Bishop Gunn turns down New Zealand

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Very early on in his tenure as the fifth Bishop of Natchez, we almost lost Bishop John Edward Gunn to the Archdiocese of Wellington in New Zealand. It seems Bishop Gunn, a Marist, was summoned to New Orleans by Archbishop James Blenk to meet with him and Archbishop Francis Redwood of Wellington.

Bishop Gunn’s description of the meeting is classic Gunn so I will share the encounter in his own words from his diary:

“November 9, 1912 – I phoned the Archbishop early Saturday morning and he told me that Archbishop Redwood from New Zealand was with him and wanted to see me. I reported for dinner at Esplanade Avenue and I found Archbishop Redwood bubbling over with vitality, good health and splendid stories.
“When we left the dining room Redwood asked me to come with him to his room for a minute and then I found why I was wanted.

Bishop John Edward Gunn, a Marist priest, was the sixth Bishop of Natchez. In November of 1912, he turned down an offer of a position in New Zealand, opting to stay in Mississippi. (Photo courtesy of archives)

“It seems the Archbishop of Wellington wanted a co-adjutor and he wanted me for the job. He was so cocksure of getting me that he arranged everything in advance. He had a meeting of the suffragan bishops of New Zealand who ok’d the scheme; he got the Propaganda [of the Faith] in Rome to grant me a release from Natchez, if I was a consenting party; he asked the General of the Marists to write to me that I would be persona grata to the Society in New Zealand.

“The Archbishop forgot nothing that could be looked upon as a preliminary move and he followed very strictly the canonical requirements and I was summoned to say ‘Yes.’

“The Archbishop spoke of the advantages of New Zealand and my fitness for the work and incidentally deplored the fact that I was buried in Mississippi. He put up a good case and then he put the whole case up to me.
“I was dumbfounded and to a certain extent disgusted that I was being used as a kind of rubber pad with no voice in the matter whatever.

“In answer to the straight questions which he made in the matter of the Holy See and of the Bishops of New Zealand, etc., etc., I answered very shortly by saying ‘No’ to all he asked. He looked surprised and asked me if I did not want time to reconsider and I told him I did not.

“In a kind of perfunctory manner he asked me why I did not go and I simply told him that I would not use Mississippi or the Bishops of the Province, especially the Archbishop who had made me Bishop of Natchez, as a stepping stone to go anywhere and that I was satisfied where I was placed and I would not consent to any transfer of the kind.

“The Archbishop who was so amiable up to then was near losing his temper and I took the occasion to get away from him. He merely asked me to keep quiet about the interview until a co-adjutor for Wellington had been appointed.

“I went to Blenk’s room and I looked as if I had seen a ghost and the Archbishop insisted upon knowing what was the matter. I did not think that I was bound to keep such a secret from my Archbishop and I told him the whole story and I had the consolation of hearing from him that I had done the right thing.

“I cleared out of Esplanade Avenue and went over to Algiers where I spent the night and tried to forget about Wellington and its temptations. A few days after the incident I got a letter from the Superior General [Marist] asking me to go to Wellington but I had taken my stand, the die was cast and no power except the power that sent me to Mississippi could send me out of it.”

It is inspiring to see the commitment of Bishop Gunn to our diocese. I also found interesting the way Archbishop Redwood covered all avenues prior to asking Gunn to come to Wellington as co-adjutor.

Incidentally, Archbishop Redwood got his co-adjutor shortly after the Gunn refusal. Father Thomas O’Shea, a native of New Zealand and also a Marist, was consecrated as co-adjutor on Aug. 17, 1913. He remained co-adjutor until Redwood’s death in 1935 when he was installed as Archbishop of Wellington.

The process for selecting bishops nowadays is more process related with bishops submitting names to the papal nuncio of the country. Our current nuncio is Cardinal Christoph Pierre. The nuncio would then submit a preferred list of three to the Dicastery of Bishops in Rome. The Dicastery selects a candidate and presents the choice to the Holy Father. If the Holy Father approves the choice, then the candidate is contacted by the nuncio who relays that he has been appointed as bishop of a diocese.

And yes, some candidates say “No.” If this happens then the process starts over again. God bless Bishop Gunn for saying yes to the Spirit and coming to Mississippi.

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

Historic stained glass awes Cathedral visitors

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – This past Sunday morning we celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation in St. Peter Cathedral. As is often the case, a candidate chooses a grandparent to be his or her sponsor. At this celebration, one of the candidate’s grandmothers came up from New Orleans on the train to be his sponsor.

While I was going through the rite with the candidates prior to Mass, she commented on the beauty of our stained-glass windows. So, I gave them a little history of the windows and the church.

