Archive researcher explores Bishop Elder

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – This past week our diocesan archives hosted Father David Endres, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Dean of the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary where he is professor of church history. Father Endres is also historical theology editor of U.S. Catholic Historian. Father Endres is working on completing an official biography of our third bishop, William Henry Elder.

Bishop Elder, a native of Baltimore, was our bishop from 1858 to 1880 when he was named Archbishop of Cincinnati.

On our diocesan website, we have this brief description of Bishop Elder’s tenure here in Mississippi.

One of his first actions was to appoint Father Mathurin Grignon vicar general of the diocese. He was a capable and energetic administrator who established a strong foundation on which the modern diocese was built.

Bishop Elder is pictured surrounded by his six brothers after he received his pallium as Archbisop of Cincinnati.

Father Grignon, who also served as pastor of the cathedral, had come to Natchez to teach in the school established by Bishop Chanche. It was he who administered the last sacraments to Bishop Van de Velde.
Wanting to make a good impression on Bishop Elder, Father Grignon, the Sisters of Charity and parishioners worked to improve the still unfinished interior of the cathedral, completing the woodwork and windows. By 1859, the task was completed.

Bishop Elder entrusted the running of the cathedral parish to Father Grignon while he traveled throughout the large Diocese to assist struggling parishes. At the same time, St. Mary Cathedral was also assisting missions attached to it in Grand Gulf, Port Gibson, Cedar Creek, Rodney, Fayette, Meadville and Woodville.

D’Evereux Hall, an orphanage for boys, was opened in Natchez.

During Bishop Elder’s administration, the Civil War consumed the nation in violence and bloodshed for four years. Known as a saintly and scholarly man, Bishop Elder wrote to his father on the eve of the Civil War: “It is hard to tell what is to be the fate of the country. I have not enough of political sagacity to see what will be the course of events, nor what would be the fruit of the remedies proposed. … We can all unite in praying to God to guide and protect us.” Bishop Elder ministered to soldiers and celebrated Mass for the wounded throughout the war. He also ministered to a community of freedmen formed in Natchez by slaves who fled after the city was occupied in 1863 by federal troops.

Under Union occupation, the Bishop was expelled from Natchez and imprisoned in Vidalia, Louisiana for refusing to pray for the United States government. Although the war ended in 1865, Union troops remained in Natchez until 1876.

Bishop William Henry Elder and his chalice. (Photos from archives)

Expanding their educational ministry in the diocese, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart opened a school for boys in Natchez in 1865.

Bishop Elder was named coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1880 and would later become Archbishop there. When he arrived in Mississippi there were nine priests, 11 churches, three educational institutions, one orphanage and a Catholic population of 10,000.

When he left Mississippi, there were 19 priests, 42 churches, 12 schools for white children, three schools for black children and a Catholic population of 12,500. Among the parishes established during this time was St. Alphonsus in McComb.

For five days, Father Endres poured through original documents, letter books and correspondence from the 19th century carefully indexed by our master archivist, Bishop R. O. Gerow. Working in the diocesan archives vault among all the papers and files in boxes, cabinets stacked to the ceiling, there is a unique feeling of connection with those who have gone before us. We have a national treasure in our vault containing more than 200 years of American and church history.

JACKSON – Father David Endres of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati recently spent a week at the Diocese of Jackson’s chancery office researching Bishop William Henry Elder for a biography he is writing. He said that through his research he was “amazed by the fortitude that it took to be a missionary here in the 19th century.” (Photo by Tereza Ma)

The diocesan archive collection is only open to research by historians such as Father Endres. It is not like a library where one is able to walk in, browse and pull books off the shelf. Researchers must present credentials and an outline of the project they are researching before being approved for entry.

As archivist, I would then pull and group the information for the researcher to enable accomplishment of the project. For Father Endres’ research, there were 18 extremely fragile letter books, an 11-volume index, approximately 10 cubic feet of documents and several odds and ends in our vault.

By the end of the week, Father Endres had captured a wealth of information for the book. I very much look forward to reading Father Endres’ biography of Elder and placing a copy of it in our diocesan archive collection.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Yellow fever martyrs abound in the South

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – This past June at the U.S. bishops’ annual spring meeting, the Diocese of Shreveport put forward the cause for canonization of five priests who had served and died there during the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic. These men ministered to the sick and dying in and around Shreveport until succumbing to the dreaded fever themselves.

