By Joanna Puddister King
When looking through archives, you cannot help but see the name Father Aloysius Heick listed in connection with the construction of Catholic churches and schools in Mississippi.
Father Aloysius Heick, SVD, a German priest who traveled to America as a missionary more than 100 years ago was posthumously honored in his hometown of Alteglofsheim, Bavaria, Germany on Oct. 27, 2019 at St. Lawrence Church with the blessing of a memorial plaque commemorating his mission work in Mississippi.
This commemoration is through much efforts on behalf of Heick’s descendants, in particular his great-great nephew, Richard Heindl, also of Alteglofsheim. After seeing a picture of his great-great uncle, Heindl went on a quest to research the extraordinary life and accomplishments of Father Heick.
In the early 1900s, Father Heick worked to form churches and schools in Vicksburg, Jackson, Meridian and Greenville, in addition to the first seminary in Mississippi to train African Americans for the priesthood. Much of the work of Heick was controversial at the time and he often received death threats for his belief that all children, no matter their color, should have access to education.
An early assignment in the small Delta community of Merigold nearly cost Father Heick his life. In 1904, he was asked by Chicago millionaire, David Bremner, to establish a mission in Merigold for 140 black families sharecropping on his plantation. Father Heick started with about 12 students in a small warehouse in the downtown area, but within a week the school was closed. Heick was run out of town by whites, who did not share his passion for educating all citizen. According to lore, Father Heick narrowly escaped hidden in either a piano box or coffin and carted out of town to safety.
Father Heick is credited for baptizing over 685 people during his time in Mississippi and founding St. Mary Vicksburg in 1906, Holy Ghost Jackson in 1908, St. Joseph Meridian in 1910 and Sacred Heart Greenville in 1913. The Greenville seminary for African Americans was established by Heick in 1920 but was subsequently moved to Bay St. Louis in 1923.
To the German founded community of Gluckstadt, Heick was instrumental in the completion of the first church building in 1917, which was dedicated in honor of St. Joseph. Originally a mission, St. Joseph was named a parish in 2006.
Father Heick died at the age of 65 in 1929. After his passing, Bishop Gerow of Natchez wrote of Heick: “He might justly be called martyr to his missionary zeal.”
Descendants of Heick have traveled to Mississippi on several occasions to research his extraordinary life. Heindl, his wife and son attended the 100th anniversary of St. Joseph Gluckstadt and the 100th anniversary of Holy Ghost Jackson in 2009.
Pat Ross, parishioner of St. Francis Madison and descendant of one of the original German settlers of Gluckstadt, traveled to Germany for the dedication of the plaque in honor of Father Heick in late October.
“October was chosen for the dedication due to Pope Francis’ proclaiming October the Extra-ordinary month of Missions,” said Ross.
“The Catholics of Alteglofsheim are very proud of their priest and the work he did in the United States.”
In a letter to Father Matthias Kienberger of St. Lawrence church in Alteglofsheim, Bishop Joseph Kopacz stated that “Father Heick was committed to spreading the Gospel in some of the poorest communities of our diocese; and was dedicated to providing a solid education and faith formation to the underserved. We are forever in his debt.”
The plaque commemorating the extraordinary work of Father Heick was designed by Julia Heindl, Heick’s great-great-great niece. Made of bronze and steel, the plaque will occupy a prominent place on the wall of St. Laurentius church in Alteglofsheim.