JACKSON – In 2011, the new frame work for the Rose Window of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle traveled from Conrad Schmitt studios in Wisconsin to Jackson on the side of a large truck, as it was too large to fit in the interior. (Photos by Mary Woodward)

The current St. Peter church structure is the third St. Peter’s. The parish dates back to 1846 and is the fourth parish established in the diocese. Natchez, Paulding, and Biloxi predate Jackson’s parish. The first church burned during the Civil War. The second church was built in 1868 on the grounds where the current rectory and chancery sit now. Once the current church – begun in 1896 and completed in 1900 – was ready for worship. The second church was used for various things until it was moved eight blocks north in 1913 to Cloister Avenue to become the first Holy Ghost Church.

The windows were installed over a period of 30 years beginning with the Rose Window in 1903 and finishing with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Lourdes windows in the 1930s. All of these windows are in the Munich style and were fashioned by the Mayer – Zettler studios.

The initial ones – the Rose Window, the two transept windows and the first two on each side – were created in the Munich studios. The next three on each side were styled in the St. Louis studio.

The windows in the vestibule around the main doors and the windows above the side entrances were added a little later and do not have the artistic quality of the main windows but are still nice examples of teaching the Bible through visual aids.

What is unique about the windows in our Cathedral is except for the Rose Window they are at eye level. In most churches this size window would be higher up in the wall. Ours are down close to the floor so that one may walk right up to the window and see the detail and artistry.

The beauty of the Rose Window at the Cathedral of St. Peter of the Apostle in Jackson continues to delight many visitors to the church. It was originally installed in 1903 and restored in 2011.

The windows were restored in 2011 by Conrad Schmitt Studios in Wisconsin. Each one was mapped, removed, cleaned, re-leaded and returned to the frames which had been repaired and vented so that the summer heat would not take such a toll. Protective glass featuring the latest technology also was added to the outside of each window.

When the Conrad Schmitt crew removed the Rose Window, they found the frame to be completely rotten. A new frame was built at a mill connected to Conrad Schmitt studios in Wisconsin. It was too large to be placed inside a trailer truck, so it was attached to the side of the truck and made its way down the heartland of the country.

Working in archives, one gets to be a part of such diverse projects and it was quite interesting to watch this project unfold. In addition to chalices and altars, our art and glass in parishes around the diocese are considered a part of the patrimony of the diocesan church and hold a major place in the life and history of our church.
Our Cathedral houses such beautiful treasures given in faith and love by the faithful over the past century. We thank them for sharing their gifts to glorify our God through art.

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

Life among the relics

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – I had a dear friend who moved to a retirement compound (as he called it) when he was in his late 80s. When I would ask him how things were going at the “compound,” he would say: “you mean life among the relics?”

Most people when they hear the term archive think of old stuff, and indeed there is a lot of old stuff in the historical archive vault at the chancery in Jackson. Our diocesan historical archive holds records and documents dating back to the early 1700s.

The above relic of St. Peter the Apostle was found in the diocesan archive relic collection and placed in the new main altar of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson in 2012.

Let me add a disclaimer here: The diocesan archive is not open to the public. It is a small room holding official records of the diocese. It is not a library or museum that can be toured. The archive does not exist to provide genealogical research or assist in getting dual Italian citizenship. We will help with that for a fee when we have time. The records in the archive are not “secret;” it just is not public in the way you would check out a book in a library. The archive collection is open to qualified researchers doing professional research on church history for dissertations and publications.

Last week, I received a familiar email from a parishioner on the Gulf Coast wanting to know the saint’s relic in the altar of his church. The church was dedicated in 1951, so it was before the date we were split into two dioceses.

This is a common request, and we often are able to provide an answer, because of the Official Acts books we have dating back to 1924 and the diaries of Bishops.

In this case, although I was able to tell him that Bishop Gerow dedicated the church on Palm Sunday, and it rained buckets all day; I could only give possibilities of who the relic might be since this fact was not mentioned in the official acts book’s recording of the church and altar being dedicated.

I was able to tell him the relic would most likely be from either Sts. Victor, Modesta, Maximus, Maxima or Sergius – all martyrs. The reason this information was available was because a few pages before the church’s dedication listing in the acts book, there is an entry stating the bishop consecrated a myriad of altar stones containing those relics.

These marble stones measure 13 inches squares and would have been used in mission churches established throughout the diocese to be placed in wooden altars that would have a square cut out of the top in which the stone would be placed. I don’t know why 13 inches, but maybe it is because the stones would have come from Italy and 17 is the unlucky number there, not 13.