HOLLY SPRINGS – Archive photo of St. Joseph Catholic Church. Six Sisters of Charity along with the pastor died during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878 at the Marshall County church. Archivist, Mary Woodward gives an account of that time period in her latest “From the Archives” column.

I mentioned in the last installment of this series that our second bishop, James Oliver Van de Velde, died of Yellow Fever in 1855. Yellow Fever was a frequent visitor to the South in the 1800s.

Bishop William Henry Elder, our third bishop, contracted the fever but survived it. However, much like Shreveport, Bishop Elder lost six of his priests to the fever’s outbreak in 1878. From Aug. 31 – Sept. 14, 1878, the then Diocese of Natchez lost: Fathers Jean Baptiste Mouton (8/31), Patrick Cogan (9/8), John McManus (9/8), Anacletus Oberti (9/11), Charles Van Queckleberge (9/11) and John Vitolo (9/14).

In a letter from November 1878, Father Patrick Hayden writes Bishop Elder from Columbus lamenting the loss of the six men, especially Father Mouton, who was a trained architect and had designed several of the churches in the eastern half of the diocese, including the original church in Columbus.

Father Cogan was in Canton and was said to be the only remaining minister in the town when the outbreak occurred. An interesting note from a newspaper article reveals ministers of other denominations wanted to stay but were convinced to leave due to the fact that they had wives and children, who would be left destitute without them if they died. There is a monument for Father Cogan at Sacred Heart in Canton.

We must remember, though, that alongside these priests were fearless women religious – Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity – Angels, who served as nurses to the sick and eventually themselves died. Rarely are these heroic women given names, but in the case of Holly Springs St. Joseph, we do have at least the first names of the six Sisters of Charity who died – Stanislaus, Stella, Margaret, Victoria, Lorentia and Corinthia.

Cleta Ellington in her masterwork “Christ the Living Water” written for the Diocese of Jackson’s 150th anniversary in 1988, gives a stirring account of the epidemic of 1878 in Holly Springs. It follows below along with the tribute given to Sister Corinthia Mahoney by an eyewitness account.

“In the late summer and early fall of 1878, yellow fever swept across Mississippi like a conquering army, but it appeared that Holly Springs was to be spared. The city fathers, in a burst of generosity and believing that the germ could not live in such a high and dry climate, opened the doors of the town to fever refuges from surrounding counties.

“Two articles from New Orleans newspapers reveal the swiftness with which the townspeople learned their leadership was in error.

“Aug. 13, 1878: ‘The town is clean and healthy…no symptoms of the outbreak here. We have thrown open our hospitality to our sister cities, even accepting Grenada where the fever rages. The mayor and the community council decided today to use disinfectants merely as a precautionary…’

“Aug. 19, 1878: ‘Yesterday there were seven deaths, last night six, five of whom died in our house. The situation is too appalling to be described and the worst is, not a single case has recovered or promises recovery.’

“The Marshall County Courthouse was turned into a hospital where beds were piles of straw, where black and white lay together to await medical treatment almost certainly useless.

“The 12 sisters at Bethlehem Academy closed the school and took over the courthouse hospital. They were joined by a number of volunteer doctors who had heroically rushed to the town and by Father Anacletus Oberti, a friendly Italian priest, 31 years old, who had been working very hard to establish a Catholic library at St. Joseph.

Archive photo of Father Jean Baptiste Mouton. Father Mouton died on Aug. 31, 1878 from Yellow Fever. (Photos from archives)

“Six of the sisters, all of them part of the original group at Holly Springs, died during September and October. Father Oberti died on Sept. 11. Over 300 of the townspeople perished, 30 of them Catholic.

“Dr. R.M. Swearingen, a volunteer from Austin, Texas, penciled a tribute to Sister Corinthia Mahoney on the plaster wall of a jury room.

“It remained there until 1925 when the courthouse was renovated.

“To save the tribute, R.A. McDermott had workmen remove that section of the wall. Then he took it to Nazareth, Ky., where it remained until 1971 when it was returned to Holly Springs to the Marshall County Historical Museum where it can be seen today.

Within this room, September 1878, Sister Corinthia sank into enteral sleep. Among the first to enter this realm of death, she was the last, save one, to leave. The writer of this humble notice saw her in health, gentle but strong, as she moved with noiseless step and serene smiles through the crowded wards. He saw her when the yellow plumed angel threw his golden shadows over the last sad scene, and eyes unused to weeping paid the tribute of tears to the brave and beautiful “Spirit of Mercy.”

