Madame Gireaudeau highlight of early diocese “Cradle Days” – part 1

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Before I begin this week’s article, let me say that having watched the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week by an incited mob, this brutal moment is now a part of our collective memory and a part of our history. How it is recorded will be a complicated and challenging task.
When we get beyond the rawness of this shock, how will we process it and how will we remember it? That is yet to be seen. History is indeed messy.
For now, let us turn to some more of our diocesan history. This week we will see how memory influences history as I begin a two-part article on French New Orleans Natchez connection.
In his book, Cradle Days of St. Mary’s, written in 1941, Bishop Richard O. Gerow, bishop of the diocese from 1924-1966, captures the early history of Catholic Natchez. He chronicles the days leading up to the establishment of the then Diocese of Natchez in 1837 and then carries the story forward through the early bishops.

Bishop John Joseph Chanche

The book is a treasure trove of how the church survived those days, and it features many of the people who helped establish the Catholic community. In the chapter entitled “Bishop Chanche Comes to Natchez,” Bishop Gerow highlights Madame Felicité Girodeau, who had come to Natchez from New Orleans with her husband Gabriel in 1802.
The Gireaudeau’s (proper spelling) were very active in the Catholic community and served as godparents in several of the baptismal records for both slaves and free. Mr. Gireaudeau served on the board of the Roman Catholic Society of Natchez. Sadly, he died in 1827 without receiving the last rites of the church as there was no priest assigned to the town at that time.
After Gabriel’s death, Madame Gireaudeau offered her parlor as a place for Mass when priest’s were sent to tend to the flock prior to Bishop John Joseph Chanche’s arrival in 1841. According to “Cradle Days” Madame Gireaudeau let Bishop Chanche, also of French decent, occupy one side of her house for several weeks until a house could be procured for him.
Allow me to share Bishop Gerow’s description of Madame Gireaudeau:
An interesting personage in the Catholic life of Natchez during this time was Madame Felicitê Girodeau, who had come to Natchez from Louisiana in 1802. She was a woman of education and culture, and above all, a devout Catholic.
Her husband, Gabriel Girodeau, who had kept a jewelry store on Main street and whose name is prominent in the record book of the minutes of the Roman Catholic Society of Natchez (he was for a time its president), had died in 1827, leaving her in comfortable circumstances but without children….
Of an active and charitable disposition, Madame Felicitê was present at all extraordinary occasions – in sickness, as an angel of kindness; at marriages; at births, and at deaths – whenever she could lend a helping hand. In all things pertaining to the church she had a prominent part, and her slaves – Betty, Alexandrine and Anne – attended to the cleaning and care of the Cathedral for many years….

NATCHEZ – Gravestone of Gabriel Gireaudeau rescued from the city cemetery in Natchez. It was beneath a second gravestone and is now on the grounds of the Basilica rectory. (Photos courtesy of Mary Woodward)

These slaves she treated kindly, and long before her death she made them free: they, however, continued to live with her as before….
At a later date (1859) Bishop [William Henry] Elder, realizing that Madame Girodeau could furnish information regarding the early history of the little congregation at Natchez, which information would be interesting to future generations, requested her to tell him the outstanding events. Accordingly, in her presence and at her dictation, the Bishop wrote eight pages of notes, which have been useful in the writing of this present history. She died on January 11, 1862.
Much of this account and description was taken from memories shared by an older resident of Natchez who recalled her childhood memories of Madame Gireaudeau. What an amazing woman! From the description given would you ever think that Madame Gireaudeau was a Free Woman of Color? Why was it left out of the memories? Did the one remembering know? Does it matter?
Considering the subject of this series, yes it does matter and in the second part of this article we will encounter the unique social custom of the “one drop designation” and the fascinating connection between the colony of Saint Domingue, New Orleans, Baltimore and our diocese.
To be continued …

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

The Diaconate – Are you called?

By Deacon John McGregor
JACKSON – Have you ever thought or felt that God was calling you to greater service in the Catholic Church? Are you drawn to know more about your Catholic faith and to enter more deeply into a life of prayer and intimacy with Christ? If so, these could be indications that you are being called to the Permanent Diaconate. The Permanent Diaconate, restored by a Motu Proprio following Vatican II, is a ministry of service that is open to married and single men. In the words of St. Pope John Paul II, the deacon’s ministry “is the church’s service sacramentalized.”

