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.)

March 7 – eventful day in diocesan history

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Twenty years ago, this past Tuesday, March 7, Msgr. Joseph Nunzio Latino was ordained and installed as the 10th Bishop of Jackson. Reflecting back through the kingdom of memory, I seem to recall it was a Lenten Friday filled with sunshine and people from throughout the region in attendance to celebrate the new bishop.

Bishop Latino often recounted the story of him looking out on the Cathedral from his room in the now defunct Marriott, which sits behind the church. We were all down below scurrying about getting chairs, vestments, chalices, servers in order and he was experiencing some trepidation in the face of his new responsibilities. But as the morning flowed on, he emerged from the hotel and off we went.

It was a blessing to be part of the liturgy planning crew. We worked for several weeks learning the rite, managing the smallest details, and creating the program for the Mass. We were in constant contact with Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, then Metropolitan Archbishop of Mobile, who would be the ordaining bishop.

JACKSON – Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile lays hands on the head of Bishop Joseph Latino on March 7, 2003. This year marks 20 years since the ordination of Bishop Latino as the 10th Bishop of Jackson. (Photo from archives)

Having finished the program draft about 10 days before the ceremony, we received a call from Archbishop Lipscomb, who served on Vox Clara, a translation of all things Catholic Church committee, stating he would like to use the new translation of the ordination rite. It was not in book form yet, but he was having USCCB send us a pdf copy.

This meant the program draft had to be redone due to new terminology in several locations, but it also meant Bishop Latino would be the first bishop ordained using this translation and rubrics. Quite the honor! And so, the program was redrafted to incorporate the new language and movements and sent off to the printer.

The Mass was scheduled for 12 p.m., and concelebrants, family, friends and officials started arriving in the hours before that. The papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, arrived with the bull appointing Bishop Latino as 10th bishop. At first, he seemed rather surly, and as the Mass began this became more emphasized.

Because we were using the new translation, there was a lack of clarity among all as to when the bull would be read. The rubrics mentioned a letter being read at the very beginning of the liturgy and then as part of the rite after the Gospel.

This led to some consternation during the liturgy when a certain priest tried to retrieve the bull to read at the beginning of the Mass and the nuncio placing a death grip on it. I really thought he was going to whack the befuddled cleric in the head with it if he kept trying to grab it.

After those initial awkward moments subsided and the Holy Spirit was called down and the bull was finally read by the nuncio at the proper place, everyone began to be swept up in the joy of the sacred moment, including the nuncio, who by the end of the liturgy was beaming with a smile.

Following the liturgy, guests walked across the street to Galloway United Methodist Church for a reception complete with fabulous flowers provided by the Cathedral Flower Guild, scrumptious food for all and fine Methodist hospitality as only they can do. It was indeed an ecumenical event, and leading the Galloway hospitality team were my Methodist minister father, whose birthday was that day, and my mother.

Bishop Joseph Latino on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle before being ordained the 10th Bishop of Jackson on March 7, 2003. (Photo by Lawrence Chatagnier, Bayou Catholic)

Sometimes it seems as if it were only yesterday and other times it seems like an eternity. But in retrospect, I still can recall all the many unique details and insightful moments that made it such a beautiful, sacred and joyful moment in the life of our diocesan church – all capsulized in the eternal memory of the universal church.

I think of the many key players involved who have gone on to the Lord – my father, Jack, hospitality team (2018); Bishop Latino, 10th bishop (2021); Msgr. Noel Foley, MC of the Mass (2003); Archbishop Lipscomb, metropolitan and principal ordaining bishop (2020); Bishop William Houck, 9th bishop (2016); and Archbishop Montalvo, guardian of the bull (2006). God rest them all.

In faith, I know they are gathered around the heavenly banquet table at the never-ending liturgy. Here in the Cathedral, I look for them in the mystical air space around the altar when heaven and earth meet in the celebration of the Eucharist on the altar designed by Bishop Latino – all present as members of the Communion of Saints. What a blessing!

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

Examine your heart more deeply this Lent

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Let us pray for Bishop David O’Connell, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who was murdered this past weekend. Let us also pray for his family in Ireland.

Having served in the diocesan chancery for 30 years and in particular having served the Office of Bishop under Bishops William Houck, Joseph Latino and Joseph Kopacz, and having assisted or been mentored by bishops across the region and world, this is poignantly disturbing. As we enter the great Lenten season, it is a sharp reminder of the fragility of life and the violence that dwells in the hearts of many.
This week I thought I would replay a difficult adventure of Bishop Thomas Heslin, relayed by Bishop John Gunn in his diary. It is an account of an accident that more than likely led to Bishop Heslin’s death a few months after it occurred. This week is the anniversary of Bishop Heslin’s death (Feb. 22, 1911) and Bishop Gunn’s death (Feb. 19, 1924).

