parkes’ first as Bishop of Savannah. He said the process has helped him connect more with the seminary and with God.

“I felt it was very graceful to be very close with God, the Father, Son and especially the Holy Spirit on the altar,” Bishop Parkes said. “I found myself, in my own prayer, really reaching out to them [the ordinandi], to pray for them, that they have a ministry that brings great joy and fulfillment.”
Bishop Parkes has assigned Antwi to St. Joseph’s Church, Macon, Awiliba to St. Joseph’s church, Augusta, and Swann to Blessed Sacrament Church, Savannah. Each begins their priestly assignments July 1, 2021. SC

For Southern Cross coverage of both ordinations, including livestream footage, video highlights, photo galleries and Bishop Parkes’ homilies, go to http://southerncross-sav.org and click on “SPECIAL FEATURES.”

Diocese sets August 10 date for parish-sponsored schools to begin academic year

SAVANNAH, GA.- The Diocese of Savannah is preparing to open schools August 10 with each of the 13 schools within the diocese having already submitted tentative COVID-19 safety plans for how they will be preparing students, parents, faculty and staff during what has been an unprecedented past couple of months. Benedictine Military School, Savannah (who will open for classes August 3), Mount de Sales Academy, Macon and St. Vincent's Academy are all independent and will have individual start times. Immaculate Conception, Augusta, the only special needs school within the diocese, will begin classes on July 29. As of Thursday, July 23 start dates for classes at Mount de Sales and St. Vincent’s had not been set.

A Zoom meeting that included Senior Director, Department of Catholic Education and Superintendent of Catholic Schools Michelle Kroll and all 13 principals of the aforementioned parish-sponsored, diocesan-sponsored schools took place Friday, July 17. The purpose being to better get on the same page regarding the upcoming start date. "The schools have pretty much finished their initial plans for reopening," said Kroll during a recent interview with the Southern Cross. She explained that ideas ranging from how to keep water fountains safe for use to using disposal lunch trays have been presented. "We want to reassure parents that we are working to make sure the environments are safe. For me the two most important tasks are a safe environment and letting parents know that we are doing our best to make sure that kids are safe and personnel are safe."

Students are going to be allowed to physically attend school again because there will be less contact with the outside world, and thus less opportunity to potentially spreading the virus. That means less involvement with parents and visitors inside of the school buildings and facilities in most cases. "We want to be sure we are addressing those needs so that we can get back into some type of routine with children, because the truth of it is that we get kids for 13 years, from kindergarten to grade 12, and it's during that type when they learn the life skills that help them function well in society and to be able to navigate those social interactions. If we take away a year that's significant." 12 of the parish-sponsored, diocesan-sponsored schools have a preschool program. 

Social distancing will be an important part of getting back into schools as well. Some of the schools within the diocese will have an easier time than others due to their size. Kroll used St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School, Columbus and St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School, Augusta, both big schools in comparison to others, and Immaculate Conception Catholic School, Augusta and St. Teresa Catholic School, Albany, smaller schools with limited space, as examples of how social distancing may not be conducted the same. "Social distancing may not look the same for those larger schools," said Kroll who spoke about moving desks and tables in classrooms around to better honor the six-feet recommendation from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Wearing mask will also be something that schools will consider making mandatory. "We are allowing schools to make that decision themselves," said Kroll. "I'm not going to tell them that they can't make mask mandatory. Aquinas High school, Augusta is starting out with masks, so let's see how it goes. There's just not always an easy answer either way to be honest. So we do our best to make good decisions based on the data that we have and how we understand children to behave during social interactions." 

Kroll went on to use examples of how well high school juniors and seniors, upperclassmen may be able to adapt to distance learning better than still developing children in lower school and elementary school. 'The foundational years, the early elementary all the way to intermediate grades, those kids really need to be in school," said Kroll, who is also a mother. "All of the initial data that we have has really indicated that we can do this in a safe way."

According to the CDC there are smaller percentages of children contracting COVID-19 (1.7%) compared to that of adult and young adults in this country. "We want parents to trust us and we want to trust parents," said Kroll. "Because if their child is exhibiting symptoms, please keep them home. That trust relationship works both ways. We trust you to do your part and we're going to do our part."

There is another option however. Though limited, there will be a virtual learning option for parents that don't feel safe sending their kids back to school. "There will be some [distance learning] depending upon the needs of the students and the ability of the school," said Kroll.  "It may not be totally online, but there are some online components. The only kids that we will be working with online on a regular basis are those children that have any type of auto-immune deficiency."

According to Kroll the teachers within the diocese are ready to get back to work in the classrooms as well. "I would say that probably the majority, I'd say 90 percent of our teachers are chomping at the bit to get back into the classroom. They understand the value, and they may have some underlying fears but they are willing to set those aside in order to do what they are called to do. I think returning to school is going to be very beneficial to everybody."










