From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – These past few weeks in the diocesan chancery office we have been installing a new floor. This has involved packing files and books and anything not attached to the wall.
The diocesan archives consists of four rooms on the ground floor of the chancery full to the ceiling with items that needed securing. Three of the rooms were getting the new floor.
In the midst of shifting and maneuvering, I came across a book of congratulatory messages to Catholic Church Extension Society on its 25th anniversary in 1930. Bishops of mission dioceses around the country wrote messages citing how Catholic Extension, based in Chicago, had benefitted the local church.
Bishop Richard O. Gerow penned a lovely message about his pastoral visits to small parishes around the state for the sacrament of confirmation. Many rural areas received grants from Catholic Extension to build a church. Prior to that priests would celebrate Mass in private homes. In his message below, Bishop Gerow relays how blessed the diocese is to have the ongoing support from Extension and congratulates them on their 25th.
“Not long ago I was in one of our small Mississippi towns. The occasion was the administration of Confirmation. It was the first Confirmation in this town for many years for the congregation was small and the children were few. Every seat in the little church was filled.
“The entire community – non-Catholic as well as Catholic – had assembled to witness this ceremony and to hear what the bishop had to say. The flower-laden altars, the burning candles, the bishop’s robes and the special display of ceremony uncommon in this community, seemed to give a thrill of pride to our few Catholic people and was a source of interest to our non-Catholic friends who had, at the invitation of the pastor and of the good people of this mission, gathered on this day.
“A wonderful opportunity it presented to explain in a simple manner some of the doctrines or practices of the church so misunderstood by many. It was a great day for the members of the little flock, almost each of whom had some relative in the Confirmation class.
“All except the children of the congregation remembered the time not long past when such a blessed occasion would have been impossible in their midst. They remembered the many years they had lived here without even the modest church in which they were gathered today. They remembered when the visits of the priest to their town were few and far between, because the priests were few and the roads were bad; and when the priest did come in those days they [gathered] in the home of one of the good people of the place and there attend the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
“But now they were happy. Not many years ago Extension Society had given them a donation, and with this donation and the few dollars they had saved and were able to collect amongst themselves they had built this little church, and they were proud of it.
“What a blessing to these people has been the Extension Society! This community is not alone in the Diocese of Natchez in its gratitude to Extension. Over the entire State there are scattered little mission churches just like this one which could never have been built had not Extension made it possible.
“The prayers of the good people who have benefited from Extension ascend to heaven constantly for their benefactors. May this Society not only continue the great work that it has done during the last twenty-five years for the good of souls in the country, but may it ever grow and extend its work to the greater honor and glory of God!
“In the name of our Catholic people of Mississippi and in my own name, I extend to Extension a hearty with ad multos annos.”
More than 100 years after its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension continues to support mission dioceses around the country such as our Diocese of Jackson. From its early days of providing Mass in railroad cars in which Bishop John Gunn was a celebrant along the Gulf Coast, up through Bishop William Houck’s tenure as its president, and continuing today, Catholic Extension has been closely connected to our diocese as a generous grantor to our parishes and ministries.
We are grateful indeed for this ongoing support which enables us to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to many places in this corner of God’s Kingdom.
(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)