From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – In our last column, we ended with James Oliver Van de Velde, SJ, having been appointed the second bishop of Chicago in December 1848 and being ordained on Feb. 11, 1849.
According to “Cradle Days” (Bishop Gerow’s book), Bishop Van de Velde went about his ministry “with the utmost zeal.” He committed himself to the spiritual growth of his diocese and flock by visiting all the regions of his territory, expending great amounts of energy to the care of souls.
His health, however, was not cooperating. Bishop Van de Velde, suffered from rheumatism and the Chicago climate did not lend comfort to such an ailment. Soon he petitioned Rome to be allowed to resign and return to his brother Jesuits in Missouri. The Holy See’s answer was “carry on with patience…”
An opportunity for relief arose for Bishop Van de Velde when in 1852 at the First Plenary Council of Baltimore, he was elected to carry all the decrees from the council to the Vatican. While there in Rome, he again petitioned Pius IX to be relieved of Chicago. In the midst of this Bishop John Joseph Chanche, SS, of Natchez died during a post plenary council visit with his family outside Baltimore. This left a more temperate climate vacant and in need of a bishop.
On July 29, 1853, Pius issued a decree transferring Van de Velde to Natchez and its warmth to be its second bishop. Van de Velde spent several more months in Chicago arranging various matters in order before leaving for his new flock. He documents his circuitous journey to Natchez in a letter dated Nov. 7, 1853, to Monsignor Mathurin Grignon, who had served as Vicar General under Bishop Chanche. The original is in French and was mailed from St. Louis where Van de Velde had arrived to visit his Jesuit confreres. Here is Bishop Gerow’s translation:
“Mons. Grignon, My very dear “Abbé”:
Although I have not the pleasure of knowing you personally, I hasten to announce to you that I have arrived here [St. Louis] on my way to Natchez. Before I leave this town, I will visit St. Charles, St. Stanislaus & Florissant in Missouri and Quincy, the new See, where I have many things to arrange.
“I have promised to give the veil Sunday, feast of the amiable St. Stanislaus of our Company, to a young convert, one of my parishioners who is now a postulant of the Sacred Heart Convent in that town.
“I will start then Monday or Tuesday of next week for New Orleans; maybe ‘en passant’ will stop in Natchez. I will have with me a French priest who was one of my clergy for three years in the Diocese of Chicago, and a very good and pious old maid of Chicago who according to the advice of doctors is going to a warmer climate on account of her health. Maybe she could be our housekeeper.
“It is probable that when I will pass by Natchez I will leave them there, and in that case, I will recommend them particularly – the priest could assist you at the Cathedral and the old maid could stay with the Sisters of Charity until I come back.
“I will write again from this boat. In the meantime, I recommend myself to your good prayers…Yours very sincerely, My dear ‘Abbé’, Yours very devoted in Christ, Jacques Oliver, Bishop of Natchez.”
Initially, the bishop arrived in Natchez on Nov. 23, where he was received with a great welcome by the clergy and people of the diocese. He dropped off his traveling companions and proceeded to New Orleans to assist at the consecration of the new Bishop of Natchitoches, Auguste Marie Martin.
After this celebration, Bishop Van de Velde journeyed to Mobile to make a retreat at Spring Hill College. Finally, on Dec. 18, 1853, he took possession of his new diocese.
In August, we will look at Bishop Van de Velde’s short tenure as bishop and the tasks he accomplished as the Second Bishop of the Diocese.
(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)