BY TERRY DICKSON
BILOXI – An era is coming to an end as Bragg Moore, diocesan director of youth ministry, is retiring on September 10, after three decades of service in that position.
All are invited to attend a retirement reception in Moore’s honor on Aug. 20 from 1 pm to 5 pm in the Sacred Heart Center, located behind Nativity BVM Cathedral.
“It’s time for somebody new, it really is,” said Moore. It’s time for some new ideas, some new direction. I just turned 65 in July and this is a young person’s job.”
Ray Lacy, former director of youth ministry at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Long Beach has been selected to replace Moore.
“I’ve known Ray since he was at St. John High School in Gulfport. He’s been a real active part of youth ministry in several capacities,” said Moore. “He’s certainly been a big supporter of our office. I’m real excited. I think he’s excited about the new challenges that will be a part of that. I know Ray will bring some new ideas and direction and he will continue to build up the youth ministry program.”
Moore’s longtime assistant, Brenda Sargent, will stay on in a new capacity as office manager and assistant director of youth ministry operations.
“She’s really going to be able to help Ray figure out this job and what goes on in the Office of Youth Ministry,” said Moore.
“I can’t imagine how that office would function without Brenda’s hard work and dedication and her love for those young people and those who minister to them.”
Sargent said working with Moore has been “a humbling experience.”
“He has helped me to always see the positive in situations, stay focused on what is the best for young people but most of all lead by example,” she said. “The motto around our office is ‘for the good of the group.’ His passion to speak with young people, learn who they are and what they are about, draws young people like a magnet. No matter what situation or how busy our office is, if a young person walks through the door, everything stops and the focus is on that person.
“Over the years I have watched young people walk through our door with heavy hearts about matters in life. A little time with Bragg, they are smiling and have a better outlook on life, but most likely they have been challenged, in some way to work on the situation. He always follows up on those kinds of meetings,” she added.
“I can’t begin to express the number of young people from our diocese who would stand up and tell you that they are who they are today because of the friendship and loving advice Bragg Moore shared with them many years ago.”
Moore, a native of Pascagoula, is a product of Catholic schools, having attended Our Lady of Victories Elementary and High School. He graduated in 1969 and headed to Mississippi State University in Starkville, where he earned a degree in education, with the aim of becoming a teacher and a coach.
Moore achieved that goal, spending a decade (1976-1986) in the classroom and coaching football, baseball and girls’ basketball at his alma mater, OLV.
He was already involved in youth ministry by the time he became a teacher.
“In 1974, my good friend, Father Louis Lohan, was associate pastor at OLV and asked my wife and I to help with parish CYO,” said Moore.
“In 1984, Father Bernie Farrell asked me to take on the dual responsibilities of Director of Religious Education and Youth ministry at Sacred Heart Parish in Pascagoula and I stayed in that position for three years.”
Moore took on his current job in 1987.
“It was really kind of odd how I got the job,” he said. “I was probably the most unprepared person ever for diocesan work. Father Greg Barras had served for one year as diocesan youth minister and really found that ministry to be challenging for him. So he asked for a reassignment to a parish and he forwarded my name to Bishop Joseph Howze. The first thing I know, I’m meeting with Bishop Howze and the job was offered to me. I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to prepare.”
Moore said the highlights of his time in youth ministry would start with the countless people he has encountered on the journey. However, he said the seminal events of his 30 years would include World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 and the annual National Catholic Youth Conference.
“All the trips to our diocesan mission in Saltillo are certainly big highlights in my life and were opportunities to minister with some great kids in places I never thought I would go,” he said.
“But it’s the people, the hundreds; if not thousands of young people and adults I’ve had a chance to work with from parishes that have really me the most joy in my ministry.”
Moore said there are some things he won’t miss.
“I really won’t miss all the long bus rides that we’ve taken, some as long as 18 or 20 hours,” he said.
Moore said he gets great satisfaction out of witnessing teenagers who have grown into active participants in their parishes and parents of children, who are also being raised in the faith.
“That’s always exciting,” he said. I think of all those people I still keep in touch with. Their children are grown. They’ve moved on and have careers. The Church is still very meaningful to them. Then, to see the generation that they’re producing, that’s just awesome.”
Conversely, there have been some low points.
“The disappointment is seeing young kids whose faith was really on fire in high school and then find out later that they’ve maybe moved away from our Church. That’s really disappointing in a lot of ways.”
However, said Moore, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Moore said he’s honored to have had the opportunity to serve three bishops – Bishop Howze, Bishop Thomas Rodi, who is now archbishop of Mobile and the current bishop, Bishop Roger Morin.
“They’ve all been very different,” he said. “Bishop Howze took a chance on a young man 30 years ago and told me that we were a young diocese, a mission diocese and not to be afraid to try new stuff and we did. Then, Bishop Rodi came – we were almost 25 years old when he came – and he brought a lot of stability and structure to our diocese, which I found to be very helpful to me in my ministry. Then, Bishop Morin came and he’s been very generous to work with, very supportive. I’ve enjoyed all three of them. They’ve all added to who I am as a man and as a minister and they’ve certainly each brought their own gifts to our diocese. I hope I have been as supportive of them as I could be.”
Sargent said Moore’s loss will be felt, not only on a local level, but on a national level as well.
“When looking back on all the trips and programs our office has endured it is remarkable to think of the adults and young adults that Bragg has encountered and shared the experience with,” she said. “Whether it be local Youth Celebration, SEARCH RETREATS, NCYC, NCCYM, March for Life, Notre Dame Vision, Saltillo Mission trips etc. It is a fact that he has encountered a hug from at least 52,000 people during his time as Youth Director of the Diocese of Biloxi over the last 30 years.”
Moore said it’ll be difficult to give up those things.
“That’s going to be kind of weird,” he said, adding that he’ll somehow manage.
Even though he’s retiring, Moore doesn’t plan to sit at home and twiddle his thumbs. He’s already signed on to teach a religion class at Resurrection High School in Pascagoula come fall. He will be in good company, as one of his teaching colleagues will be his wife, Linda. The Moore’s have two children, a son Matt and a daughter, Kiley Leonard (Jeff), and two grandchildren.
“I’m also hoping to apply to be an usher for the Biloxi Shuckers because I love baseball and free baseball sounds really good,” said Moore. “They work about 80 days a year, so I’m hoping that’s going to happen. There are some other possibilities. I’d like to consider forming a young adult ministry in Jackson County, but that’s kind of just in my head right now. I’m excited about this next chapter of my life. I’m really just looking for some new direction in my own life, recalibrating who I am and where I will be going.”
Before he departs, however, Moore has some words of advice for the young Church of Biloxi.
“Be open to God’s spirit, his movement in your life,” he said. “Be aware, when you feel that God is close, to acknowledge that and be thankful and, when he seems far away, know that he is walking alongside you.”