She needs no slab of Parisian marble
With its white and ghastly head,
To tell wanderers in the valley
The virtues of the dead.
Let the lily be her tombstone,
And dewdrops pure and bright,
The epitaphs the angels write
In the stillness of the night.
R.M. Swearingen, M.D.
Austin, Texas
Let no one deface.

“Father Oberti and the sisters were laid to rest in the local cemetery where a monument was erected by a grateful town. And Bethlehem Academy reopened its doors.”

Kudos to Shreveport for putting forward the five martyrs from their diocese. The clergy and sisters in our diocesan history may be called martyrs too.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Education, roof, bones mark Bishop’s tenure

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – When Bishop Van de Velde arrived in Natchez on Dec. 18, 1853, he inherited a cathedral in debt and needing completion on top of repairs to what already was there.

In a letter to the Propagation of the Faith written on Jan. 2, 1854, Bishop Van de Velde describes the scene:

“When my venerable predecessor was nominated to the new Diocese of Natchez in 1841, he had not a Catholic church in this city. He had only one church and one priest in the whole extent of the diocese.

“The Catholics in general were poor and few in numbers, as they still are. He was forced to build a church here to serve as his Cathedral and he used all the money which he could obtain by gifts, subscriptions, contributions, collections, allotments, etc.

NATCHEZ – Bishop Van de Velde was buried in the crypt beneath the St. Mary Basilica sanctuary until 1874 when his remains were transferred by his Jesuit brothers to Florissant, Missouri. (Photos courtesy of St. Mary Basilica Archives/Mike Murphy)

“He contracted debts in building this church which he has left half-finished. There are walls, furniture and roof which already need to be renewed. The windows have been boarded up, leaving an opening in each one in which panes of glass have been placed.

“It is absolutely the appearance of a great barn, and it has been in this state since 1843.”

Archbishop Antoine Blanc of New Orleans gifted Bishop Van de Velde with around $2000. Adding that to a parish subscription, he was able to put a slate roof on the church and with some other funds collected locally and from the Propagation of the Faith was able to do some repairs.

As a diocese, Bishop Van de Velde maintained the 11 original parishes established by Bishop John Joseph Chanche at Natchez, Paulding, Biloxi, Jackson, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Vicksburg, Sulphur Springs (Camden), Pearlington, Port Gibson and Yazoo City. There were also a few dozen mission stations being attended to monthly around these locations.

During his tenure, the Bishop tried to develop Catholic education in his diocese. He invited the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet to staff a new mission and future school built at Sulphur Springs. Five Sisters journeyed down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg, where they were met by the Bishop. From there they travelled by stagecoach to Canton and on to Sulphur Springs.

Bones from the old Spanish burial ground located behind St. Mary Basilica rest under the sanctuary of the church.

There is an interesting event that occurred along the journey which reflects an undercurrent of anti-Catholic sentiments in the State. The stagecoach owner apparently was one who expressed these sentiments as a member of the Know-Nothing movement. Simply put, the Know-Nothings believed Catholics were conspiring to subvert civil and religious liberties in the United States.

During the ride, the man, who also was intoxicated, accused our Bishop of being a priest and spat tobacco in his face several times in front of the five Sisters. Bishop Van de Velde maintained his composure and temper blocking the spew with his hat. Finally, when the stage stopped to change horses near Canton, Bishop Van de Velde threw the man out of the coach.

Another major education initiative of Bishop Van de Velde’s was to establish a Jesuit College at Rose Hill near Natchez. But this was not to be due to a lack of qualified clergy available for the endeavor and, the Jesuits were unable to accept the Bishop’s proposal.

Overall, Bishop Van de Velde was a much-loved bishop among the clergy and laity. His efforts to grow Catholic educational opportunities in his diocese show his commitment to further the faith in the State.

Back in the city of Natchez, the Bishop briefly obtained possession of the old Spanish burial ground located behind the church. The grounds had become a playground for children and dogs, with bones being unearthed and scattered. The city had even used some of the ground containing bones to level city streets. Bishop Van de Velde had all the bones gathered into two boxes and interred them in a crypt under the sanctuary in the church, then built a high wall around the rest of the area to protect the remaining graves.

