Catholic history display blessed at Natchez basilica

NATCHEZ – Bishop Joseph Kopacz blessed and unveiled 22 history plaques at the O’Connor Family Life Center of St. Mary Basilica Sunday, Oct. 4, at 3 p.m.
“These plaques highlight significant events, people and institutions in the story of Catholicism in the Natchez area, a story that extends beyond 300 years,” said Father David O’Connor, pastor. An invitation was extended to individuals and groups who are interested in church and local history.
The purpose of these plaques is to present a visual overview of the beginnings and the growth of Catholicism in the south west part of Mississippi. It is the hope and aim of the designers of these plaques that these will offer information and inspiration for many people. These plaques will be hung on the walls of the great hall in the Family Life Center. The series begins with reference to the first documented Mass in Fort Adams in 1682, traces many moments of growth and struggle through the years and concludes with a glimpse of St. Mary congregation in 2014.
This visual history gives recognition to the impact of the French, the Spanish and English immigrants as well as the impact of outstanding bishops, priests and lay leaders. It also tells of the formal establishment of the Catholic Diocese of Natchez in 1837 as well as the local impact of the Civil War. It recognizes the ministry of the Daughters of Charity, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and the role of orphanages and schools in the area.
Father O’Connor said that the missionary nature of Catholicism is highlighted by plaques on the beginnings and continued growth of Holy Family and Assumption congregations, on the centrality of education, and on social service to the poor and needy of the community through orphanages and community programs.
“For many Natchezians who have listened to the bells of St. Mary toll over the years since 1850, one plaque depicts the bell and its history in a way not available before now,” said Father O’Connor.
The service of unveiling was be led by Bishop Kopacz but each plaque was unveiled by parish members representing different generations of parishioners. This series of plaques serve as a memorial for Garland Michael Lyell, son of Dr. Linda Wilbourn.
Father O’Connor expressed his thanks for the research assistance he received from the St. Mary Archive committee, Dr. Charles Nolan, parish and school staffs, St. Mary pastoral council and the archives of the Daughters of Charity and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. Lorraine Hampton designed the plaques and Michael Murphy and Stephen Flowers provided photography.