Father Stephen Parkes named 15th Bishop of Savannah

SAVANNAH, GA.- Father Stephen Parkes, the former Pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church, Longwood, Florida has been named the 15th Bishop of Savannah. He will make his first public appearance Wednesday morning at the Catholic Pastoral Center and is scheduled to be ordained September. The press conference, in keeping with COVID-19 precautions, is only open to members of the local media and Catholic Pastoral Center staff. 

Father Parks, 55, a Mineola, New York native, makes his way to the Diocese of Savannah from Florida, and more specifically the Diocese of Orlando where he held a number of assignments, including Parochial Vicar of Annunciation, Altamonte Springs (FL), Parochial Administrator at Most Precious Blood Church, Oviedo (FL) and for seven years, 2004-2011, as the Campus Minister of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. During his time in Oviedo Parkes was also appointed Dean of the North Central Deanery in 2008. 

Ordained to the Priesthood May, 23, 1998 in St. James Cathedral, Orlando, Parkes’ connection with the state of Florida runs even deeper with his having earned an M.A. in Theology/M. Div. from St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida after earning a B.S. in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of South Florida in Tampa. That Florida connection does not stop there as Parkes’ younger brother Bishop Gregory L. Parkes is the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. 

Bishop Parkes, having come into town Tuesday, is scheduled to spend the next two days in Savannah, including various meetings and hosting Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, Savannah at noon Thursday, before taking a tour of the Savannah Deanery. 

Father Parkes will be ordained bishop Wednesday, September 23. Times for the ordination are TBD.

Mass obligation Dispensation Extended

July 24, 2020


My Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Diocese of Savannah,     


As we move into August, we are still cautious and concerned for the health of everyone in our diocese. Therefore, after consultation with Bishop-elect Parkes and the College of Consultors, I am extending the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday mass through the last Sunday of August (8/30/20).  


Most of our parishes are opening up slowly, although some have suffered setbacks due to priests, staff, and/or parishioners becoming infected with COVID-19. Yet we press on in faith, caring for each other through prayer and by providing safe and healthy environments in which we worship Almighty God, glorify Him, and continue to build His kingdom.


All of the guidelines and best practices that were implemented to keep our places of worship safe and healthy remain in effect, and we continue to work to decrease any possible risk to you and your families. 


Additionally, after extensive planning and the implementation of new safety procedures, our parochial schools will begin opening in August. We are doing everything to keep our children, teachers, staff, and families safe as we welcome everyone back to school.


I would like to remind everyone that if you are ill, do not come to church or school. Any parishioners who are uncomfortable about attending Sunday Mass due to the coronavirus or the safety measures implemented at your local parish are excused from their obligation to attend. In addition, if parishioners are in the higher risk category due to current illness, age or suffering a chronic health condition or compromised immune system, they are also asked to remain at home. Anytime we go out – no matter where we go – we take a calculated risk. May the Lord grant each of us wisdom and prudence as we go forward!


Please take whatever precautions you deem necessary to be safe during the crisis. 


Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us! 


With love and prayers, I remain,


Sincerely Yours in Christ,

Very Reverend Daniel F. Firmin, J.C.L.
Diocesan Administrator
Diocese of Savannah

Mi camino al encuentro de Dios

By Eloisa Newman

El pasado domingo, primer Domingo de Cuaresma, en la Basílica Catedral San Juan Bautista en Savannah, se celebró el Rito de la Elección de los catecúmenos, presidido por nuestro Obispo el Reverendísimo Monseñor Stephen D. Parkes.

Los catecúmenos llegaron con gran emoción y un poco de nerviosismo, para celebrar el Rito de Elección, uno de los últimos pasos antes de convertirse efectivamente en miembros de la Iglesia Católica por el bautismo.
Todos acompañados de sus padrinos, catequistas y familiares, en especial con los que han recorrido el camino del catecumenado, como los sacerdotes y diáconos que les han acompañado y guiado en este proceso.  Entre ellos se encontraba Lorena Estrada quien nació en Texas de descendencia mexicana, para quien su vida ha cambiado en los últimos seis meses, cuando escucho el llamado de Dios.  Desde ahí se ha venido preparado para recibir los sacramentos de iniciación—el Bautismo, la Primera Comunión y la Confirmación— y sueña con casarse por la Iglesia. 

Buscando un cambio en su vida Lorena se movió de Texas al Sur de Georgia donde conoció a su prometido quien junto con su familia han sido el ejemplo e inspiración para su conversión a la Fe Católica. 