In each stone there is a small cut out circle in which a relic or several relics would be sealed along with three grains of incense. As mentioned in the acts book, several stones could be consecrated at a time and stored until needed.

A unique altar stone and the linen cloth that encases it are displayed in Chancellor Mary Woodward’s office. The stone was issued to Father Peter Quinn in 1943 for use on the battlefields in Europe during World War II. (Photos by Mary Woodward)

Another reason for this hypothesis of who the saint might be is there is a relics drawer in the archive with an old container marked “relics for altars” and the names of the saints are listed on a piece of paper with the container. Therefore, whether the church had a full marble mensa or just a stone, these relics were set aside for that purpose. This container and its contents are very fragile, so we do not handle it anymore.

We do have a unique altar stone in our collection. It is small – five inches x seven inches – and encased in a linen cloth. This stone was issued to Rev. Peter Quinn in 1943 for use on the battlefields in Europe during World War II. Father Quinn was a chaplain in the army and served on the front lines in one of General George Patton’s divisions making its way to Germany. The stone came with a Greek corporal, which has a relic sewn into it. On a similar note, Bishop William Houck used a Greek corporal as part of his travelling Mass kit and on the small altar he had in a chapel in his home. We have that in the vault as well.

As you can see, we do have some interesting artifacts in our archive collection at the diocese. Perhaps one day we can develop an exhibition for people to see, but for now I’ll keep sharing some interesting snippets of life among the relics highlighting various discoveries in the drawers and cabinets in the vault.

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

Distinct Biloxi church reminds us to ‘keep an eye on the Gulf’

Pictured is St. Michael Church Biloxi in December of 1963. The church features a distincitive shell roof and round shape.

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – This past week several chancery staffers, including myself, attended a regional conference in Biloxi for the Diocesan Fiscal Managers of several dioceses and archdioceses in the southeast. The opening Mass on Sunday evening was celebrated in St. Michael Church by the two host bishops, Bishop Louis Kihneman of Biloxi and our own Bishop Joseph Kopacz.

Established by Bishop John Gunn and known as the “church of the fishermen,” St. Michael dates back to 1917. Being just a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico, it has been buffeted by several hurricanes. As our group approached the church with its distinctive shell roof and round shape, images of that roof from the helicopter flyover on the news the morning of Aug. 30, 2005, filled my mind.

Religious statues lie on the floor of St. Michael Church in Biloxi, Miss., March 1, 2006. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

From the air the church looked intact, as if it had miraculously survived unscathed from the 28-foot storm surge of Hurricane Katrina the day before. But as the days went by and reports came into the chancery in Jackson from Biloxi, we learned the church interior was decimated. That distinctive roof seen from above was hiding the massive power of Mother Nature gone wild.

The five-ton marble altar was cast to the side off its platform and much of the interior appointments had been swept away by the surge leaving an almost empty shell behind. The waterline was well up the interior walls of the church.

Now more than 18 years later, St. Michael stands as a testament to the resilience of the people of the Gulf Coast, who have survived more than one catastrophic storm over the past 100 years. Memories of Aug. 29, 2005, still linger in the physical landscape of the Gulf Coast, which took the direct hit of Katrina. These memories also are carried in the collective psyche of those who endured the wrath and persevered in rebuilding a vibrant community.

Moving forward in faith as intentional disciples while always keeping an eye on the Gulf.

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

Living in different times

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Managing the Diocese of Jackson’s historical archive is always an adventure and takes me down many paths to a plethora of requests for great grandparent’s marriage records, decrees of establishing long lost churches, name of saint whose relic is in an altar, and so on. Unfortunately, I cannot always fulfill these requests because the information might not have been recorded or it might not be in the place it is supposed to be according to the index.

I always tell people our diocesan archives do not exist for genealogical purposes or answering various questions from the street; and that as a “lone arranger” it will take a long time before I can even get to their request. Most people are fine with that.

Bishop Joseph Brunini is pictured in the 1930 “Ye Domesday Booke,” the yearbook for Georgetown University. (Photos courtesy of archives)

With that being said, working with history and the documentation of it is quite a rewarding adventure. Right now, I am working on developing a project that will look at some pivotal moments in recent history that affected our state, country and church. Recent for people in archives is 75 years or less. I always laugh and cry a little to myself when someone asks for an old baptismal record from 1970.

As part of this still evolving venture, I ran into another research mission that had been initiated more than 10 years ago and had fallen by the wayside as can happen when you get distracted by more pressing matters in church life.

In 2012, as part of exploring possible events to highlight our diocese’s 175th anniversary, I came across a thread that led me to the location of the original handwritten copy of Bishop William Henry Elder’s diary he kept during the Civil War.

