Families gather for 180th celebration of St. Michael Paulding

By Tereza Ma and Joanna Puddister King

PAULDING – On Dec. 2, the faithful gathered at St. Michael in Paulding to celebrate at milestone 180th anniversary with Bishop Joseph Kopacz and Father Adolfo Suarez Pasillas. Established in 1843, the parish is the second oldest Catholic Church in the state of Mississippi, behind St. Mary Natchez.

Paulding was a bustling town with a thriving trade center before the Civil War. At that time, it was known as “the Queen City of the East.” However, by the 1890s as railways became crucial for trade the town turned down a proposed line that would run through town. The commercial importance of the town drastically dropped but the parish continued to thrive and was a “cradle of vocations,” according to Christ: The Living Water by Cleta Ellington.

PAULDING – Judy and Ricky McDevitt present the gifts to Bishop Joseph Kopacz during a Mass celebrating 180 years of St. Michael in Paulding on Saturday, Dec. 2. The McDevitt’s aid with maintenance of the parish in preparation for Masses and special events. (Photos by Tereza Ma)

Over 20 religious came from the parish and included many Sisters of Mercy, Daughters of Charity and Brothers of the Sacred Heart. A plaque honors many of them in the back of the church building.

Therese Bergin Grant remembers when the original church was destroyed by a fire in July 1942 when she was only about four years old. The church was struck by lightning, with only a few items able to be salvaged. “I will never forget those flames,” said Grant. Until a new church was built, Mass was held in a nearby school building.

Bishop Kopacz blesses the feast following Mass in celebration of 180 years of St. Michael parish. Pictured on the far left is William Harrington, one of the decendants of Michael and Rebecca Harrington, who were one of the original families at the founding of the church in 1843.

Grant also fondly remembered her childhood at the church, walking over three miles to celebrate Mass as a child, with the occasional ride from her first cousin on his shoulders.
“It was fun,” said Grant. “It’s been quite a journey through life, but I always come back to St. Michael’s.”

St. Michael also is home to a Catholic cemetery dating back to the 1860s that contains burial sites for many of the founding families of the parish. Several families present at the 180th anniversary Mass had ancestors buried in the cemetery dating back to the founding of the parish – including the Harrington, Bergin and Finnegan families.

Donnie Bergin was baptized in the church in the 1950s and remembers his pastor at the time – Father Gabriel – pointing you out if you made too much noise in church. He said that around that time about one-third of the church was full of Bergin’s – many of whom are buried in the cemetery today.

Also present at the celebration was Paula Finnegan Phillips. She said that 99% of her family members are buried in the St. Michael cemetery. She was so touched by the Mass celebrated with Bishop Kopacz and so many families present that have been apart of the parish for generations.

“It’s just very spiritual when you come to this church. It’s like you can see those who have past at Mass with you. God talks. Jesus talks. The Holy Spirit talks – when you come here. And I heard it today,” said Phillips.
At present, Father Adolfo celebrates Mass at the historic St. Michael Church on the first and third Saturday of each month. Though many of the families present at the 180th celebration are members of other parishes within the Diocese of Biloxi, that borders close by, they all seem to come back to St. Michael; and feel as Therese Bergin Grant – “It’s home.”

Full pews and hearts abound at St. Michael Paulding, the second oldest Catholic Church in the state of Mississippi.