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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

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.”



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