Bishop William Henry Elder, a native of Baltimore, studied at Mount St. Mary College in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He graduated in 1837 and entered Mount St. Mary Seminary. Following completion of seminary studies, he was sent to Rome for graduate studies at the Pontifical Urban University where he earned a Doctor of Divinity in 1846.

After his ordination there on March 29, 1846, he returned to Maryland and Mount St. Mary where he served as a professor at the seminary. Eleven years later in 1857, he was named the third Bishop of Natchez by Pope Pius IX. In 1880, he was named co-adjutor Archbishop of Cincinnati.

Upon departing the then Diocese of Natchez in 1880, Bishop Elder took many of his personal papers with him to Cincinnati. His Civil War diary was one of these items. The diary travelled even more making stops in the collections of Mount St. Mary Seminary, Woodstock College, and ultimately the archives of Georgetown University in Washington.

Twelve years ago, I had made contact with the Georgetown archivist, a Jesuit, and worked with him to get the diary in digital format. Bishop R.O. Gerow had created and published a typed version of the diary, but here we had the handwritten version. In the midst of the project which involved complicated file formats for our fledgling digital system, contact was lost, and the project was forgotten.

Recently, while researching the current project mentioned above, I did a side search for the diary in the Georgetown archives special collections. There it was the original handwritten diary available for viewing in PDF format. Soon I’ll have a link to it on our website.

Bishop Joseph Brunini, our eighth bishop and only native son from Vicksburg, went to Georgetown in the late 1920s and graduated in 1930. He was editor of the campus newspaper The Hoya. His brother Ed was The Hoya’s sports editor.

According to the description next to his senior photo in the 1930 Ye Domesday Booke, Georgetown’s yearbook, Joseph B. Brunini was: “The Hoya’s high priest. Joe lives a hectic life dashing around from printer to printer…all the while pulling copy from the humble newswriters by means of his persuasive Southern ‘oil.’”

Pictured is a digital copy of the handwritten Civil War diary of Bishop Elder, which over the years was found in the archives of Mount St .Mary Seminary, then Woodstock College and ultimately at Georgetown University in Washington.

In his senior year, Bishop Brunini was also vice president of the Philodemic Society, one of the country’s oldest debating societies in the United States and the oldest secular student organization at Georgetown. In fact, Philodemic was marking its centennial in 1930. That’s kind of a big deal.
Like Bishop Elder, upon completion of his collegiate studies at Georgetown, Bishop Brunini was sent to Rome where he finished his seminary studies at the North American College, which at that time was in downtown Rome. He was ordained there on Dec. 5, 1933.

As you can see, exploring archives creates a web of interconnectedness among collections scattered across not only the country but also across epochs of time. It is easy to end up down a different rabbit hole from the original one intended.

The phrase “hunh, what a small world” is heard and uttered infinitely. Until next time…

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

Centennial faith: the enduring spirit of Our Mother of Mercy

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Last Saturday, Jan. 27, was a cloudy damp day in the Mississippi Delta, but the joy and the warmth flowing from the pews filled with the faithful and friends of Our Mother of Mercy Mission in Anguilla dispelled any thoughts of the atmospheric conditions outside. The church was marking the 100th anniversary of the first Masses celebrated in people’s homes.

Anguilla is situated on Highway 61 in Sharkey County. In the early 1900s, Father Andrew Gmelch would come from Merigold. Father Gmelch served the Austrian Catholic farmers in that town, but the continual flooding challenges caused this small contingent of Catholic farmers to move away. Around 1912 Anguilla became a mission of Cleveland and Belzoni All Saints became a mission of Greenwood where Msgr. John Clerico, known as the pastor of the Delta, based himself.

Msgr. Clerico roamed the entire Delta tending to the flock scattered across the Alluvial plain. In 1927, Anguilla became a mission of Greenwood and Msgr. Clerico made regular visits to celebrate Mass in homes of the faithful and share meals and conversations in Italian with those who shared his Italian heritage and birth.

With donations from its faithful and a nice grant from Catholic Extension, Anguilla bought a small piece of land in March 1929 and built Our Mother of Mercy Church. Bishop Richard Gerow dedicated the church on Aug. 6, 1929.

Belzoni and Anguilla became missions of Leland in 1944 when Msgr. Clerico’s Greenwood parish was divided. A few years later in 1953, Belzoni was elevated to a parish and Anguilla became its mission. Today, Anguilla is served by Father Panneer Arockiam Selvam from Yazoo City.

This is a brief history of Our Mother of Mercy and its journey taken from Cleta Ellington’s book Christ the Living Water written for the 150th anniversary of the diocese in 1987. These excerpts capture only a small glimpse of the closeness of this small Catholic community in the Delta.