Lorena nos comparte " Nací de madre católica y padre cristiano a quien le habían infundido que la fe católica no era buena,(en parte hasta temerosa), en ese tiempo mis padres no estaban comprometidos con su fe, por lo que la habían ignorado por completo  y nunca me bautizaron, así que crecí muy confundida sin saber realmente qué era la fe.  Me hubiera gustado haber sido bautizada cuando nací y prepararme con los sacramentos y enseñanzas de la Iglesia, pero no fue hasta ahora que tengo veintidós años, gracias a Dios que puso en mi camino a mi prometido y su madre, quien insistió en invitarme a la Iglesia Católica, donde a través de un folleto del programa de RICA, Dios me llamo.  Agradezco a Dios también por el Diacono Larry, quien desde el primer momento que me acerqué para pedir información sobre el programa, me hizo sentir bienvenida, parte de esa Iglesia, de esa familia en la fe, eso es lo que encontré en mi grupo de RICA.  Estamos ahí aprendiendo sobre nuestra fe y apoyándonos como hermanos. Ahora entiendo un poco más acerca de los sacramentos, la Biblia y lo que el catecismo nos enseña.  Estoy en este camino, aprendiendo.  Es como si mis ojos se hubieran abierto a una nueva vida, y una luz me dejara ver todo lo hermoso que Dios nos da por amor y misericordia. Mi fe estuvo perdida y muchas veces la busque en iglesias de otras denominaciones, pero nunca encontré la presencia de Dios en ellas, y no fue hasta que en nuestra Iglesia Católica el Señor se me ha manifestado, el Espíritu Santo me ha iluminado.  Ahí es donde encontré las puertas abiertas a mi fe, he sentido su Santa presencia, puedo decir que lo que estoy viviendo desde que inicié el proceso, ha sido una experiencia increíble y hermosa.  Sé que este es el camino que me lleva al encuentro con Dios. Mi familia está más unida y apoyándome incondicionalmente, mi suegra que ahora es mi madrina. va conmigo a mis clases de formación todos los lunes, y al llegar a casa compartimos en familia lo aprendido. El centro de nuestro hogar es Dios y nuestra Madre Santísima está cada día con nosotros.

Es muy importante para mí el poder comprender y participar mejor de las devociones y tradiciones de la Iglesia que antes no entendía.  También lo que me motiva a seguir conociendo más de mi fe es mi hijastro, para quien yo quiero ser un buen ejemplo de madre y buena cristiana.  Al igual que yo no había sido bautizada siendo joven, ahora en el transcurso de estos meses él ha ido aprendiendo junto conmigo y sé que Dios le esta iluminando al igual que lo ha hecho conmigo y muy pronto podrá recibir sus sacramentos.  

Mis papas están muy contentos del paso que estoy dando y me apoyan desde lejos. Me siento muy feliz de haber escuchado el llamado de Dios y quiero seguir adelante conociéndolo, escuchándolo y compartiendo el misterio de su fe.  Mi meta es estar en comunión con Dios y compartir la alegría de conocerlo.”

Así como Lorena, muchas otras personas están dando este paso en el camino de la fe y han experimentado en su interior una conversión donde han tenido un encuentro con Jesús y ahora disfrutan de nuestra Fe Católica. 


Mother Mathilda Beasley’s impact on education still felt generations after her passing

Savannah, Ga.- The Mother Mathilda Beasley cottage, originally located at 1511 Price Street, is now located inside of Mother Mathilda Beasley Park across the street from St. Benedict the Moor Church, Savannah, was closed Halloween Saturday afternoon.

Beasley, Georgia’s first Black nun, continues to be a popular religious figure and example of sacrifice and selflessness, particularly when it comes to education. The historic site, prior to COVID-19, was one of the more popular free tourist locales in the city. On this day, however the Southern Crosswas allowed to take a look around the cottage, which was moved to its current site on May 24, 2014. Chatham County Parks and Recreation Community Outreach recreation leader Adrienne L. Derien-Roach believes the cabin serves an important purpose to the community at large. “Today [Mother Mathilda Beasley’s] legacy serves as an inspiration to many in Savannah of what a person can become despite challenging circumstances,” she wrote in an email to the Southern Cross.“Keeping her memory alive by way of her cottage is important. It serves as a reminder to always strive to offer the very best of ourselves.”

Until her death in 1903, Beasley had dedicated her life to bettering the lives of Black Catholics, Black people and those within the Diocese of Savannah. Though many, her missions revolved around education, and even though there were nationwide rules against teaching Black citizens of the United States and more specifically, Savannah, how to read and write, Beasley heroically continued her work doing so in secret in many cases. In the cottage, there are plaques stationed throughout the three rooms for visitors to follow Beasley’s lifeline and work in the Diocese. 

