St. Joseph Woodville celebrates 150 years

By Berta Mexidor and Tereza Ma
WOODVILLE – A grand gathering, after a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Kopacz, took place in the gardens of the St. Joseph community in Woodville where parishioners and Catholic community commemorated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the parish, on Sunday, Sept. 9.

The historic Mass was concelebrated by Father Anthonyclaret Onyeocha, pastor of St. Joseph Woodville and Holy Family Mission Gloster and Father PJ Curley, who served the parish in the 1970s.

WOODVILLE – Samuel Bray reaches in for a hand shake hand with Bishop Joseph Kopacz after a Mass celebrating the 150th anniversary of St. Joseph parish. Also pictured is Spencer Bray.

The congregation that filled the pews came from Woodville, Baton Rouge and other surrounding areas.

The year 1873 marked the opening of St. Joseph Catholic Church, under the direction of Father Germain Martin. Catholic believers were present around Fort Adams area since 1682, when on Easter Sunday, historians claimed the celebration of the first Mass, not only of the area but for all Mississippi soil.

The town of Woodville was incorporated in 1811, and for years the only Catholics families were the Elders, the Gordons, and the Poseys, who gave the community and history from a General to a Bishop.

The first Mass for the Woodville community was celebrated in the Gordon family house. The first families and their descendants have claimed and kept the history until these times.

For years the Catholic community of Woodville was served by priests of Natchez, until 1905 when Father Joseph B. Weis was the first resident priest.

The history of the Woodville community is rich, with many home and buildings, including St. Joseph Church, being included on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.

St. Joseph’s current pastor, Father Anthonyclaret was also celebrating his American citizenship during the festivities. He stated that all the parishioners “worked on weekends for months and contributed to the celebration.”

Bishop Joseph Kopacz blesses new vessels, surrounded by (right) Father Curley who served at St. Joseph in early 70s, Father Anthonyclaret Onyeocha (left) with Wil Seal and Wallace Ferguson as altar servers.

Edward (Eddie) Rispone, a Catholic from Baton Rouge, owns acres of property in the area for recreation, and even though he has his parish at home, he registered his family at St. Joseph, and contributes to the area because “it is special to belong to a historical Catholic Church.”
Like him, many of the attendees from Louisiana came because of the ties of their ancestors to the parish.
Ann and Octavio Gutierrez were parishioners for years. They moved back to the area from Texas, sharing their ties of many sacraments in this church. Ann now sings in the choir. Even though they have other homes, she said this has always been her “home church.”

Beautiful weather provided for a wonderful outdoor gathering for the 150th anniversary of St. Joseph Church. On right, smoke- master Mac Fletcher of Daddy Mac’s BBQ in action at the event. (Photos by Tereza Ma)