To get an eyewitness account of the dedication day festivities, I looked up Bishop Gerow’s account of the day in his diary and below is his entry for Aug. 6, 1929.

“This morning at 9 o’clock, assisted by Father Clerico and in the presence of a large number of people, I dedicated the new Church of Our Lady of Mercy at Anguilla.

“The lot on which this church is situated was bought with funds raised by the people of Anguilla and thereabout. Extension Society gave the people $2,500 for the building of the church and $400 worth of equipment, vestments, etc. It is quite a nice little church and substantially built, and the people are very justly proud of it.

Linda Alford gets a hug from her former pastor, Father P.J. Curley at the anniversary celebration at Our Mother of Mercy on Saturday, Jan. 27.

“Joe Prestiano, a zealous and enthusiastic member of the congregation at Anguilla, was determined to make this a big day. He had, therefore, advertised it very extensively. Through his efforts the Knights of Columbus band came up from Vicksburg for the occasion. Father Clerico brought his Greenwood choir over and a great many friends from Vicksburg, Greenville, Greenwood and surrounding cities and towns were in Anguilla for the dedication; besides a great number of the faithful from the small towns who will attend Anguilla as their mission church.

“The dedication started at 9 o’clock. A procession formed at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Cook, headed by the Knights of Columbus band playing lively march music – the procession made up of the men of the congregation and a few altar boys, with Father Clerico, and the Bishop dressed in cope, miter and carrying his crozier – and marched to the front of the church.

“After the dedication Father Clerico sang the high Mass – the Greenwood choir did itself proud – and the bishop preached a sermon to the people; and after the church ceremonies a general picnic was held, the people remaining upon the grounds all day, the Knights of Columbus band supplying very good music for the occasion. It was a great day for the people of Anguilla.

“Although the congregation of Anguilla itself is very small, yet Anguilla is centrally situated and people from many other places, such as Rolling Fork, Hollandale, etc., come to church at this point.”

I was struck by how much of that same zeal and flavor was present this past Saturday in January.

Bishop Joseph Kopacz was the celebrant; Father P.J. Curley, former pastor, provided an inspiring homily only he could deliver; several former pastors were present; friends came from all over the region; and the reception after Mass in the parish hall (now occupying those original grounds) was adorned with fabulous food, fellowship and memories – a quintessential Delta brunch.

Even though there was no Knights of Columbus Band or big choir, those present filling the church to capacity offered beautiful hymns, prayers and responses of which they could be proud. I find I am as inspired by these celebrations in smaller communities as much as any Cathedral Mass. The love and joy that flows in and around the sacred mysteries is a powerful witness to the vibrancy of our faith in the diocese. Who knows what the landscape will be in another 100 years, but on a cloudy day in January 2024, Anguilla bore witness to that vibrant faith.

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

Servant of God’s birthday sparks update of cause

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – A few weeks ago on Dec. 30, we marked what would have been Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA’s 86th birthday. One of the towering figures in modern Catholicism in America, Sister Thea, the granddaughter of slaves, was born in Yazoo City in 1937.

Her parents enrolled her in Catholic school at Holy Child Jesus in Canton, which was staffed by Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. She decided at age nine to become Catholic and then entered the convent at the age of 15.

Sister Thea faced many trials and challenges as the only African American in the novitiate, but she persevered and later after a few years of teaching earned a doctorate in literature from the Catholic University of America.

Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA pictured at her 25th anniversary celebration at Holy Child Jesus parish in Canton. (Photo from diocese archives)

Gifted with a brilliant mind, beautiful voice and a dynamic personality, Sister Thea shared the message of African American spirituality and intercultural dynamics throughout the country.
“The common denominator in all my presentations was cross-cultural communications,” she once remarked. “We have different ways of thinking and praying and singing and dancing and relating and living. Our diversity is our greatest gift. Our diversity is a source of enrichment for our world, our church, our society and our country.”

In 1979, she returned to the Diocese of Jackson to be closer to her aging parents and to become consultant for intercultural awareness in the diocese. She continued to be a highly sought after speaker and often scheduled 100 or more presentations a year on spirituality, worship and prayer.

Her presentations were lively gatherings that combined singing, gospel preaching, prayer and storytelling. Her programs were directed to break down racial and cultural barriers.

Sister Thea was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984. She continued to travel and speak though her schedule was greatly cutback.

In 1989, Sister Thea, in one of her last major appearances, addressed the U.S. bishops gathered for their spring meeting. At the meeting she spoke of what it was like to be Black and Catholic in America at that time. In the midst of her talk, she broke forth in song as she was known to do, this time capturing the tone of her talk in an old, familiar spiritual: “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child … sometimes I feel like an eagle in the air….” By the end of the session, she had the bishops joined hand in hand, swaying in a rousing version of “We Shall Overcome.”