Deacons are ordained to the Ministry of Service in three areas: word, sacrament and charity. As a servant to the word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, instruct the faithful and evangelize by word and deed, as did the great deacons St. Stephen and St. Francis. As a servant of the sacramental life of the church, deacons preside at baptisms, assist at the Eucharist, bring the Eucharist to the sick and suffering, witness marriages, bury the dead, and preside at Benediction. As a servant of charity, like the great deacon St. Lawrence, deacons report the needs of the community to the church and bring support and assistance to those in need. The deacon is called to be the “Icon of Christ the Servant” living out the life of charity for the people of God and inviting everyone to help feed the hungry, visit the sick and care for one another in our brokenness.

Because deacons have secular jobs and many are married with families, they are familiar with the daily stresses of life. By living and working in the secular world, the deacon seeks to model, in his person, the integration of what one believes and how one lives.

If you think you may be called to the permanent diaconate, the Diocese of Jackson is offering a series of five inquiry meetings via Zoom. Below are the dates and the topic for each of the inquiry meetings.

For Zoom meeting invitations and additional information, please contact:
Deacon John McGregor, D.Min.
Director of the Permanent Diaconate

Priest’s new book offered as guide for reflection, preparation during season of Lent

By Terry Dickson
BAY ST. LOUIS – Father Sebastian Myladiyil, SVD, has written a new book that will serve as an excellent resource for daily reflection during Lent as Catholics prepare for Easter celebrations.
His Instruments: If God Could Use Them…He Can Use Us (Vol. 2) is available through Daphne, Ala. – based publisher River Birch Press. The first volume, which focuses on characters of the Old Testament, was published in 2012. Father Sebastian’s new book profiles 40 characters from the New Testament. The book’s foreword was written by Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz.
“The basic premise of this book is that, if you see a good person, you imitate that person, that person’s values and virtues. If you see a person of questionable character or a bad person, you examine your conscience,” said Father Sebastian during a recent visit to St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis.

BAY ST. LOUIS – Father Sebastian Myladiyil, SVD holds his newest book – His Instruments Volume Two. He is currently pastor at Sacred Heart Greenville. (Photo courtesy of Terry Dickson)

“In the Bible, we have so many wonderful men and women of faith whose lives and choices we can certainly relate to for ourselves. At the same time, in the Bible, we also have the questionable characters. Many of them responded to God’s call with great enthusiasm, initially, but when challenges and difficulties came, their enthusiasm diminished and they were attracted to other things. As a result, they fell away from God’s plans and their lives became failures.”
Father Sebastian, current pastor of Sacred Heart Greenville, said each of the characters in his newest book – both good and bad – have valuable lessons to impart.
“Their situations are no different than ours,” he said. “The historical context might be a little different, but the human emotions are the same and how we deal with the uncertainties of life, how we deal with unexpected tragedies in life. Those are all the same.
“The important thing is to see God always, and to have the steadfast conviction in our hearts that God is there always and to receive that strength from Him.”
Father Sebastian begins the book by examining the lives of the main characters from the Infancy Narrative – Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Joseph and Mary.
“I also look at the public life of Jesus where some of the prominent apostles come along, such as Peter, Andrew, John, Thomas and Matthew,” he said. “I look at the parables of Jesus Christ where some of those beautiful characters evolve, such as the Good Samaritan, the Rich Man and Lazarus. I also profile characters such as Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman, Martha and Mary and Lazarus. I look at the Acts of the Apostles and the writings of Paul. We have Stephen the Martyr and Saul of Tarsus, who becomes Paul of Tarsus.”
Father Sebastian is a native of India and a naturalized U.S. citizen. He is a Divine Word Missionary priest, serving the Southern Province of USA since 1999, and has been serving in different parishes that are comprised of multi-cultural populations such as African-Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics. Along with his pastoral duties, he obtained his first Master’s Degree in Moral Theology from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, and a second Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Counselling from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Currently, he is serving at Sacred Heart Greenville; St. Francis Church in Shaw; and Sacred Heart Church in Rosedale.
To date, Father Sebastian has four books published: His Instruments; His Instruments – If God Could Use Them He Can Use Us; and Blown Together – The Trials and Miracles of Katrina. His fourth book is a translation of His Instruments into Spanish: Sus Instrumentos. Currently, he is working on his next book, A Compendium of Prayers – Why We Pray.
His Instruments – If God Could Use Them He Can Use Us is available on Amazon for $20 plus shipping; the Kindle edition is available for $9.99. For more information, contact Father Sebastian at or call 228.324.4927.

