Book highlighting plight of Appalachian women will aid mission

Marie Cirillo, a former Glenmary sister who has spent the last 50 years in the Clear Fork Valley of Campbell and Claiborne counties trying to help East Tennesseans create opportunities after suffering job loss from mining and related problems, is on a new mission.

She is working with a group in New York for teenagers to spend the summer in the vicinity of her home in Clairfield, Tenn., to do oral histories of residents. A “house party” on April 22 at the home of Jack and Marlene O’Hanlon in Knoxville, where copies of a book dedicated to Ms. Cirillo were sold, netted about $1,000 to launch the project.

“We have this first $1,000 to put a little Tennessee creativity into the project,” she said.

The book is Hungry Moon: Portraits of Appalachian Women by Charlotte Barr of Hixson, with photographs by Warren Brunner of Berea, Ky. It was published by The Intermundia Press. The author interviewed mountain women in three adjacent communities in 1985-86 along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. During that time, the author spent six months in Roses Creek in Clear Fork Valley, with Ms. Cirillo as her constant guide.

Ms. Cirillo, known as Sister Marie of Fatima of the Glenmary Home Missioners order before moving to East Tennessee in 1967, discusses in the book’s foreword her decision to leave a convent life to be with the mountain people who stayed home rather than follow most mining families who migrated to cities. The results have been mixed, yet she feels something as simple as parents planting a tree can help the next generation, she wrote.

Ms. Cirillo was a long-time director of the Clearfork Community Institute at Eagan. She continues her work, using her Social Security check and a pension from the Diocese of Knoxville, which continued to support her work after she left the order.

Ms. Barr, a former member of the Dominican teaching community, has master’s degrees in English and theology and has taught or been poet in residence at schools in Chattanooga, Nashville and several other Southern states. She did the research for the book while on sabbatical from Aquinas College in Nashville.

She was a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia of Nashville and had the name of Sister Mary Anthony, OP, from 1960-90. Anyone interested in purchasing the book should contact Ms. Barr at Sale proceeds will go to Ms. Cirillo, according to Ms. Barr, who also can arrange for a copy of a CD with music and lyrics by her brother, David Farrington Barr, which is a tribute to the women featured in the book.

Georgiana Vines, retired News Sentinel associate editor, helped co-host the book sale and “house party” at the O’Hanlons’ residence. Music was provided by guitarist Brian Sward.

Among the guests were people who have been active with Cirillo in FOCIS, or the Federation of Communities in Service, an ecumenical movement of the Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist churches. These guests included Christine Scheutzow Griffin, Sue Stephens, and Maureen O’Connell.

Also attending was Pat Pennebaker, retired teacher and assistant principal of Sacred Heart Cathedral School in Knoxville, who said about the evening, “It was truly heartening to see so many caring and involved people. The book will serve to reinforce the need for that area and those people not to be forgotten.”

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