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Parishes connect with Mississippi sister parish

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

For years the parishes in Manson, Pomeroy and Rockwell City have had a tie to Immaculate Heart of Mary in Houston, Miss., as part of the sister parish ministry.

While there was a connection, the diocesan parishes didn’t feel a strong bond with their Southern sister because there was no personal tie.

“We had been sending a monthly collection to Houston, but we really didn’t have a relationship built and established with them,” explained Father Brian Danner, pastor.

Building relationships

To develop a stronger relationship, Father Danner said they opted to put a trip together with the purpose of visiting Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in order to get to know them and their needs better.

He mentioned the sister parish connection had already been established between the Mississippi parish and the parishes in Manson and Pomeroy at the time his pastorship began a couple of years ago. Father Danner then invited St. Francis Parish of Rockwell City to join in the cluster’s ministry with the sister parish.

Members of all three diocesan parishes were welcome to participate in the trip. In the end, Father Danner and five parishioners went to Mississippi.

Merlin Platt, a parishioner at St. Thomas in Manson, said he went on the trip to learn more about the sister parish. A Knight of Columbus and member of the parish’s liturgy and spiritual life committee, he said in advance of the trip, they learned the parish needed school supplies for the students.

“We took a lot of school supplies. A lot of notebooks, pencils and pens. We also took a lot of food items,” Platt said. “My pickup was full.”

Immaculate Heart is a largely Hispanic-populated parish that includes about 190 registered families and another 100 unregistered families. Many are migrant workers in the sweet potato fields of Mississippi.

Due to a shortage of priests in their diocese, the parish has a full-time lay administrator with a priest who offers one English and one Spanish Mass on the weekends.

Cindy Loots, a parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Pomeroy, said they learned that Immaculate Conception also has a mission parish that meets every other Sunday for services in front of a store because they have no church building.

“There is a 2 p.m. Spanish Mass in the Houston parish,” she said. “They told us that sometimes there are roadblocks put up by the local officials in an effort to catch illegal immigrants who may be crossing county lines as they travel to Mass.”

A nun from Dubuque, Iowa, assists with the mission parish.

Assessing needs

“This trip allowed us to see in-person the type of needs they have and they struggle with,” Father Danner said. “It enlightened us to listen and bring back to the people of the three parishes in Iowa a different sense of ownership, a different sense of the plight the faithful are experiencing.”

For instance, they learned Immaculate Heart Parish has a growing religious education program that has created a need for English and bilingual textbooks. The Mississippi parish also mentioned the desire for help with a Vacation Bible School for their students next summer.

To further the relationships, the Iowa parishioners were able to stay in homes of Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioners and Father Danner stayed with a retired priest who lives on the grounds of the parish.

“They provided a Southern-style meal to us in each of their homes,” Father Danner noted. “Everything was very good, delicious.”

Platt said the visit was reassuring, affirming and humbling.

“We were treated so well down there,” he said. “We saw how good we have it compared to other parishes. It felt good to give back, even though it wasn’t to our community.”

Platt, who looks forward to another trip next year, found their hospitality to be “amazing” and was humble to see such strong faith despite having so little. He also liked the opportunity to speak with their church council and learn more about their needs.

“We hope to get to know the members of our sister parish better over the next year, assess the needs, and hopefully another group from our parish cluster can again travel to Houston to spread Christ’s love by helping where they need it most,” Loots said.

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