Starting with a church, school and home for Black children at Sacred Heart Church, Savannah -a marker highlighting her work remains on the parish grounds- Beasley was a forebear of a Black Catholic community. St. Benedict the Moor Church was built exclusively for the Black parishioners, the first parish of its kind in Savannah. She would also manage the Sacred Heart Orphanage (1891), the city’s first orphanage for Black children. Beasley, who founded the Third Order of St. Francis in 1889, the state’s first order of Black nuns. Beasley became Superior four years later in 1893. The orphanage was known to have between 30-40 children, then known as “colored waifs,” living there at a single time. 

A city greenspace, Mother Mathilda Beasley Park, was dedicated and named in her honor in 1982. The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) later honored her works as a “Woman of Vision,” installing her bust in Arnold Hall.

Born on November 14, 1832, in New Orleans, Mathilda (Taylor) was raised a slave and baptized into the Catholic faith four months later by the Archdiocese of New Orleans Rev. A. Mascaroni. Her Catholic faith would serve her well as she moved to Savannah as a young woman, eventually marrying local business owner Abraham Beasley at 37 on February 9, 1869. Following her husband’s passing in 1877, Beasley donated what has been referred to as “her wealth” in a number of historical and archival documents and books to the Catholic church. She would dedicate the remainder of her life to the church and to educating Black youth.



St. Joseph's/Candler Hospital celebrates 50 years of service on the south side

Savannah, Ga. -The sailors making their way into Savannah from sea were often sick and needed a place to be treated. In the late 19th century the Sisters of Mercy, though not nurses, they were teachers after all, a respected influence on the community at large, were asked by a local physician to help start a hospital to better accommodate what began to be too much of a workload for the now long closed Forest City Marine Hospital downtown. Enter 1875 and what was the first iteration of St. Joseph's Hospital, and is now St. Joseph's/Candler. Sister Mary Cecilia Carroll, the local Superior and superintendent, Sister de Neri Farrelly, Sister Helena Sheehan, Sister Agatha Clark and Sister Mary Ursla Bowe, were the five Sisters of Mercy tasked with running the hospital and thus setting a tone that till this day remains vital to the ethos of the hospital, its staff and its mission. "Spirituality is a part of the healing process and to come in and see the strong pastoral care that remains here says a lot about this hospital," said Sister Margaret Beatty,Vice President of Mission Services at St. Joseph's/Candler. "The mission is rooted in God's love, we treat illness and promote wellness for all people."

Fast forward to 1970 and the Sisters of Mercy were once again at the forefront of bringing St. Joseph's Hospital to a Savannah community, this time to what was then a fast-growing south side of town. The risks were many, the needs were far greater. There wasn't a hospital on the south side, people had to go downtown in order to get help. "It was a risky move because there was nothing out here at the time," says Beatty, who has been at St. Joseph's/Candler Hospital for the past 19 years. "The area was undeveloped. Sister Mary Cecilia Carroll was a very strong leader though and it was fortuitous in more ways than one that we were here."

"To me I think it was a matter of trust in the sisters and in the hospital," she added. "The people needed this hospital and I believe they were happy to have it here."

For the past 50 years the hospital has been a beacon of hope and help on the south side with the hospital being the area's most recognizable landmarks. The statue of Jesus is nearly visible from anywhere on Abercorn Street. The gold statue of Saint Joseph at the entrance, his left hand over his heart, welcomes all who need help and healing. During the past five decades many things have changed at St. Joseph's, the current location on Mercy Boulevard has a newly designed atrium that includes a colorful rose window upon entry to the emergency room. "The work of the hospital has expanded over and over again," said Beatty, who pointed out that the hospital is now a regional health system. The distinction being that nearly all of medical necessities can be filled at a certain location. St. Joseph's/Candler has a number of offices throughout the city.

There was also a garden built and planted on the far right corner upon entering the hospital's main entrance. The Sisters of Mercy Honor Garden was blessed by Father Joseph Smith one sunny morning early July and since has been a place where visitors and patients alike have gone to reflect, pray and spent quiet time. There are bricks that make up part of the surface there and they commemorate the Sisters of Mercy that have come to serve at St. Joseph's before and since. The garden was a surprise gift from St. Joseph's/Candler President and CEO Paul Hinchey. "The garden represents gratitude because you see the names of those sisters that really were responsible for founding, maintaining, strengthening and growing this hospital," said Beatty. 

Fifty years ago there was a hospital built to better aide the people of Savannah's south side. It began to serve people coming into the city from Richmond Hill, South Carolina and the like. The five Sisters of Mercy that began the mission in 1875, the others that continued the work in 1970, and the many professionals, both secular and lay, that do so today in the middle of a pandemic all are part of the story of St. Joseph's Hospital. "This hospital's reputation as a faith-based hospital is one of its strengths," said Beatty. "This is a place where people welcome prayer. It's a part of the fabric of Savannah."