In the fall of 1855, Natchez and Mississippi were under another siege of Yellow Fever. Several of the Cathedral staff were ill with the disease and suffering in the rectory next to the church. On Oct. 23, the Bishop fell on the steps of the rectory while going out in the evening to close the front gate. He fractured his leg in two places. Those inside suffering from fever were unaware of his predicament, and the poor Bishop had to lie there until morning when passersby heard his moans.

Soon the Bishop himself had contracted Yellow Fever and suffered for several days in agony. His beloved flock would pass by his room and receive a blessing from him while the fever raged. Then on Nov. 13 in the middle of blessing a parishioner, he succumbed to the illness.

After his funeral Mass, he was buried in the crypt beneath the sanctuary until 1874 when his Jesuit brothers took his remains to Florissant, Missouri. The Jesuit cemetery was relocated in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2006. Similar to his predecessor, he has been buried three times.
Bless his heart. His prayerful desire to be a missionary priest led him along a circuitous path to frontier mission work. We are blessed by his short term here in our diocese.

A special thank you to the St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee, who provided photos for this article and facts from their web site:

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Bishop Van de Velde transfers from Chicago to warmer climate

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.

Envelope corner and stamp from Bishop Van de Velde’s letter to Msgr. Grignon from Nov. 7. 1853.

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.

NATCHEZ – Photo of the rectory at the (now) Basilica of St. Mary in June of 1941. (Photos courtesy of archives)

“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.)

Pictured is a 1845 Roman Pontifical belonging to Bishop Van de Velde, the second bishop of the diocese.

Missionary zeal brings Van de Velde to America

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – He only wanted to serve as a missionary priest. That was the spirit of a young James Oliver Van de Velde in May 1817 as he embarked on a rather circuitous journey to becoming the second bishop of our diocese 36 years later in 1853.

Bishop Van de Velde, SJ, is the shortest serving bishop of our diocese. His tenure lasted from his taking possession of his diocese on Dec. 18, 1853, until his death of Yellow Fever two years later on Nov. 13, 1855. All of our other bishops have served close to 10 years or more. But in his short time, +James Oliver accomplished some very important initiatives for the church.

Over the next couple of articles, I will share more about +James Oliver’s missionary ministry here in Mississippi. For now, let me give some background on his interesting odyssey to Natchez.

The following biographical details are culled from Bishop Richard Gerow’s landmark work, “Cradle Days of St. Mary’s at Natchez,” where the seventh bishop details the early days of Catholicism in the state up to the 1890’s.

Bishop James Oliver Van de Velde was born in Belgium in 1795. Mary Woodward explores his early life and how he made his way to America before being named the second Bishop of Jackson (nee Natchez) by Pope Pius IX in 1853. (Photo from archives)

Born on April 3, 1795, in Belgium near the town of Termonde, James Oliver Van de Velde was from a family of high social and official standing in the community. His family was a devout Catholic one and early on James Oliver showed signs of his desiring to enter the religious life.

When he turned 15, he was sent to boarding school, where he excelled in his studies, especially in the area of language. James Oliver was so proficient that a few years later at age 18 he was asked to teach his fellow students French and Flemish. During this time, he began to study English and Italian. These studies proved beneficial as he entered the Archepiscopal Seminary in Mechlin, Belgium, in his early 20’s, where he was again asked to teach his fellow students – this time adding Latin to his repertoire of languages.

It was in seminary that his desire to become a missionary began to burn within him. In early 1817, James Oliver was fortunate to meet Father Charles Nerinckx, a fellow Belgian, who was considered the Apostle to Kentucky. Father Nerinckx was returning through Belgium from a trip to Rome when he encountered the young Van de Velde at the seminary.

Sharing the need for priests to serve the missions in America, Father Nerinckx offered to bring James Oliver to the frontier missions of Bardstown, Kentucky, where Nerinckx was based. The seminary allowed for the transfer and he joined Nerinckx and a handful of other young Belgians who were bound for Georgetown College in Washington to enter the Jesuit novitiate there.

The plan for James Oliver to follow Nerinckx to Bardstown, however, was upended when during the transatlantic crossing the ship encountered a violent storm and Van de Velde was seriously injured. The loss of blood caused such weakness in him that upon arrival in the United States, he was taken to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore to recover instead of travelling on to Kentucky. [Bishop William Houck was a graduate of St. Mary’s.]

Seeing the damage done, Nerinckx advised James Oliver to follow his fellow Belgian ship mates to Georgetown and the novitiate of the Jesuits. Again, his intellectual acumen led him to be asked by the faculty to not only be student, but also be a professor to his fellow classmates teaching “belles lettres” at Georgetown, a class studying the art and beauty of literature in and of itself. [Bishop Joseph Brunini graduated from Georgetown and was editor-in-chief of the yearbook.]