Sister Thea died at her home in Canton on March 30, 1990. Her funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Mary Church in Jackson before a standing room only congregation of friends and admirers from around the world.

For those who knew her or worked with her or were around her for even a short time, she was a great inspiration. She will always be remembered for her great commitment to justice, hope and peace and for her work within the church to open it up to the gifts of African American spirituality and diversity for all. Sister Thea was a tireless child of God who loved the Lord Jesus, his people and his church.

On Nov. 18, 2018, Bishop Joseph Kopacz officially opened the cause for the beatification and canonization of Sister Thea Bishop’s edict was read to the faithful in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle during the Sunday liturgy.

A young “Bertha” Bowman feeding chickens. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration)

Having received the nihil obstat from the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints and gotten approval from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the November 2018 plenary meeting in Baltimore, the cause opened the diocesan phase of the intricate canonical process leading to possible beatification.

During this phase, the Servant of God’s (this is the title she now carries) writings, theology, biography is studied and documented by appointed experts. Many witnesses who knew her have been interviewed, but there are several more to complete. When the pandemic hit, travel and interviews stopped.

This year we are focused on tying up several loose ends and printing everything in triplicate so that it may be sent to Rome. We have enlisted the help of Msgr. Robert Sarno, a retired priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who served in the Dicastery at the Vatican. Msgr. Sarno connected us with a new Roman postulator, Dr. Emanuele Spedicato, who is now guiding our team and getting these details into a manageable process for us.
When all is ready, Bishop Kopacz will lead a special liturgy in which the documents will be sealed and presented to the postulator to deliver to the dicastery. Once that is completed, the postulator will work with the dicastery to move the cause forward. At a certain point, once the cause is in Rome, the Holy Father may declare the Servant of God as Venerable – showing heroic virtue.

After Venerable, the next step is beatification, which requires a miracle. Examination of the miracle goes through a similar canonical process as the diocesan phase. If a miracle is proven and accepted, the Servant of God is put on the schedule for an official liturgy of beatification.

Please continue to pray for the cause and if you are so moved go to our diocesan website – – and make a donation.

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

Italian, German POWs housed in Mississippi camps

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – This article is a follow up to last issues focus on the Pearl Harbor anniversary and Bishop Gerow’s diary accounts of the POW camp in Panola County near Como. The subject of prisoner of war camps at Christmas is a little bizarre, but perhaps it is fitting to show how kindness and compassion can be central in the midst of a terrible time.

Throughout the history of our diocese, our clergy and religious have served as chaplains and angels of mercy to those on battlefields at home and abroad. Women Religious nursed Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Father Ghislain Boheme, founding pastor of St. Michael in Paulding, accompanied a group of men from the little town as they marched with Stonewall Jackson. Boheme succumbed to the harsh conditions and died on the side of the path in Virginia.

Gen. Emil Reinhardt presents Father Peter Quinn with the Bronze Star for service and bravery on the front lines in Germany. Father Quinn was Division Chaplain of the 69th. The 69th was the first division to make contact with Soviet troops in Germany. (Photos from archives)

Father Hubert Spengler signed up for service in World War I, but fortunately he spent minimal time in the war to end all wars. Father Peter Quinn served as a chaplain in the European Theater in WWII. He received several battlefield citations for his pastoral heroism on and near the front lines in Germany.

Back home, the State of Mississippi became a housing site for Italian and German prisoners. The first of these came from the campaign in North Africa. Initially there were four main camps that housed several thousand POWs – Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Camp Clinton, Camp McCain near Grenada, and Camp Como mentioned above. Several smaller satellite camps and work details spawned from these. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has loads of information on these camps.

From his 2001 article in Mississippi History Now entitled “German Prisoners of War in Mississippi, 1943-1946,” John Ray Skates describes the four camps in this way:

“Other major POW camps in Mississippi were established at Camp McCain near Grenada, Camp Como in the northern Delta, and Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg. The four base camps were large compounds designed to house large numbers of POWs. Camp McCain housed 7,700; Camp Clinton 3,400; and Camp Shelby housed 5,300. Camp Como originally held 3,800 Italian soldiers, but the Italians were soon moved out of Mississippi and replaced by a smaller number of Germans.”

In the previous column, the quotes from Bishop Gerow’s diary detailed his visit to Camp Como in 1943 to check on the Italian POWs. Bishop Gerow, who studied in Rome, would have been able to converse with the Italians. Among the POWs were not only officers and soldiers, but also four Italian Catholic priest chaplains.