A Magnolia tree stands in the gardens of Immaculate Conception Cathedral Basilica in Mobile. Chancellor, Mary Woodward plans to find a large tree to pray under throughout Lent, as a reminder of the outstretched arms of the Cross that Jesus opened his arms upon and offered His life for us. (Photo by Mary Woodward)

Here is a condensed version of the infamous mule cart ride:

“Visit to Montpelier. This is a little mission chapel about 13 miles from West Point, without a railroad and with the poorest roads imaginable. On the way out from West Point to Montpelier I heard a story about Bishop Heslin which is worth recording.

“The good Bishop was, like myself, going out to the little chapel to give Confirmation. The best pair of mules in the neighborhood were commandeered to bring the Bishop out. The Bishop’s carriage was a spring wagon and a plank put over the sideboards formed the cushions for the driver and the Bishop.

“The roads were of that peculiar type known in Mississippi as ‘corduroy’ roads. Branches of trees, stumps, logs, etc. are imbedded in the mud roads during the Winter, In the Spring these are covered with dirt and there is a good road until the first rain comes. Then the dirt is washed up and the stumps are very much in evidence, especially when the mules get into a trot.

“It seems that on the past visit of Bishop Heslin, the driver talked all he knew about cotton, lumber, and the country and talked so much that the mules fell asleep. It is thought that Bishop Heslin – if he was not asleep, was at least nodding – and at the moment the driver woke up and commenced to whip the mules into some kind of activity.

“The sudden start caught the Bishop unprepared and he made a double somersault over the spring wagon and fell on the road. The driver was so busy with the mules that he forgot the Bishop and did not know of the mishap for nearly half a mile.

“Then there was the difficulty of turning the pair of mules on the road and a convenient turning spot had to be reached. This delayed the recovery of the Bishop for a considerable time and when the mule driver and his mules found the Bishop – Bishop Heslin was in a dead faint.

“The good Bishop was a big man and a heavy man, and the mule driver was lean and lanky and there was no help in sight or available. There was nothing to do only to take the sideboards from the wagon and form an inclined plane and roll the Bishop up the plane and make him comfortable in the wagon. “He recovered consciousness before he reached West Point.

“It is said that the Bishop never really recovered from the shock and the injury sustained by this fall. [The event occurred in late 1910 and Bishop Heslin died the following February.]

“The driver who brought me out to Montpelier was the same one who had brought Bishop Heslin and he gave me the story as written.”

This account is a reminder of difficult days of travel and ministry for bishops in our diocese prior to paved roads, 70 mph speed limits and Siri’s step by step directions.

So, as we move into these forty days of Lent 2023, let us pray for our bishops and for the people of Los Angeles whom Bishop O’Connell served. Let us strive to build peace in our hearts and the hearts of our communities. We also must work hard at examining the violence within us no matter how big or small and work to quell it through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Find a big tree to pray under as a reminder of the outstretched arms of the Cross on which the Savior of the world, our ultimate shepherd, opened His arms and offered His life for us. Have a blessed Lenten journey.

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

Canons, policies guide archives research

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Over the past several years programs such as Finding Your Roots have increased an awareness of the existence of records in Catholic archives that could help further family tree research by genealogists and others interested in discovering ancestors. DNA tests can reveal ethnic origins and miniscule percentages of faraway lands where one’s 15th great-grandfather would have roamed in the 1500s. I have two friends who did a 23andMe test and found out they were Neanderthals.

Our diocesan archives exist to maintain official diocesan records and documentation of official acts of the bishop. The Code of Canon Law states:

Can. 486 §1. All documents which regard the diocese or parishes must be protected with the greatest care.

Diocesan Chancellor and archivist, Mary Woodward searches for a parish sacramental record on microfilm in one of several archive storage rooms at the diocese chancery office in Jackson. (Photos courtesy of archives)

§2. In every curia there is to be erected in a safe place a diocesan archive, or record storage area, in which instruments and written documents which pertain to the spiritual and temporal affairs of the diocese are to be safeguarded after being properly filed and diligently secured.

§3. An inventory, or catalog, of the documents which are contained in the archive is to be kept with a brief synopsis of each written document.

In our archives’ office we often get genealogy requests for baptismal records of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Our archive collections contain microfilmed and digitized copies of parish sacramental registers. These copies exist to safeguard the official book registers kept in parishes.

In the past, hurricanes, fires and theft have damaged parish registers. Our copies are available when needed for those particular parishes that have lost registers. Every 10 years we make copies of all parish sacramental registers. The next scheduled round of copying is set for 2026.

Our diocesan policy is these baptismal records are accessible to our approved researcher only. Individuals must submit in writing the records they seek. The archive vault is not open for individuals to come in and look around.

Records must be 100 years or older to be released. Therefore, the only records we can allow to be searched for genealogical purposes as of today are those from 1923 and back.