Ten years after arriving in America, James Oliver was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Ambrose Maréchal, SS, in Baltimore on Sept. 25, 1827. [Archbishop Maréchal also would have ordained to the priesthood John Joseph Chanche, SS, our first bishop, in 1819.] He served some missions in Maryland before being sent to the newly established Jesuit College in St. Louis where he taught rhetoric and math. In 1833, the college became the University of St. Louis and Van de Velde became its vice president and procurator.

Finally in 1837, Van de Velde made his solemn vows and became a professed member of the Society of Jesus. During an 1838 trip to New Orleans, he stopped in the freshly erected Diocese of Natchez and for two weeks served the Catholic congregation there which was still awaiting its first bishop – a foreshadowing of the eventual arrival of James Oliver as bishop in 15 years.

Van de Velde continued to be promoted at the University of St. Louis and in the Jesuits becoming president of the university in 1840 and vice provincial of the order in 1843. As vice provincial he oversaw the growth and flourishing of the Jesuit missions. His zeal for missions and his keen intellect and administrative skills did not go unnoticed by the Holy See so that on Dec. 1, 1848, he was appointed as the second bishop of Chicago. It required the cajoling of several friends and much prayer for him to accept, but in the end, he accepted and was ordained a bishop on Feb. 11, 1849, in the Church of St. Francis Xavier at the University of St. Louis by the Archbishop of St. Louis, Peter Richard Kenrick.

Thus, we will end this initial look at our second bishop – a man of extreme intellect and passionate zeal for the missions. In the next installment, we will explore how Bishop Van de Velde made his way from Chicago to Natchez and explore several of his initiatives in our diocese.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Ordinations from yesteryear

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Last edition I wrote about May being the month for ordinations. This week for the digital edition I thought I would share several photos of our three most recent bishops at their ordinations. It is very enriching to look back on lives well-lived in the service of the Lord.

Keep all of our priests in your prayers as they strive to be humble servants of the Lord.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb lays hands on the head of Bishop Joseph Latino at his ordination on March 7, 2003.
Bishop Houck following the ordination of Father Joseph Marino, a student of bishop’s when he was a priest in Birmingham. Father Marino went on to become Archbishop Joseph Marino, apostolic nuncio to Bangladesh and Malaysia. Bishop Houck was a co-consecrator at Archbishop Marino’s ordination to the episcopacy as well.
Then, Father Latino gives a blessing to his parents at his first Mass.
Archbishop Thomas Rodi pours Sacred Chrism on the head of Bishop Joseph Kopacz during his ordination on Feb. 6. 2014. (Photos from archives)

May hosts a myriad of ordinations

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – The month of May is traditionally the month dedicated to the Blessed Mother in our church. Countless May crownings, novenas, rosaries, and a myriad of other celebrations occur in parishes throughout the diocese and indeed the world.

May also is the month when many of our ordinations to the priesthood and diaconate occur. This year is no different when in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle on May 20, Bishop Joseph Kopacz will ordain Tristan Stovall to the transitional diaconate, and on May 27, he will ordain Deacon Carlisle Beggerly to the priesthood. This is definitely an exciting time for our diocese to celebrate Holy Orders being conferred on two young men.

Looking at our current clergy and many of the past, May was the month to get ordained. Bishop Kopacz himself was ordained on May 7; Bishop Joseph Latino was ordained on May 25, and Bishop William Houck was ordained a priest on May 19 and a bishop on May 27.

Bishop R.O. Gerow

Noting this, I decided to look in Bishop Richard O. Gerow’s diary back to his early days to possibly find something on his ordination. He narrowly missed being ordained a priest in May as he was ordained June 5; and he was ordained a bishop on Oct. 15. He was born on May 3, so in a way he was ordained into life in May.

But in looking at his entries in May 1927 while doing some research on the Great Flood of that year, I found a unique entry about the ordination of Thomas J. Toolen as the Bishop of Mobile on May 4, of that year. Bishop Toolen would have been the bishop to ordain Bishop Houck to the priesthood in 1951, so we have a definite connection to him.

Bishop Houck often shared many wonderful stories about Bishop Toolen, who uniquely was given the title of Archbishop prior to Mobile becoming an archdiocese. Anyway, I would like to share Bishop Gerow’s warm account of the celebration and his love for his hometown.