(Terry Dickson is the editor of Gulf Pine Catholic and the director of communication for the Diocese of Biloxi.)

In memorium: Rev. James J. Pillar, O.M.I. and Sister Virginia Delaney

TEWKSBURY, Mass. – Rev. James J. Pillar, O.M.I., 92, died on Dec. 19, 2020 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Residence, Tewksbury, Massachusetts. He was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and was a son of the late Jerome H. and Gertrude D. (Swifta) Pillar. He was preceded in death by his brothers, Donald and Gerald.
Father Pillar began studies for the Catholic priesthood in 1942 at Oblate Seminaries, St. Henry’s, Belleville, Illinois and at Our Lady of the Ozarks, Carthage, Missouri. He professed his first vows on Aug. 15, 1949 and was ordained to the priesthood at St. Paul Cathedral, Minnesota on June 5, 1954. He earned his Theology and Philosophy degrees at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He studied English Literature at Ottawa University in Canada.

Father James Pillar, OMI

Much of Father Pillar’s life was spent in the classroom teaching at the Oblate seminary in Pass Christian, Mississippi and twenty-seven years at Loyola University in New Orleans. In 2012, a Distinguished Professorship in History was established in his name at Loyola University. It was subsequently renamed the A.D.G. Distinguished Professorship in history, highlighting his close association with Alpha Delta Gamma Fraternity.
A published American church historian, he earned his PhD in Ecclesiology at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He retired from teaching in 1992 and did parish work in Colorado Springs. He enjoyed camping in the Rocky Mountains and serving as a cruise ship chaplain.
Upon retirement in 2004, he was a resident of Oak Meadows Senior Living in Oakdale, Minnesota. In 2017 he transferred to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Residence in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, where he remained until his death. In addition to his Oblate family, he is survived by many relatives and friends.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, funeral services will be private. Father Pillar will be buried at Saint Joseph Cemetery, East Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
Donations in memory of Father Pillar may be made to the Oblate Infirmary Fund, 486 Chandler Street, Tewksbury, MA 01876-2849.

Sister Virginia Delaney, D.C

ST. LOUIS – Sister Virginia (Virginia Katherine) Delaney, D.C., died on Dec. 28, 2020 at Seton Residence in Evansville, Indiana. Sister Virginia was born on Sept. 4, 1931 in Natchez, Mississippi, and was one of four children of Marcus James and Mary Katherine (Gilbert) Delaney. She graduated from St. Joseph Catholic High School (Cathedral School) in Natchez, in 1949 and entered the Daughters of Charity in St. Louis, Missouri, the same year.
After initial formation and earning a B.S. degree in Nursing from Marillac College in St. Louis (1961), Sister Virginia served in health ministry as a Nurse Supervisor at Providence Hospital in Mobile and St. Paul Hospital in Dallas. She received an M.S. degree in Public Health Nursing from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan (1968) and an M.A. degree in Theological Studies from Springhill College in Jackson, (1988). Sister was a Public Health Nurse at St. Vincent Hospital in Birmingham; Charity Hospital in New Orleans; St. Mary’s Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan; and for the County Health Department in Selma, Alabama. She also served as a nurse at Marillac Social Center in Chicago and as a teacher at Loyola University in Chicago and Alcorn State University in Natchez, (1985-1988). In 1988, Sister Virginia began her ministry in Mission Integration at St. Vincent Hospital in Birmingham, and as Director of Mission Services at the former Mater Dei Provincialate until she moved to Seton Residence to serve in the Ministry of Prayer.
Sister Virginia was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery in Evansville, Indiana, and a memorial Mass will take place at a later date. Sister was preceded in death by her parents; her sister, Merle McLain; and her brother, Leo Delaney. She is survived by her sister Mary Gunning; nieces and nephews; her Sisters in community; and many friends.
Donations may be made to the Daughters of Charity, 4330 Olive Street, St. Louis, MO 63108.