St. Pius X lives on through the faith and dedication of its alumni

Savannah, Ga.-  Rex DeLoach, 83, doesn’t attend the St. Pius X Alumni Association meetings much anymore, even with the meetings taking place via Zoom. He has a good reason for that though. “I did attend the meetings [in person] for a while, but now I don’t have the capability to do that anymore,” said DeLoach, who admitted he’s not technologically proficient.

One October morning he met a Southern Cross reporter at St. Benedict the Moor Church, Savannah to show off a picture of the St. Pius X Class of 1955. It was the first class of graduates at the defunct Black Catholic  high school, a school with deep-running traditions to this day. DeLoach is very proud of his association with St. Pius X; the retired United States Air Force veteran considers his time there crucial to his career success. “My time at St. Pius X, the skills I learned there, helped prepare me for what was ahead,” he said. About his time as a member of the first graduating class at St. Pius X, DeLoach said, “It was a new beginning, and we happened to be there at that time. I think some of the alumni have within them the ability to remember the past because some of the things we went through are hard to explain.”

On a warm Friday morning, DeLoach stepped out of his white SUV at the corner of East Broad Street and East Taylor Street wearing a gold and maroon St. Pius X t-shirt and matching cap. The back of the t-shirt read “Rex DeLoach, Class of 1955”. 

“It’s hard to explain how it is today versus what it was like back then,” said DeLoach. “This town was a lot different then than it is today.” The alumni association keeps alumni like DeLoach in contact with former classmates, something he especially enjoys now that coronavirus has further limited his outside contact with friends and family. His morning meeting with the Southern Crosswas scheduled at 8 a.m. to both avoid traffic and people. “I’m still in contact with a classmate that lives in Atlanta,” he said. “We went to school together from [the former] St. Mary’s all the way through high school.”  

The ties that bind

Those times bound the people that attended St. Pius X together. The same can be said for some of the people that worked in the school. 

The St. Pius X Alumni Association had a reunion in June 2004. The school’s last director Monsignor Fred Nijem, the retired former pastor at Sacred Heart Church, Warner Robins, thinks fondly of the warm feelings in the room that night. Nijem remembers the community around the school being close-knit and familial. “Catholics made up the largest percentage of the families at the school, and the closing of St. Pius X was a very traumatic experience for them,” said Nijem. “St. Pius X provided an opportunity for African American students to matriculate into some top-level colleges around the country, and that was one of the reasons they were going to miss that school. It was a relatively small school, and it drew from all three of the (then) predominantly Black parishes in Savannah- St. Mary’s, St. Benedict’s, and St. Anthony’s. But, the school was kind of a meeting place where all three of those individual communities could come together.”

St. Pius X alumna Rhonda Miller-Williams, 71, Class of 1968, agrees with the community aspect of having attended St. Pius. “We all came from three missionary [elementary] schools, and some of our parents had difficulties paying,” she said by phone. “It was the most important gift I’ve ever received. Attending St. Pius enriched my life.”

Miller-Williams isn’t as active in the alumni association as she once was but understands how important it is to keep in touch with fellow St. Pius alums. She believes it’s much bigger than just occasional text messages and Facebook likes. “We have a responsibility as African Americans to remain in touch,” said Miller-Williams, a retired administrator and Sacred Heart Church, Savannah parishioner. “It is important for us to continue to affiliate and validate the historical aspects of our school.”

The communities that made up St. The Pius X student body, which had over 400 students graduate, have remained close, if not physically, then most certainly spiritually. Having attended St. Pius (1952-1971) is almost a badge of honor for the alumni. “It was a nice little school. We had fun there,” said Willis Shellman, (‘63) the alumni association treasurer. “We had so many good people come out of that school. We are just trying to keep it alive.”

Alumni like Savannah’s first Black mayor Floyd Adams, Jr. (Class of 1963) and author and former Savannah State University professor Dr. Charles Elmore (‘63) and retired Glynn County judge Orion Douglas (‘64) to name a few. 

The first alumni meeting of the year took place this summer via Zoom because of the restrictions on public meetings. Under less pandemic-like conditions, the alumni association would meet at Savannah Classical Academy. This K-12 charter school now stands in East Anderson Street, where St. Pius once stood. By all accounts, the leadership at Savannah Classical Academy is proud of its association with St. Pius X. It has been instrumental in helping keep the alumni association, which has well over 125 members, close to where everything began. 

“It’s a historic structure,” said Miller-Williams of the former St. Pius X building. “The most exciting thing is that our building is still there.”