“At the time that I received the request of Bishop-Elect [Thomas J.] Toolen to serve as his Junior Co-Consecrator I felt highly honored and elevated. Naturally it made me happy to think that I was to have a very important part in raising to the dignity of the Episcopacy the new Bishop of my own native Mobile for I still love Mobile.

“I had not known personally the new Bishop-Elect, but since he was to be the new Bishop of Mobile where I had been born and which had been my childhood home and where I had spent fifteen happy years of my priestly life, I felt that we belonged together. Accordingly, I immediately accepted the invitation.

“On May 4, the date of the Consecration, I was in Baltimore for the ceremony. Archbishop Curley was the Consecrator, Bishop Keyes was the Senior Co-Consecrator, and I did my part as Junior Co-Consecrator.
“The Consecration of a Bishop is a beautiful and impressive ceremony. In order to give it dignity it takes place within the ceremony of the Mass. I still remember the ceremony of my own Consecration – just three years ago – and this ceremony now brings back most vividly to my memory all that took place on that occasion.

“The reading of the Papal document that called him to the Bishop’s office, the Litany of the Saints calling upon the blessed in Heaven to join us in prayer, the imposition of hands by the Consecrator and the two Co-Consecrators, the anointing of the head with chrism, the receiving of the mitre and the blessing of the people, and many other beautiful parts of the ceremony made me live over again the happy occasion of my own Consecration.”

These next few paragraphs are from the 1924 entries to Bishop Gerow’s diary and feature his memories of his own consecration celebration in Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Mobile on Oct. 15, 1924.

“The ceremony was in the Cathedral of Mobile, and this was proper. Within its shadow I had been born; within its walls, baptized; here I had served for many years as an altar boy; here I had been confirmed; and since my ordination to the priesthood, here had been my only appointment; here was the only parish in which I had ever had a domicile.

“The Consecrating Prelate was Bishop Edward Allen, who had always been to me as a father. He had sent me to college to try my vocation; he had kept me near him during my years as a priest; and I feel that his example and training have done much to mold my priestly life.

“The Co-Consecrators were Bishop Jules B. Jeanmard and Bishop James A. Griffin, the latter a close companion during my years of study in Rome. A magnificent sermon was preached by Very Reverend Edward Cummings, S.J. Provincial, with whom I had been closely associated during his years at Spring Hill College.”

I often find myself in Mobile and visit the cathedral. After reading these two entries, I now have an even deeper connection to this sacred space. All are invited to our beautiful cathedral on May 20 and May 27 to celebrate these young men entering into Holy Orders. This May is a fine time for our diocese.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Priests of the diocese

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Join me in praying for the priests of our diocese, who participated in their annual retreat the week of April 17-21. Enjoy these photos from the archives of past retreats and priests who have served the Diocese of Jackson. May the blessings of this Easter season bring you joy and peace!

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Holy Week adventures

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – The timing of this edition of Mississippi Catholic coincides with the week called “holy.” Throughout this week Catholics hopefully will be filling pews in churches around the world for the Sacred Triduum liturgies that culminate in the celebration of Easter.

This week we journey from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane to Calvary the Tomb and finally the Resurrection. It is an immersion in Christ’s journey that brings us out of darkness and into light.

Many staff and volunteers will be preparing sanctuaries for foot washing, eucharistic processions into a symbolic Garden of Gethsemane, the Passion reading, venerating the cross, and bringing the newly blessed paschal candle into the darkness and spreading its light. A lot of details are carried out behind the scenes so that all may enter into these sacred liturgies surrounded by the rich symbols and traditions of our church.

JACKSON – Mary Woodward works behind the scenes to prepare for Holy Week at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. (Photos courtesy of archives)

Reflecting on all the details, I decided to take a look at our friend, Bishop Gunn’s diary to see what a Holy Week might be like for him. I found these interesting accounts from Holy Weeks of his time.

Holy Week 1913: “Holy Week kept me busy from March 18 to Easter Sunday March 23. I had to pontify on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; to preach on Friday and Sunday, wash feet on Thursday, and hear all the confessions of the Italians that gravitated ‘round the Cathedral during my stay.

“I was glad when the Alleluias were heard, and I remained quietly in Natchez to March 30 when the usual confirmation class was confirmed.”