From the archives – exploring slave baptismal records, part II

By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – In last week’s article on the sacramental records of slaves recorded in the early days of our diocese, we talked about the beautiful handwriting that documented the sin of slavery. We talked about the records reflecting slaves with only a first name having been stripped of their ancestral names and given European names.
This week we will look at some actual records and see the different levels and phraseology of defining the particular condition of that person and his or her “family.”
It is important to note that baptism is essential to the Catholic Church. Normally, in our Catholic baptismal rite parents freely present their child to the church for baptism. They choose Godparents for their child and gather with the priest or deacon around the font.
The gathered community of parents and Godparents in these records also had another set of individuals present – owners or overseers on behalf of the owner. Several of these rites occurred in the homes of the owners.
The thought of who presented the child or who asked for the baptism in these records can spark some interesting dialogue. Did the parent(s) ask for the baptism or did they even have a choice? Did the owner (who also might have been one of the parents) ask for it out of some sense of obligation to their ingrained Catholic theology to baptize so that the child if it died prior to baptism did not end up in “limbo?” Did the priest ask for this out of a dedication to his ministry in the salvation of souls?
What we do know is that as Catholics, we have a very strong commitment to baptism. This beautiful sacrament in which we die to sin and are reborn into the life of Christ is the foundation of our sacramental life in the church.
Therefore, it does on one level demonstrate a recognition that the one to be baptized has a soul and that baptism is conferred to remove that stain of original sin and initiate him/her into life in Christ. Even though the individual was considered property, there was still a recognition of his or her inherent worth and humanity and the need for the sacrament to be conferred.
And yet I still wonder what might have gone through the mind of the person meticulously recording these records in standard format where the word slave and the color of the skin were included as an identifying factor. Again, remember that, sadly, slavery at this time was a cultural and legal institution. Many Catholics owned slaves.

JACKSON – Baptismal slave records document the sin of slavery, seen above in a record from July, 24, 1854. Diocese Archivist, Mary Woodward is presenting a series in Mississippi Catholic for reflection from the diocese archives to further understand the dynamic tension between faith and culture during the time of slavery in Mississippi. (Photo by Mary Woodward)

