Seminarian Braxton Necaise was reunited with his former pastor, Father Henry McInerney, who gave him his first Communion at Annunciation Parish in Kiln, for his summer internship at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Biloxi, where Father McInerney currently serves as pastor. The two men are pictured then and now.
BY TERRY DICKSON
BILOXI – Seminarian Braxton Necaise definitely did not suffer from a lack of work during his summer internship at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Biloxi, one of the busiest parishes in the Diocese of Biloxi.
On the contrary, the Kiln native hit the ground running.
Necaise’s assignment officially began the Monday after Mother’s Day and lasted six weeks.
“It’s been a great experience here,” he said, shortly before his departure.
Fatima has approximately 1,900 families on its roster and offers seven Masses on the weekend, two daily Masses (one on Saturday morning), as well as weekly Masses for the Hispanic and Filipino communities. The parish is staffed by three priests: Father Henry McInerney, who is the pastor, and two parochial vicars, Father Tom White and Father Everardo “Lalo” Mora Torres, as well as two permanent deacons. There are also several retired priests who live in the parish, including the pastor emeritus, Msgr. Francis Farrell.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” said Necaise, who is from Sacred Heart Parish in Dedeaux.
“It was a challenge because of the sheer number of parishioners. There’s no excuse for anyone to miss a Mass around here. The number of Masses was kind of overwhelming for a simple country boy from Dedeaux coming to the big city. There was a fiddle player at one of the Masses, so that really made me feel at home.”
Necaise said the first thing he discovered about the parish was the warmth of the parishioners.
“As I was introducing myself to parishioners, I went to extend my hand to these two ladies and they said, ‘Don’t you dare extend your hand. We don’t give handshakes. We give kisses around here.’ Their names were Miss Freda and Miss Edie. They said, ‘We’re going to be your second mothers this summer.’ They have taken care of me,” he said.
“It’s just been a wonderful experience and I have to say that about all the parishioners here. They’ve been so warm and very welcoming.”
Necaise said another enjoyable aspect of his summer internship was being surrounded by so many priests.
“There are six retired priests here in residence and one of the highlights of my day was actually getting the opportunity to have lunch with the retired priests,” he said. “These priests have provided over 300 combined years of ministry, so just to be able to pick their brains and ask for advice has been priceless. I feel like I’ve gained so much wisdom that you cannot even begin to grasp in a classroom or seminary type setting.”
Necaise said he was unaware of Biloxi’s homeless problem and was very impressed by the work of the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“At Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, I’ve actually had the opportunity to work with the Bishop Perry Center in Downtown New Orleans and I had commented that we didn’t have that problem in Biloxi with the homeless,” he said.
“So I was quite shocked when I recognized that there is a significant problem here around Fatima and the surrounding area. One of the things that shocked me but gave me hope was the St. Vincent de Paul Society. They actually serve around 850 people a month. They provide financial assistance with rent and utilities, clothing, household items, medication and food from their food pantry. What shocked me is that they also provide showers, laundry, mail, and transportation to essential services. I just couldn’t get over the fact that they offer all this stuff because, in other parishes where I’ve been, the St. Vincent de Paul Societies had limited resources. Also, in a lot of parishes, the St. Vincent de Paul Society is typically open one day a week, whereas Fatima’s operates Monday through Thursday. There’s always a line back there.
“It was really like you had your bubble burst,” he added. “You live in this idealistic world, but then you come to realize that there is a significant problem with the homeless and that they have needs to be met. Luckily, Our Lady of Fatima’s St. Vincent de Paul is trying to meet those needs.”
Necaise said he also relished the opportunity to participate in Fatima’s ACTS Retreat at Paul B. Johnson Sttate Park.
“I got to work with some amazing teenagers,” he said. “It’s really cool. It’s a spinoff of Cursillo. There were 34 participants with 37 team members and what they focus on is adoration, community, theology and service. You hear various talks and various personal testimonies throughout the weekend and it was a great experience. I guess, coming from a youth ministry background, I always feel so inspired when I’m working with young people, particularly with that group at Paul B. Johnson, because they gave me a sense of hope for the future. These young people are so thirsty for the truth. You could just see it and it was an amazing thing to witness.”
Necaise said his time at Fatima exposed him to the Hispanic and Filipino cultures.
“I have learned to say Body of Christ in three different languages, including Tagalog, which is spoken by the Filipinos,” he said. “Yesterday, I forgot how to say Blood of Christ in Tagalog and a lady told me. My response to her was ‘gracias.’ I think she thought I was being funny, but I wasn’t. I just thought I was speaking Tagalog.”
Necaise also helped out with Vacation Bible School and parish bingo. His time at Fatima also gave him the opportunity to reunite with his former pastor, Father McInerney.
“Father Henry was the priest at Annunciation Parish in Kiln who gave me my first Communion,” said Necaise.
“It was such a blessing to be here with him, someone who really taught me a lot about my faith at a really young age.”
Necaise said Father Henry remembered him because once, when he was an altar server at Annunication Parish, he accidentally caught a plant on fire.
“Luckily, there was some holy water on the altar and he just sprinkled some on it to put it out,” said Necaise. “That’s a memory from childhood that always comes to mind when I serve Mass. ‘Please don’t catch a plant on fire, Braxton.’”