Newspaper chronicles life of first bishop
Next Sunday, July 22, will mark the 160th anniversary of the death of Bishop John Joseph Chanche, SS, our diocese’s first bishop. In honor of this we are reprinting his obituary which was originally printed on July 24, 1852, in The Catholic Mirror, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It is elegantly written and captures the essence of the man and the times.
John Joseph Chanche was born in Baltimore, in 1795, of respectable parents, who with many others had sought refuge in the United States from the terrors of the insurrection in St. Domingo. With pious inclinations he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in his native place, at eleven years of age, with a view to acquire the knowledge and virtues which would fit him for the ecclesiastical state.
Diligently intent upon the object of his pursuit, he soon qualified himself for advancement, through the preliminary grades, to the high dignity of priesthood. At the age of fifteen, he received the holy tonsure at the hands of the Venerable Archbishop Carroll. A few years after, Archbishop Neale conferred upon him the minor orders, and subsequently, on the 5th of June, 1819 he was promoted to the sacerdotal office by Archbishop Marechal.
Having become a member of the Society of St. Sulpitius, under whose fostering care he had been educated, he continued in St. Mary’s College the duties of Professor, which he exercised before his ordination, and was soon appointed to the office of vice-president of that institution. In 1834, he succeeded the Rev. Mr. Eccleston in the presidency of the college, and retained that position until his elevation to the episcopacy, in 1841. As the principal of an establishment of learning, Mr. Chanche exhibited much wisdom.
While he enforced the observance of discipline with a firm hand, his bland and gentle manner conciliated the esteem of all under his charge, and rendered him highly popular in the community at large. At no period did the institution over which he presided, enjoy a better name or move on more prosperously than under his administration.
The same qualities continued to win for him a general esteem when he was called to a wider sphere of duty. Religion had long suffered in the State of Mississippi, from the want of laborers to cultivate that portion of the spiritual vineyard, and Mr. Chanche was appointed by the Holy See, at the recommendation of the 4th Provincial Council of Baltimore, to the charge of that important district.
He received the Episcopal consecration at the hands of the Most Rev. Dr. Eccleston, on the 14th of March, 1841, and a few months after, he repaired to his diocese.
Here he beheld everything calculated to discourage his efforts, if he had not resolved to toil in earnest and encounter all manner of difficulties, to promote the cause which had been entrusted to him.
There was not a church, we believe, there was, at most, not more than one, in the whole state of Mississippi, and no clergymen resided within its limits to dispense them the consolations of religion. But, Bishop Chanche gradually succeeded in imparting a more cheering aspect to this desolate scene.
He has left behind him, at least eleven churches, and the same number of priests, to attest the efficacy of his zeal, while the elegant Cathedral which he erected in Natchez (said to be the most beautiful church in the West) is an enduring monument of both his enterprise and taste. He also obtained for his diocese the valuable services of the Sisters of Charity, from Emmittsburg, and was maturing other undertakings equally conducive to the interests of education and the diffusion of the faith. In the midst of this usefulness he has been called away, to receive, we fondly hope, the crown of justice which a just Judge has in reserve for the faithful servant.
In his person, Bishop Chanche was of rather a tall and commanding figure, and prepossessing in his appearance. The grace and dignity with which he conducted the ceremonials of the church, on marked occasions, will long be remembered. By his courteous bearing and suavity of manner, as well as by sacerdotal virtues that graced his life, he won the esteem and respect of all who knew him.
Back to Diocesan News