“Our school was founded and staffed by Catholics,” says long time educator and alumni association co-founder Ormonde Lewis (‘63). “I see our Catholic legacy continuing today with our alumni association.” 

Close contact

Monthly meetings at Savannah Classical Academy, local philanthropic efforts, fundraisers and good old fashioned check-ins on fellow alumni are all a part of why the St. Pius X Alumni Association works.  “Our prayer, our Christian service projects and our concern for each other bolsters my faith,” said Lewis, who was also a former staff reporter at the Southern Cross.

Living in Orange, New Jersey, John Pyous, Jr. 81, (‘57) doesn’t get back to Savannah as much as he used to. Pyous is a property owner in town and would make the trip south every three months to check in on tenants and check in on St. Pius alums. The retired United States Army engineer enjoyed a 40-year career that took him all over the world. Still, he always found time to stay in touch, thanks in part to the alumni association. “I find it very satisfying, personally, because it helps me keep the legacy going,” he said during a recent phone interview. “What the alumni association did for me, instead of just keeping in touch with my folks that I went to school with, it opened up a whole big world for me.

“I wouldn’t have known all of the people I do now without the alumni association.”

Nathaniel Glover (‘71) agrees. Glover is part of the last class of graduates at St. Pius X and holds that distinction close to his heart. He, too, used to attend meetings and believes it is essential to remain in touch. “We stay together, we communicate, it keeps the world balanced,” he said by phone from his home in Pooler. 

The St. Pius X alumni association did not get an opportunity to host their annual “Pius Fest” this year due to COVID-19. The annual gathering that takes place on the third weekend of August is held at Savannah Classical Academy and brings alumni into town from all over the country. Shellman knows they missed an excellent chance to meet and greet each other, especially those that live outside of Chatham and Bryan Counties, respectively. He listed Florida, Oregon, New Jersey, Iowa, and Maryland as other states that he could remember alumni currently residing in. “People come from out of town, and we celebrate each class,” he said. “We are looking forward to having it next year; it’s a lot of fun.”

The alumni association has also hosted Christmas parties, with that being a time where people come back home to Savannah to see family, and the St. Pius X alumni is a family. Just ask them. “When I think about the entire St. Pius X experience, I think of family,” said Glover. “When you get older, you lose family members and close friends, so it’s important to stay in contact.”



St. Vincent Archabbey Benedictine Monks visit Diocese of Savannah and Benedictine High School, bring with them stories of brotherhood, faith

 Savannah, Ga. - The drive south to Savannah from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, is just under 700 miles depending on who’s driving. “I think you can safely get here in 12 hours,” said Brother Xavier O’Mara. “That means you got here in nine,” joked Brother Francisco Whittaker who drove down in a separate car along with Brother Angelo Lichtenstein. O’Mara made the trip with Brothers Gregory Visca and Sean Cooksey. The familial and collegial energy among the Benedictine monks assembled in the den of the priory on the campus of Benedictine Military School (BC) Friday, January 15 feels a lot like a family. Or maybe more like teammates in the locker room following a huge victory or students in a dormitory at the end of a long day of classes. The brotherhood that is being a Benedictine Monk has brought these monks and a postulate, Tim Sheridan, a teacher in Ohio that is “kicking the tires” on becoming a monk himself, to Savannah for the annual two-week visit.  

Father Max Maximilian, O.B.S., the former Vocation Director at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, is now assigned to be an instructor at BC, created the two-week program to allow monks in the early stages of formation “to see what it is like to be a Benedictine monk here in Savannah,” said Maximilian. “The program also allows the monks to get to know the students at BC and familiarize themselves with potentially teaching at the school.” For Visca and O’Mara in particular this experience has a particular motive as they both are interested in teaching. The upstanding educational reputation of BC students and faculty is a combination many, if given the opportunity, fail to not take advantage of. 

“I just fell in love with teaching and before entering the monastery I was working on my teaching certification for high school,” said Visca, a Tampa, Florida native.

“My specialty is college admission, higher education, counseling, that sort of thing and I love interacting with the student-body and getting to know the families on an individual basis,” said O’Mara, who worked for nearly a decade in college admissions in Pennsylvania. “That’s one of the connections that I love here [at BC], I could just see myself digging my feet in the dirt and then all of a sudden 15, 20 years passes by and I’m like ‘where did the years go?’. That’s totally something that I want.” 

Liechtenstein taught elementary school music and junior high school theology at a Catholic school. “I see teaching as an important, far-reaching apostolate,” he said. 