So, as you read through these records think about the beauty of the handwriting (example provided) and the desire to have a person initiated into Christ and the church through baptism. But on the other hand contemplate the immense gravity and evil of the phrase “slave of.”
I am going to start with a record from Spanish Colonial times. These are written in Spanish. The parents, Chere (father) and Genoveve (mother) of the girl are the same – both are slaves. What is interesting is Chere is a “slave of” Don Juan Rodriguez and Genoveva is “slave of” Madame Forman.
On the day of February 5, 1797, I, Don Francisco Lennan, priest of the Parish of the Savior in the city of Natchez, baptized and placed the holy oils on a girl of the color brown who was born on January 8, 1794, daughter of Chere, mulatto slave of Don Juan Rodriguez, and Genoveva, slave of Madame Forman; having conferred the sacred rites and prayers on this girl given the name Sara; Godparents were Simon de Arze and Maria Gertrude to whom I instructed on their spiritual kinship and have signed this: Francisco Lennan
It turns out that Madame Forman brought four to be baptized that day – two (Sara and Maria) from Chere and Genoveva; one named Thomasa described as a brown girl and daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth, both slaves of Madame Forman; and another Sara described as black and the daughter of Peter, slave of Madame Forman, and Judith, slave of Madame Paten.
The following record is from 1820 in Natchez and was written in English:
The underwritten testifies to have baptized in the Roman Catholic Church in the City of Natchez on the 26th of March 1820 a negro girl belonging to Gabriel Gireaudeau to whom the name Sophy was given; she was old seven years and had for Godfather Martial Pomet and for Godmother Virginia Gireaudeau.
Antoine Blanc, rector
We will have an article about the Gireaudeau family next edition. Antoine Blanc went on to become the first Archbishop of New Orleans.
From 1864, we have the following entry written by Bishop William Henry Elder, Bishop of the diocese from 1857 – 1880. This record reflects the pastoral care of the sick and again the foundational theology of baptism in that these individuals were in danger of death and the Bishop wanted to make sure they had received baptism. We will explore Bishop Elder’s time in a future article as well.
April 1 – At the smallpox hospital near Natchez, I baptized privately without ceremonies for in danger of death the following colored persons:
Joe aged 40 years
John Carter of [Peggy]
Henry Harrison of [Ocilia] – 56 years conditionally
The last two records shared are from the sacramental register of then Immaculate Conception Parish (now Sacred Heart) in Sulphur Springs (Camden). In these records a slave is denoted with a blank line after the first name is given.
The first record details an infant baptism that defines the infant as “servant.” This four-month-old baby was already destined for servitude. Since the Godmother is not given a last name, we can deduce she too was a slave.
The second example lists 15 slave children belonging to a Colonel Llyod of Maryland. They are listed in one record but they each are given a number in the register by listing them as 25-39 in the margin of the book.
In the year eighteen hundred and fifty four on the fourth day of June, Rev. C. Courjault baptized an infant named Elizabeth, born in February, same year, servant of Cornelius O’Leary of Madison County, Mississippi, Godmother Becky.
J.M. Guillou
Col. Lloyd
In the year eighteen hundred and fifty four, on the twenty fourth day of July, Rec. C. Courjault baptized the following children, Servants of Col. Lloyd of Maryland, on his plantation under the care of John Hargan Esq.
Bernard – John – Meletiana Mary – Louisa – Henry – Noah – Amos William – John Marion – William – Edward – Amalh – Alice – Eliza Ann – Sally Ann – Louisa Ann. John Hargan, Esq., stood Godfather for all the above.
J.M. Guillou
Our hope in the diocesan archives is to one day have the resources to digitize these records and make them accessible online for researchers to further discover and understand the dynamic tension between faith and culture during the time of slavery in Mississippi. Our archives are a gateway to that understanding and we are committed to broadening opportunities for study and open dialogue about this tension. We hope you will be able to reflect more on this topic and prayerfully seek opportunities to discuss this with others in a spirit of solid openness.
To be continued …