What I have to explain to inquirers is that the diocesan archives do not exist to fulfill genealogy searches. We will try our best to help but it may take a few months and there is a fee to open the vault for these types of requests.

The latest craze in genealogical research is individuals seeking to establish Dual Italian Citizenship. Apparently, if you meet several criteria you can obtain an Italian passport. According to the Italian Dual Citizenship website Italian/American dual citizenship requirements include five basic guidelines:

  1. You are descended from someone who was alive in Italy after March 17, 1861.
  2. The ancestor did not naturalize in another country before June 14, 1912.
  3. The ancestor did not naturalize before the birth of descendants interested in getting Italian citizenship.
  4. If the direct-line Italian ancestor is a woman born before January 1, 1948, citizenship can only be claimed from her father’s line.
  5. No one in the family renounced their Italian citizenship.
    You may also qualify if you are a non-Italian who married an Italian citizen.

Because of the large Italian immigrant population along the river in our diocese, we have gotten several requests for sacramental records to help individuals qualify for this genealogical oddity. These requests require more paperwork than other requests. The local parish has to provide a baptismal or marriage record signed and sealed by the current pastor and witnessed by a public notary. It is then sent to the chancery for the diocesan seal to be attached.

Once again, these records must be older than 100 years for us to process them. Parishes are bound by the same policy of 100 years or older.

For more recent records as in the case of someone needing a baptismal certificate for marriage preparation files, the individual of record must request the certificate and present proof of identification if he or she is not known in the parish with the register.

Many times we have received a call from someone’s mother requesting the record so her child can get married and we have to tell the well-intentioned mom that her son or daughter will have to contact us directly. That does not go over too well sometimes, but in this day of identity theft, we cannot release private information to anyone other than the named person or his or her legal guardian in the case of a minor.

Therefore, if you are thinking about researching your family tree and want to use sacramental records, please note the policies above and be patient with us. We are a very small staff and although we enjoy talking with you, our main responsibilities do not include genealogy.

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

Catholic Extension has deep roots in diocese

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.

A copy of the October 1930 Catholic Extension Magazine, found in the archives at the Diocese of Jackson, is open to a letter from Bishop Richard O. Gerow thanking Catholic Extension for their support of the diocese and congratulating them on their 25th anniversary. (Photos courtesy of archives)

“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!

Pictured is Bishop R.O. Gerow with the 1941 Confirmation class of Sacred Heart Church in Sulphur Springs.

“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.)

Encounters with Pope Benedict XVI …

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – This issue of Mississippi Catholic is filled with materials about Pope Benedict’s life of service to the church. “From the Archives” would like to share some memories of the pontiff emeritus from Bishop Joseph N. Latino of happy memory.

Every so many years (it used to be strictly five) bishops from each bishops’ conference make a visit to the Vatican and meet with various dicasteries and the Holy Father. This is called an ad limina, which means “to the threshold.” In December of 2004, Bishop Latino made his first ad limina visit as a bishop to Rome and Vatican City. This visit was with the bishops of Region V of the U.S. Region V includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

St. John Paul II was the current pope, and we have many photos from that meeting. What we do not have photos of is the visit the Region V bishops made to the Congregation (now called Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose prefect at that time was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

Bishop Latino relayed that prior to that meeting he had always thought of Cardinal Ratzinger as a stern, somber man, but after the meeting his experience of the man changed that thinking. While some of the other prefects of other dicasteries were somewhat dismissive of the bishops’ questions, Cardinal Ratzinger was extremely gracious, patient, and respectful in answering each question posed to him.

The Cardinal took multi-layered questions and with ease and clarity answered them point by point in a way that built fraternity and dialogue, Bishop remarked. And he did all this in a soft-spoken gentile manner that endeared him to those present. A few months after that visit, St. John Paul succumbed to his human frailty in April of 2005 and the soft-spoken Cardinal became Pope Benedict XVI.

In 2006, the Vatican announced it was the 500th anniversary of the Vatican Museum because in 1506 the famous Laocoön group sculpture was excavated in Rome and placed on display in the Vatican. I always marvel at the way Rome can create a need for a pilgrimage – as if a reason was ever needed to go to Rome.

Therefore, the Diocese of Jackson put together a pilgrimage for December 2006 and Bishop Latino was the leader. We included a Wednesday Papal General Audience as part of the tour. At these audiences, bishops are ushered down to the front, on to the stage, and into chairs to the right of where the Holy Father will sit and teach the faithful gathered.

I remember Bishop Latino was the first bishop to arrive that day and after a short wrestling match with the usher, was escorted down the main aisle to his chair on the stage. For a long time, he was the only bishop on the stage and our group would call out to him to keep him from feeling alone.

Finally, another bishop arrived but unfortunately did not speak English and Bishop Latino did not speak Japanese; but soon the chairs filled, Pope Benedict arrived, and awkward pleasantries and hand gestures departed.