Beginning Jan. 12, a day after the monks arrived, an itinerary of meetings with BC headmaster Father Frank Ziemkiewicz, O.S.B., tours of the school facility and local attractions, dinners and midday and evening prayers were scheduled to take place. They also took time Friday afternoon to visit the world famous Leopold’s ice cream shop. All that attended were impressed. A trip to Tybee Island and an evening bonfire were both put on hold due to the weather.  

The monks spoke about their commitments to the Benedictine Order and why they decided to embrace this way of life. The initial process is a four year commitment and for the men in that room there were so many reasons to take on the challenge. 

“I remember reading The Rule of St. Benedictmany years ago and I was discerning a religious vocation for many years throughout high school and I just kept putting it off,” said Cooksey who lived in Pittsburgh, an hour drive from Latrobe. After continuing to do research he decided to fill out an online application and father Max called him a few days later. Cooksey made a couple of visits and never looked back. “It just fit,” he said. “God just took down all of the obstacles that would have been in my way and just made them disappear. That’s just the way it was.”

“One word comes to mind that is distinctive of the Benedictine Order is the vow of stability,” said O’Mara, a former Saint Vincent student and faculty member as a recruiter, of his decision to become a Benedictine Monk. “You take a vow to the place, you fall in love with the people, you fall in love with the daily rituals, you fall in love with the apostolates. I knew that Saint Vincent was my home and so this was the logical next step. God kept opening up my ear and he kept knocking.”  

Whittaker grew up in the Erie area and had thoughts of joining the priesthood, even beginning the application process and taking interviews at the Diocese of Erie (Pa.). He decided to attend college at Saint Vincent and see where God would lead him. “As soon as I stepped foot on campus I felt this is where I wanted to go to school,” said Whittaker, 23. “I decided to start attending morning prayer and evening prayer and there was one morning I was there. I just felt really happy to be there and that was the Lord telling me that was because this is my home. As soon as I graduated I entered.”

The theme of home is one that was repeated by the monks. The Benedictine Order is home for these men. “You will always have a home, you’ll always have a room, you’re always going to have a place at the table,” said O’Mara about the brotherhood.

Liechtenstein, who served this country in the United States Army before entering the Order, did not grow up Catholic and did not have any plans to join any religious order. The base chaplain talked to him about looking into the Benedictine Order and Lichenstein found similarities between his life as a soldier and the Order. “Monastic life had some similarities with my life from The Citadel to the Army,” he pointed out. “Being in a community of men, following a schedule, living according to the rules, regulations, living in a structure of authority but with a deeper understanding of a more grounded end goal.”

The misconception of monastic life being a life of solemn prayer and chanting is one the monks had fun dispelling. After all they were here on a mission in Savannah, part vocation, part location. “A monk of Saint Vincent’s can be a scientist, a teacher, many vocations,” said Maximilian. “There’s a broader identity of potential out there and that’s what drew me to the monastery.” Current Saint Vincent Archabbey Vocation Director Father Canice McMullen, O.S.B. earned a Bachelor’s of Science from Pennsylvania State University. In other words the vocation possibilities are endless. For more information on the monastic way of life please contact Father Canice at www.stvincentmonks.com .

Liechtenstein and Whittaker made the drive back to Latrobe Saturday. The remaining three monks and Sheridan remained in Savannah for an additional week then they will drive back to Latrobe together. “The fraternal brotherhood means you always have a brother there to lift you up,” said Sheridan.

It also means you don’t have to make the 12 hour drive, depending on who’s driving, alone.



Volunteer soldiers of Santo Domingue are a part of Catholic history in Savannah

Savannah, Ga. – On Veteran’s Day morning, the monument to the 500 Haitian soldiers that helped protect this city during the Battle of Savannah (also known as the “Seige of Savannah), one of the earliest battles of the Revolutionary War on October 9, 1779, was still wet from the previous night’s rain. The four soldiers and the drummer boy (there are five soldiers on the monument, one sits on the ground with his left hand on his chest nursing an apparent wound) stand valiantly in the morning sunshine. The monument to “Les Chasseurs Volontaires De Saint Domingue”, translated from French to English to mean “Volunteer soldiers of Saint Domingue,” stands in Franklin Square on the West end of City Market, a great place to congregate on a morning like this. Four men discussed the recent presidential election in the shadow of the oaks in the square.

The history of Savannah and the many people that make the city a diverse gem in the crown that is the state of Georgia also has a strong Catholic bent. There cannot be a story told of the Catholic history of Savannah without mention of the Black Catholic history of contributors like the volunteer free Black soldiers that came here to help fight a war they may not have had a direct stake in but fought in for the future of Haitians that might have, and ultimately did come here to the States to live. “This is a very important piece of history,” said Elizabeth Jeanty, Executive Director at the Haitian American Historical Society, based in Miami, Florida, by phone. “Those soldiers did not have to come to this country to help win the Revolutionary War. They were free Black men that helped make the United States of America possible.”