Holy Week 1914: “From Vicksburg I returned to Chatawa for March 29 to remain there until April 4, when I went on April 5 to Natchez for Palm Sunday and its ceremonies. I remained in Natchez for the Holy Week functions and as usual the honors of carrying nearly the entire burden were gracefully assigned to me.

“I pontified on Holy Thursday, consecrated the oils and gave a short sermon on the blessed Eucharist on Thursday night. The washing of the feet of thirteen orphans and a sermon on the Passion Friday night gave a full day’s work.

“Saturday morning, I did all that had to be done and enjoyed the Alleluias when they came somewhere near midday. On Saturday afternoon I helped in the confessional and pontified on Easter Sunday and preached.”

Holy Week 1915: “On March 29 the Bishop went to Natchez [from Pass Christian] to consecrate the holy oils and to pontify at the Cathedral on Easter Sunday.

“April – Father Horton replaced the Bishop at the Pass for Easter Sunday and he made his visit exceptionally short on account of the scandalous conduct of some New Orleans visitors on Easter Sunday. They talked and laughed and giggled during his sermon to the extent that Horton left as soon as he could get away and nothing could induce him to return to the Pass ever since.

“This forced the Bishop to send on April 8, Father Burns who was assistant at Vicksburg and he reached the Pass to take care of the church and parish and act as the Bishop’s Chancellor.”

My favorite quotes from Holy Week 1916: “the washing of the feet came too soon after dinner.”

“Holy Saturday was like some sermons – without any terminal facilities. It was an endurance more than a religious test to get through the morning service, changing into every color imaginable at the Bishop’s throne, using vestments that had not been out of the moth balls for twelve months…”
I enjoy Bishop Gunn’s phrasing and descriptions. He certainly had a gift for sizing up situations and experiences.

This Holy Week I pray you enter into the liturgies with an open heart – one that seeks to walk in procession with Jesus into the Upper Room, out into the garden to pray quietly in his presence, on to Calvary at the foot of the Cross, then carrying his light into the darkness.

Let us remember all those affected so terribly by the recent tornadoes. May they experience the light of Christ through us.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Chrism Mass moves to daytime again

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – This year’s Chrism Mass is moving to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 4. For many years the Chrism Mass has been celebrated on Tuesday of Holy Week at the unique time of 5:45 p.m. Prior to this, many, many years ago, the Mass was celebrated in the morning on Holy Thursday and only priests were in attendance.

JACKSON – Antique oil stocks are stored in boxes in the Diocese of Jackson archives. (Photos from archives)

The Chrism Mass is a celebration focused on the ministerial priesthood. Priests from all over the diocese concelebrate and renew their priestly promises made at their ordination. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will recognize this year’s jubilarians in his homily. Then the oils to be used in priestly ministry are blessed and consecrated by the bishop surrounded by his brother priests.

The Ceremonial of Bishops describes the Chrism Mass in this way: “This Mass, which the bishop concelebrates with his college of presbyters and at which he consecrates the holy chrism and blesses the other oils, manifests the communion of the presbyters with their bishop.

Priests process down the aisle for a past Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. Tuesday, April 4 will mark a return to a daytime celebration for the annual Mass.
Oils sit before a past Chrism Mass. This year, the Chrism Mass will be held in the daytime at the Cathedral of St. Peter on April 4 at 11:30 a.m.

“The holy chrism consecrated by the bishop is used to anoint the newly baptized, to seal the candidates for confirmation, and to anoint the hands of presbyters and the heads of bishops at their ordination, as well as in the rites of anointing pertaining to the dedication of churches and altars.

“The oil of catechumens is used in the preparation of catechumens for baptism. The oil of the sick is used to bring comfort and support to the sick in their infirmity.
“This Mass is therefore a clear expression of the unity of the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, which continue to be present in the church.”

As stated above for many years the Mass has been celebrated in the evening and priests and people have come from all over the diocese. This would mean our clergy and people would return home late in the evening, especially those coming from parishes in the far corners of the diocese.

The move to late morning will allow for travel in the daylight. We also have invited fifth graders from our Catholic schools to the Mass and are having a fun, educational event with them afterwards to talk about the cathedral, liturgy and vocations. Right now, we have around 140 young folks and headed to the celebration on April 4.

Several other dioceses in the region do this and we are excited about having our young people present in the Cathedral for such a beautiful Mass. As always (except for the height of the pandemic) the Chrism Mass is open to the public.

As we journey closer to the sacred celebrations of Holy Week, let us hold our clergy in prayer. They certainly need them.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)