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

Pope proclaims year dedicated to St. Joseph

St. Joseph and the Christ Child are depicted in a stained-glass window at Immaculate Conception Church in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. In a Dec. 8 apostolic letter, Pope Francis proclaimed a yearlong celebration dedicated to St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Marking the 150th anniversary of St. Joseph being declared patron of the universal church, Pope Francis proclaimed a yearlong celebration dedicated to the foster father of Jesus.
In a Dec. 8 apostolic letter, “Patris Corde” (“With a father’s heart”), the pope said Christians can discover in St. Joseph, who often goes unnoticed, “an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”
“St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all,” he said.
As Mary’s husband and guardian of the son of God, St. Joseph turned “his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself, his heart and all his abilities, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home.”
Despite being troubled at first by Mary’s pregnancy, he added, St. Joseph was obedient to God’s will “regardless of the hardship involved.”
“In every situation, Joseph declared his own ‘fiat,’ like those of Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,” the pope said. “All this makes it clear that St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood and that, in this way, he cooperated in the fullness of time in the great mystery of salvation and is truly a minister of salvation.”
St. Joseph’s unconditional acceptance of Mary and his decision to protect her “good name, her dignity and her life” also serves as an example for men today, the pope added.
“Today, in our world where psychological, verbal and physical violence toward women is so evident, Joseph appears as the figure of a respectful and sensitive man,” he wrote.
Pope Francis also highlighted St. Joseph’s “creative courage,” not only in finding a stable and making it a “welcoming home for the son of God (who came) into the world,” but also in protecting Christ from the threat posed by King Herod.
“The Holy Family had to face concrete problems like every other family, like so many of our migrant brothers and sisters who, today, too, risk their lives to escape misfortune and hunger. In this regard, I consider St. Joseph the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution and poverty,” the pope said.
As a carpenter who earned “an honest living to provide for his family,” Christ’s earthly guardian is also an example for both workers and those seeking employment and the right to a life of dignity for themselves and their families.
“In our own day, when employment has once more become a burning social issue, and unemployment at times reaches record levels even in nations that for decades have enjoyed a certain degree of prosperity, there is a renewed need to appreciate the importance of dignified work, of which St. Joseph is an exemplary patron,” he said.
The Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican tribunal that deals with matters of conscience, also issued a decree Dec. 8 stating that plenary indulgences will be granted to Catholics not only through prayer and penance, but also through acts of justice, charity and piety dedicated to the foster father of Jesus.
Among the conditions for receiving an indulgence are a spirit detached from sin, receiving sacramental confession as soon as possible, receiving Communion as soon as possible and praying for the Holy Father’s intentions.
However, the decree also highlighted several ways to obtain the indulgence throughout the year, including to those who “meditate on the prayer of the ‘Our Father’ for at least 30 minutes or take part in a spiritual retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph.”
As a “just man,” the document continued, who guarded “the intimate secret that lies at the bottom of the heart and soul,” St. Joseph practiced the virtue of justice in “full adherence to the divine law, which is the law of mercy.”
“Therefore, those who, following the example of St. Joseph, will perform a corporal or spiritual work of mercy, will also be able to obtain the gift of the plenary indulgence,” it said.
Indulgences will also be granted to families and engaged couples who recite the rosary together and thus imitate the “same climate of communion, love and prayer lived in the Holy Family. “
Other acts of devotion include entrusting one’s daily activities and prayers for dignified employment to St. Joseph, reciting the litany or any “legitimately approved” prayer to St. Joseph.
During this time of pandemic, the Apostolic Penitentiary also decreed that special indulgences will be granted to the elderly, the sick and all those who “for legitimate reasons are prevented from leaving their home” by “reciting an act of piety in honor of St. Joseph and committed to fulfilling the conditions as soon as possible.”

Guadalupe visited houses and found increased faith in her son

By Berta Mexidor
JACKSON – Due to COVID-19, the annual celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe across the diocese were unable to be celebrated in the grand fashion of old, but they were still special, smaller gatherings.
Parishes complied with social distancing, safety and sanitization directives and carried out the well-known and loved novenaries, Santo Rosario, the song of the Mañanitas and the celebration Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These events were able to be shared far and wide via Zoom, FaceTime and live-streamed on social media.
This year the great processions and festive dancers were missed on streets throughout the diocese, but the devotees of Guadalupe continued passing on the story of our Lady of Guadalupe and the traditions to their children. The colorful, festive costumes worn to honor the Virgin by the children of immigrants are worn with pride, even though some of those traditions were held at home this year. Many import their costumes from Mexico and others, like the parents of Keila and Sujey Sanchez of Pontotoc spend days paying attention to every small detail to bring the story of Guadalupe to life, which included masks this year.

Updated COVID restrictions – as of Dec. 4, 2020

In light of the current surge of COVID-19 cases, the Diocese of Jackson has updated the restrictions for church gatherings. Please do everything you possibly can to enforce our safety protocols currently in place. We cannot stress enough the importance of these protocols being followed completely. We do not want to add to the burden of our already overwhelmed healthcare system. These heroes need our prayers, our cooperation, and our diligence every day.

Our simple sacrifices now will hopefully enable us to have in person Christmas Masses.

To be transparent, we will be monitoring the situation closely and if protocols are not being followed and numbers of cases continue to spiral upward, we will be forced to suspend in person Masses again.

Effective immediately:
• All church gatherings other than Masses are suspended until further notice.
• All protocols currently in place for Masses must be strictly enforced.
• Social-distance church capacity numbers must be kept.
• Weddings, if scheduled, must be small and all present must wear a mask. This includes entire wedding party, priest or deacon, photographer, coordinator and guests.
• Funerals must be small and graveside only.
• Sacraments such as baptisms and confirmations if possible should be delayed until after the Baptism of the Lord in January.
• Guadalupe celebrations outside of a Mass for the Feast on Saturday, Dec. 12 are cancelled.