According to Pew Research,  most Haitians in America are Roman Catholic. The former Saint Domingue, now Haiti, has Catholicism written into their constitution. Its Latin-American origins have a lot to do with Catholicism being the spiritual base in the United States with both Haitian-Americans and native Haitians.

The regiment, 10 companies that totaled 500 soldiers, joined the Colonial Revolutionary forces in a failed attempt o retake Savannah from the British. The contributions from the Haitian soldiers, Catholic Black men, free men in a country that considered their people, of African descent, not worthy of freedom, are important historical moments in Savannah. “Their participation helped reduce the number of American soldiers that were killed,” Jeanty suggested. 

The idea of dedicating a monument to the regiment began with the Haitian Historical Society. Then  championed and pushed forward by Savannah Mayor Floyd Adams, Jr.  That was the start of a long overdue relationship between Savannah and their Haitian residents. “They were going to find a way to make sure that this sacrifice by the regiment became public,” said Jeanty. “The plan was to have the monument near the back of a cemetery, but Mayor Adams suggested the idea of placing it in a downtown square. He really researched their history.”

The monument, sculpted by James Mastin, was dedicated in October 2009. There are eight panels on the base of the memorial, one of which reads in part, “The largest unit of soldiers of African descent who fought in the American Revolution. This regiment consisted of free men who volunteered for a campaign to capture Savannah from the British in 1779.”

Every October the Haitian American Historical Society has an annual celebration of the volunteer soldiers in Savannah but had to postpone this year’s event, usually held at the monument and at a nearby hotel, because of coronavirus and social-distancing requirements.

This year was the 20th anniversary of the Haitian American Historical Society and an anniversary party was on the agenda. “Next year we hope to celebrate the 21st anniversary with a networking event,” said Jeanty. “Haitians have been treated unfairly at times in the United States but we did contribute to her freedom.”


What goes up must come down, and fast

Savannah, Ga. - Bart Traywick took a few minutes from what he was doing to talk to the reporter at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the altar at the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Church, Savannah. Traywick, a longtime parishioner and a volunteer coordinator was in the middle of taking apart the structure that held the Nativity scene. Made of a dozen or so wooden platforms that he built in the basement of the church a few years ago, he and five other volunteers including longtime Cathedral parishioner John Pryor, Joe Moriarty and John Atwell had been working since early that morning to get the Christmas decorations from inside and outside of the church back into storage boxes and on carts to go to a storage facility. “We have to be finished by the first Sunday of Ordinary Time,” said Traywick about the team’s deadline.

On Tuesday morning there were 490 poinsettia plants in the Cathedral and each and every one of them needed to find a new home before Sunday Mass. There were also 18 quarter reefs in the windows, 13 large reefs on the columns and the walls, four large Christmas trees; two on the altar and two others outside of the sanctuary, not to mention garland and ribbons as far as the eye could see. The job that is decorating one of the most popular religious structures in the state of Georgia, and arguably the south, is a task that takes dozens of volunteers. From the floral displays to the miniature statuettes of baby Jesus and his parents, the Virgin Mary and Joseph the carpenter, there is a lot of work that goes into making an already beautifully decorated parish even more beautiful for the holidays. “Just watching it develop is just heartwarming,” said Traywick. “It’s beautiful.”

Being a part of the team that helps put it together is pretty special as well. “It’s a unique experience,” said Pryor. “You feel very proud when people come through here and say how good everything looks.” That day as the team took the displays down, a ceramic camel rested on a cart by the elevator, visitors to the Cathedral were looking on, taking photographs of the altar. “It feels good.”

The design and artistic visualization of displays comes courtesy of former parishioner Orlando Cuadra, a art teacher and graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who now lives in Lake Worth, Florida. Cuadra comes back to Savannah every year to tell a Christmas story, somehow different from the one he helped design the year before. “Every year it’s slightly different,” added Traywick. “Orlando is the artistic genius behind it and we’re the pack mules. We couldn’t do it without him and he couldn’t do it without us.”

Cuadra and the team began working on the Christmas display, particularly beyond the altar, December 8. A team of 6-12 volunteers at a time helped take Cuadra’s vision and make it a reality. There are usually more volunteers looking to help but smaller crews allow Traywick to better manage the work that needs to be done. Those that do get a chance to help are usually coming back year after year according to Traywick. “These guys love it once you can trick them into doing it,” joked Traywick who is retired. “Some of the guys have come back time after time.”

It took eight days to put all of the decorations and decorative structures together at the Cathedral. It will take three to take it apart.

“Next Christmas we’ll repeat it again, said Traywick.”




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Southern Cross
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