By Joan Shell
FULTON – On April 18, six locations in Fulton were officially named as Mississippi historical sites, including Christ the King Catholic Church, which has been a church site since 1878. The day included the unveiling of the official marker in front of the church and tours of the building. A crowd of people gathered, including current and past church members and state government representatives.
The ceremony itself, much like the history of the church, was interdenominational. Retired Methodist Minister Glyn Wiygul presented the history. He ended the welcome by saying how very pleased everyone was that this building was in the hands of the Catholics because they know it will be well cared for. Sister Betty Clayton then brought the whole crowd to their feet by leading a rousing version of Amazing Grace and Father Albeenreddy Vatti blessed the marker.
The first church on the site was a large one-room frame structure erected in 1878 by Malachi Cummings. This was the only church in Fulton and all denominations worshipped together with a variety of ministers taking turns officiating. In 1880 Cummings deeded the church to the Methodist Conference for $50. All denominations, both black and white, continued to hold their services in the building, but now they scheduled their individual services at different times.
In 1930 the wooden structure was replaced with the current two-story brick building which the Fulton Methodist Church used until they built a new facility in the mid-1960s. While the building held no services, a MAPA program continued to use the Sunday school rooms for a training class for an integrated group of children with special needs.
This building was sold to the Catholic Diocese July 13, 1968, through the efforts of Glenmary Home Missioners and the Catholic Extension Service. Father Clement Borchers from Aberdeen St. Francis was instrumental in initiating the purchase and presiding at the Saturday Eucharist. Bishop Joseph Brunini of the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson dedicated the newly purchased mission church on Oct. 27, 1968. There were more Methodists present at the dedication than Catholics. There were only 18 Catholics in Itawamba County – including the Catholic students attending Itawamba Community College at the time. The total purchase price for the facility was $20,000 which was, even in 1968, considered to be less than the land value for the downtown corner location.
A Catholic Church in this corner of rural northeast Mississippi was a novelty. People in the area knew very little about Catholics and the many misconceptions about our faith made it difficult for the few Catholic families who attended Christ the King. Slowly but surely, the church has come to be an integral part of the community. As more Catholics took leadership roles in the area, the church became a well-respected and an important part of society here.
Christ the King is a mission church of Tupelo St. James with Father Lincoln Dall as the Sacramental Minister. Father Albeenreddy Vatti drives from New Albany every week to celebrate Mass at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and is very much loved by the small Fulton congregation of 35 families and visitors.
Everything is offered at Christ the King as any much larger church – it’s just done on a smaller scale. The recent RCIA class was attended by one person, the vacation Bible school averaged 10 children daily, the religious education classes have 2-4 children in each class. Being small doesn’t stifle enthusiasm, it encourages warm fellowship among the members.
Everyone becomes an important minister in the church and all members rarely say no when asked to fill in for a missing member. Work parties are frequent as are dinners after Mass celebrating any occasion we can come up with. We take a great deal of pride in our building and its place in downtown Fulton.
(Joan Shell is the Pastoral Minister at Fulton Christ the King Parish)