All over the age of two are required to wear a mask to attend Mass.
The obligation to attend Mass continues to be dispensed by Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, so if you do not feel safe attending, or have an underlying health condition, or feel sick, please stay home. Be safe and stay vigilant!

From the archives – exploring slave baptismal records

By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – To begin this series exploring race and our diocesan church, I want to offer a disclaimer. These articles are meant to spark thoughts and conversations. They are not meant to call anyone out or to embarrass anyone’s grandparents or great-grandparents.
As stated in the introductory column in the last edition of Mississippi Catholic, we will be exploring history – an extremely unique history – and we will remain true to the history with all its good and bad. With that being said, let’s get started.

Older sacramental registers housed in the diocesan archives vault contain beautiful handwriting chronicling the practice of baptizing slaves. (Photos by Mary Woodward)

“Finding Your Roots” is a popular PBS show tracing the ancestry of various celebrities and well-known public figures. Harvard professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the host and creator of the series. Professor Gates is the Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard. Gates has done many documentaries and works on African American history, ancestry and the American slave narrative.
Genealogy has become a major industry over the past decade because of shows such as “Finding Your Roots.” People have become very interested in their family origins and the journeys of their ancestors., a website that has grown out of work done by the Mormon Church, has a database and links from which a person can find U.S. Census records, marriage and death records, ship passenger lists, military service records and more. One can develop a family tree and link with others seeking the same ancestors from other families throughout the country and world.
I used Ancestry to trace my ancestors back to the arrival of Christopher Woodward at the colony of Charlestown in Virginia in 1623. Somehow, he got on the ship in England as Christopher and when he disembarked in the colony, he was Sir Christopher.
But what happens when an African American tries to take the same resource and trace her or his family’s journey. In all probability the research will hit a dead end after four or five generations unless there is a family Bible that has been around for 200 years or there is someone of European origin in the line.
This past week, Fabvienen Taylor, former photojournalist for Mississippi Catholic and current Diocesan Tribunal office manager, and I talked about a visit she once made to the diocesan archives vault. She was doing a story on the microfilming of parish sacramental registers. The registers are microfilmed and now digitized every 10 years so that there will be a copy of the records in case something happens to them at the parish.
Sacramental records are our most valuable records because baptismal records document the faith life of a person. The record can also be used to establish an identity if there is no other record such as a birth certificate.
Taylor, who is African American, began to tell me that Frances Boeckman, previous diocesan archivist who was quite knowledgeable in diocesan history and very devoted to the archives, had pulled one of the older baptismal records from Natchez and opened it to a particular page for her to see. The page from the mid-1800s contained handwriting in India ink and featured a list of first names.

An index page of slave names from the baptismal record from Natchez dating to Spanish Colonial times. The register contains baptisms from 1796-1803.

Taylor remarked to me how she recalled how elegant and ordered the handwriting was. She then realized the records were those of slaves owned by the man listed at the top of the page. This caused her to look past the beauty of the handwriting and see the true ugliness of the content. It was at this time I revealed that in my own journey I had discovered an ancestor who in fact owned slaves. I am sure there were more.
Beautiful handwriting chronicling the evil of slavery – meticulous recordings of this great sin whose aftermath still plagues our country today. This unjust and immoral system, although legal at the time, and its legacy is a part of our diocesan history. We will address this throughout this series and in a particular way in the next article when we meet some of the individuals in the records of Spanish Colonial Natchez in the 1790s.
And so, maybe now we can understand why an African American’s attempts at tracing her or his roots through records may end shortly after it begins. It is difficult to connect families when they have been separated in the slave trade and listed only by the first name. Husbands taken from wives, children from mothers – all given names by the owner, thus almost erasing any trace of the person’s existence or dignity as a human person.
Yes, the records on the page are elegantly inscribed and at times connections are made that start a small thread of hope in terms of tracing ancestry. But one cannot look at them and not be profoundly affected by the magnitude of the content.
To be continued …

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