Father Hubert Spengler in his chaplain’s uniform poses with Father John Burns in Gulfport in 1917.

The presence of so many Italian POWs caught the attention of the Holy See and Bishop Gerow received a letter from the Apostolic Delegate inquiring about the conditions of the camp. In a letter dated June 11, 1943, the Apostolic Delegate instructs Bishop Gerow to “see that these men have adequate religious ministration and whatever little comforts it may be possible to give them; and if the camp commander permits, that they be supplied with a radio phonograph, which the Apostolic Delegate will pay for and present in the name of the Holy Father.”

Bishop Gerow replied in a letter dated June 19, that Father Cletus Manon, who was based in Water Valley, has visited the camp and found the four chaplains among the prisoners. Father Manon supplied them with altar stones, vestments, wine and hosts, candles and all that was necessary for Mass.

In the fall of 1943, Father Emile Rotondo, a native Italian and pastor in Cleveland, began ministering to the POWs from Como who were being used to work in the fields in the Delta. On Oct. 4, Bishop Gerow wrote the Delegate asking for permission for Father Rotondo to celebrate three Masses so he might give “proper attention to the Italian prisoners of war at Camp Como who are now in Father Rotondo’s territory picking cotton.”

The Delegate replies in a letter dated Nov. 3, granting permission. He adds he is sending prayer books, holy cards, etc., for the prisoners and asks Bishop Gerow to get two radios for the POWs once again in the name of the Holy Father.

Not long after these letters were exchanged the Italian POWs were transferred out of Mississippi and the camps were used strictly to house Germans. Pastoral care did continue, but the unique Italian connection between Pope, Apostolic Delegate, Delta pastor and prisoners was lost.

Writing about POWs and war at Christmas seems quite odd – war with all its brutality and lack of humanity. In quoting these letters and diary accounts, I have tried to reflect how our local diocesan church responded to a unique situation during the violence of world war.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel… Let us pray for peace!

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

Pearl harbor anniversary sparks diary review

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – This week we marked the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. In thinking about all the wars going on in the world today, this anniversary spurred me to check Bishop R.O. Gerow’s diary for what he wrote about the Pearl Harbor attack.

Bishop Gerow’s diary, which is in six volumes and covers 1924–1966, gives us a lot of background to local, state, national and international events as they happened. As we begin this new liturgical year, I thought I would highlight some passages about the Dec. 7 attack, and other mentions of WWII from his diary.

Bishop R.O. Gerow arries in a jeep at the Meridian Air Force Base on Sunday, Feb. 1, 1942 to celebrate Mass. (Photos from archives)

1941: December 7 (Sunday):
“This morning I confirmed a class of fifty-four in the Sacred Heart Church in Greenville, and then after dinner in Greenville I returned to Natchez.
“In the automobile from Greenville to Natchez I was busy with many things, especially preparing some talks that I would have to give in the near future, and I did not turn on the radio. When I returned home, I was astounded to learn of the treacherous attack of the Japanese upon the American forces in Hawaii, at the very time that the Japanese representatives were in Washington discussing with the American authorities a peaceful settlement of their problems in the Pacific.”

December 8 (Monday):
“Today, President Roosevelt addressed Congress, telling them of the attack of the Japanese upon the Hawaiian Islands and our naval and air forces there, and asking them to declare that a state of war exists between the United States and the Japanese Empire. Under the circumstances there was nothing else that the Legislature could do.

“Accordingly, both the Senate and the House unanimously declared a state of war to exist – except for one vote in the House, a woman Representative from Montana, Jeannette Rankin, the same who in 1916 voted against the entrance of the United States into the World War I.

“With this exception of the Representative from Montana, the whole Congress of the United States has been welded into one by the events of Pearl Harbor of yesterday. Even the extreme Isolationists and all those who had differed with the President up to now are one with him in his decision that the declaration of a state of war is our only alternative.”

1943: August 2 (Monday):
“Left Greenwood this morning about 8:30 – had dinner with Father Manon at Oxford – and then after a slight rest proceeded with Father Manor over to Como to visit the camp where there are several thousand Italian prisoners of war.

“A short distance outside the town of Como, the Government has erected a camp with buildings for barracks, mess halls, etc., etc., similar to the buildings in the camp in which the American troops in this country are quartered. The camp at Como, however, is surrounded by a double barbed-wire fence and protected by towers erected at intervals along the enclosure, in which soldiers of the American army manned with proper weapons keep guard day and night lest the prisoners escape.

In Feburary 1942, Bishop Gerow (center) meets with Catholic Military chaplains in Natchez.

