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Spunky nun brings change to poor in Mosses

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MOSSES — For Chlorine Shufford and others in the isolated Alabama Black Belt community of Mosses, life hasn’t changed much in nearly a century.

Believed to be in her 90s, she still lives down a dirt road in the small, four-room house with bare wooden floors where she raised her children six or seven decades ago. She still washes her clothes in a big steel pot out in the yard, and the source of heat in the house is an ancient potbellied stove in the middle of one room.

But thanks to Sister Ann Chaput, a spunky 55-year-old nun who gave up a career as an educator in Chicago to fight poverty in one of the poorest communities in America, Shufford has a bathroom with running water for the first time in her life.

Before the modern lavatory was built onto the end of her home in September, the small, shy woman had to go outside — into a field next to the house. She did not have an outhouse, and she kept her toothbrush tied to a string in the kitchen. A wide smile fills her face when she talks about the new bathroom.

“I’m proud of it because it’s sort of hard to go outside when it gets to raining,” Shufford said.

But she said she didn’t worry too much over the years about the treks to the field.

“You have to get used to not having one,” she said.

She came to the attention of Chaput when her house was damaged by a storm that destroyed two trailers that had been on the property. Chaput quickly discovered the many mysteries that surround Shufford. Not only does she not know her age, she’s not sure how many children she has.

“I’ve got two boys and a lot of girls,” she said.

Shufford, who grew up in Crenshaw County, doesn’t read or write, although she can sign her name. “I went to school and I used to read pretty good, but then I started raising children,” she said.

Formerly from Chicago

Chaput, who goes by Sister Ann in Lowndes County, was a teacher and principal in Chicago when she decided, several years ago, to become a nun. She moved to the rural Alabama county and started operating the Good Shepherd Catholic Mission in the otherwise all-Protestant and almost all-black community of Mosses.

Now she lives in a house in Mosses with retired 74-year-old Sister Frances Schaeffer. Her work is part of the ministry of The Edmundite Missions in Selma, which has been operating outreach missions in Alabama’s Black Belt, a mostly poor region named for its rich soil, since 1937. Chaput, who is of the Sisters of Charity, BVM, of Dubuque, Iowa, said she was struck by the vast needs the first time she visited Mosses, which is only about 35 miles southwest of Montgomery on the map but a world away when it comes to the lifestyle.

The 2000 Census listed Lowndes County as one of the 100 poorest counties in America.

“There are hungry people here. There are people here who are cold. There are people here who don’t have running water,” Chaput said, taking a short break from supervising a food pantry operation that gives food to rural Lowndes County churches, which distribute the supplies to needy members. “There are warm and loving and needy people here. How can you not be touched by that?”

One of those picking up groceries for her church, Mount Carmel Baptist, was 87-year-old Uralee Haynes, a former schools superintendent in Lowndes County.

“I’m for anything that helps our county,” Haynes said. She said the main reason for the county’s poverty is “because people don’t have the training to get good jobs.”

Other Chaput projects include urging people in Chicago to adopt families in Lowndes County, a senior citizens center, a camp for children, a thrift store and a sewing room, where women from the Mosses area use old Singer sewing machines to make colorful African-themed purses, which are sold to the public with the women getting a portion of the proceeds.

“It is giving them a great sense of worth,” said Schaeffer, who helps supervise the sewing.

Chaput hopes to get the community interested in one of its native sons — Chicago Bulls center Ben Wallace, who grew up in White Hall — and to get Wallace more interested in Lowndes County.

“These kids here need someone to look up to, so that they know they can have a future too, so they can know they can make it,” Chaput said. “I think the people from Chicago are more excited about him than the people here.”

To change that, she organized and arranged funding for a recent bus trip to Atlanta so that Lowndes County residents could watch Wallace and the Bulls play the Hawks. She said Wallace met with the group after the game.

“Some grandmothers went with grandchildren and had the time of their lives. They all had on his No. 3 jersey,” she said. “Some of them had never been to Atlanta before.”

Helping Shufford is a priority for Chaput, who said the elderly woman seems to be in good health, is still active and goes to church most Sundays.

“She mops, washes dishes, tends to her yard,” Chaput said.

Shufford said she doesn’t want to leave her small home and her new bathroom. She said she doesn’t worry about being poor.

“I don’t have everything good, but I’ve come a long way,” she said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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