“In the Camp the Italian officers are separated entirely from the enlisted men and they are not allowed to mingle. I was allowed into the compound of the enlisted men; I was told, however, that I would not be allowed into the compound in which the officers were quartered. The reason for this I do not know. However, there are four Italian priests, formerly chaplains of the Italian army, who are prisoners in the camp, and these are able to take care of the spiritual needs of both officers and men.

“Father Manon has supplied them with all things necessary for the celebration of the Mass, including vestments, altar stones, candles, etc., and he keeps them supplied with wine and hosts.”

These are three short snippets of Bishop Gerow’s writings about WWII. In the next installment, we will look at some of the priests of our diocese who served in the war, either at home or abroad. And we will explore the POW camp at Como a little more in depth. During his visit mentioned above Bishop Gerow addressed the captives in a chapel they had designed and decorated.

Each year on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Survivors, veterans, and visitors from all over the world come together to honor and remember the 2,403 service members and civilians who were killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. A further 1,178 people were injured in the attack, which permanently sank two U.S. Navy battleships (the USS Arizona and the USS Utah) and destroyed 188 aircraft.

On Aug. 23, 1994, the United States Congress designated Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Every year, remembrance events are held at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, culminating in a commemoration ceremony on Dec. 7. (From the National Pearl harbor Remembrance website:
Let us pray for peace!

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

Servant of God, Sister Thea Bowman cause update

By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – On Nov. 18, 2018, Bishop Joseph Kopacz officially opened the cause for the beatification and canonization of Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, who died on March 30, 1990, at her family home in Canton. Bishop’s edict was read to the faithful in the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle in Jackson during the Sunday liturgy.

Having received the nihil obstat from the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints and gotten approval from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the November 2018 plenary meeting in Baltimore, the cause opened the diocesan phase of the intricate canonical process leading to possible beatification.

MEMPHIS – Bishop Joseph Kopacz visits Sister Thea Bowman’s gravesite in late October 2018, in preparation for taking her cause before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2018. (Photo by Deacon Ted Schreck/courtesy of archives)

During this phase, the Servant of God’s (this is the title she now carries) writings, theology, biography is studied and documented by appointed experts. A tribunal consisting of an episcopal delegate, promoter of justice, and notary, interview witnesses who knew her and ministered with her.

The questionnaire for the witnesses is quite extensive – probing into the virtues and the faith, hope and love shown throughout her life from childhood to death. Those interviews must be transcribed and sent to the witness for any additional comments then a signature of approval for inclusion in the Canonical acts.

When the pandemic hit, all interviews stopped. We were about two-thirds of the way through the list of witnesses. We are now slowly regrouping and hope to complete the entire process by the end of next year. This will involve tying up several loose ends and printing everything in triplicate so that it may be sent to Rome.

When all is ready, Bishop Kopacz will lead a special liturgy in which the documents will be sealed and presented to the postulator to deliver to the dicastery. Once that is completed, the postulator will work with the dicastery to move the cause forward. At a certain point, once the cause is in Rome, The Holy Father may declare the Servant of God as Venerable – showing heroic virtue.

Sister Charlene Smith and Sister Thea Bowman pictured in their ealy FSPA years. (Photo courtesy Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration/

After Venerable, the next step is beatification and in order to be beatified there must be a miracle. Examination of the miracle goes through a similar canonical process as the diocesan phase. If a miracle is proven and accepted, the Servant of God is put on the schedule for an official liturgy of beatification.
The next step would be canonization and that requires a second miracle. That miracle would have to happen after the beatification. All-in-all, the Roman side of the process takes a long time.

In the meantime, Bishop Kopacz has commissioned a life-size bronze statue of the Servant of God by a well-known bronze sculptor from Saucier, Mary Davidson. The statue will be placed in the Cathedral until a shrine location can be developed. We will feature the statue project and its uniqueness in a future article.
As for now, we need many prayers for the cause, especially for those involved in working through the fine details of the diocesan phase.

We also can use donations to the cause as it does have several financial costs for travel, translations, experts and administration. Donations may be made to the Diocese of Jackson and sent to the Chancellor’s Office, 237 E. Amite Street, Jackson, MS 39201. Make sure you mark the donation for Sister Thea’s Cause.

To donate online or to learn more about the Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, visit our website at From this site you may watch the wonderful documentary on her life “Going Home Like a Shooting Star” and find a link to the cause’s official site with photos and tributes to her.

Presenting a cause for canonization is one of the noblest things a diocese can undertake as an official act of the church. It is exciting to know that over the next several months we are participating in this ancient tradition and moving forward in completing the diocesan phase of this esteemed process.

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