At the end of the audience, each bishop was able to greet the Holy Father and, in the photos, both men have such looks of joy on their faces – two kind shepherds fraternally linked. Bishop Latino always enjoyed sharing the story of this encounter with Pope Benedict.

In 2013, when Pope Benedict announced his retirement, Bishop Latino issued the following statement. I think it reflects Bishop’s respect for the kind soul that was Benedict XVI.

“On behalf of the faithful of the Diocese of Jackson I offer heartfelt prayers for Pope Benedict XVI who has made the decision to resign from the papacy on Feb. 28. Through much prayer and reflection, our Holy Father has made a decision that he feels is in the best interest of our church. The papacy is a very demanding role and position in our church. It takes great wisdom to reach a decision such as this and we admire him for acting prudently on behalf of our church and for his own sake.

“Pope Benedict has led our church since 2005. During this time, he has worked for greater understanding among faith traditions, and spoken out on behalf of truth and justice tempered with mercy. He continued to engage us in a dialogue on these truths and the dangers of moral relativism. He was committed to defending the dignity of the human person as was reflected in his writings and preaching.

“We offer him our fervent prayers for fruitful retirement years, and we thank him for his life of service to our church and indeed the world. We also offer our prayers for the College of Cardinals who guided by the Holy Spirit will soon convene to elect a successor to continue to guide and lead our church in its mission of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the world.”


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

Bishop’s Christmas rituals reflect love for tradition

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – For those of you who knew Bishop William Houck, you know he was a larger-than-life persona. His booming voice and laughter were recognizable before he ever entered the room. He was a great man of the church and never missed a chance to evangelize others through word and deed.
Bishop Houck clung to traditions and for every holiday he had one. We always knew which holidays were spent with whom and what time he would head to Mobile for family celebrations. He adored his family, and they looked forward to his visits with great joy.

LEXINGTON – Bishop William Houck opens a gift during a party held in 1985 in the St. Thomas Lexington community. (Photo from archives)

At Christmas, Bishop Houck loved for his residence to be decorated with lights, angels, poinsettias, wreaths and any Christmas merriment that could be found in his vast collection. He had an outdoor nativity set given to him by Virginia McCaskey, owner of the Chicago Bears. For this festive ensemble, he had a local craftsman build a stable that could be disassembled and stored in the garage after Epiphany. It was my task to meet the craftsman each year to retrieve the stable from the garage rafters, set out the holy family, and plug up the lights; then meet him again to take it all down while Bishop Houck was on the annual region V bishops’ retreat.

Another annual tradition was getting the live Christmas tree for his house. Bishop Houck did not like artificial trees. I still remember the look on his face when someone suggested he get one. Yikes for that person!

Jim McCraw, Knight of Columbus extraordinaire, was the man with the truck who was called upon each year to go with Bishop Houck to get the perfect tree. Keeping with his tradition, Bishop liked to wait until closer to Christmas to get the tree. I remember one year he waited a little too late and the lot where they normally got the tree had been abandoned. Fortunately, the trees that didn’t sell were left behind as well, so that year the evergreen was a little dry but gratis.

McCraw was reminiscing about tree shopping a few weeks ago and sent me the following account of the yuletide expedition.

“Right about now I’d be getting a call from the bishop wanting to go tree shopping. I looked forward to it every year and always enjoyed his stories about his dad taking him to get their tree as a child. After getting it in the house, his mother would make him go outside and look through the window to make sure it was straight.

“Bishop would look all the trees over until he found the perfect one. You knew when he found it because he’d explode in energy: ‘THIS IS IT!’ He talked to everyone – a true man of the people.
“After getting the tree inside and in place my final task was to put the bowl of water under it. I’d offer to do the lights, but he always said: ‘No Jim, I leave all that to Mary Woodward.’ (Author’s note: I would have been fine if Jim had put the lights on the tree, but it was Bishop’s tradition, and I was blessed to be a part of it.)

JACKSON – Bishop William Houck’s outdoor nativity set, given to him by Virginia McCaskey, owner fo the Chicago Bears. A local craftsman made the stable that had to be assembled and taken apart each year. (Photos courtesy of Mary Woodward)

“One of our early trips had us looking for Christmas tree lots in northeast Jackson. We ended up driving past the Gray-Lewis house with the kids playing outside. They waved so he wanted to stop. “Vic and Geri had a neighbor who was in her final hours, and they asked if Bishop would give her a blessing. Out he went … they told him she didn’t speak English. ‘Fine, Fine’ he said in his booming voice.

“As he got back in the truck, in his non-clerical tree-shopping attire, the youngest Gray-Lewis child asked: ‘Are you really the bishop?’ You can imagine his laughter. Made his day.
“I asked him about the language barrier, and he said: ‘It’s not what you say, it’s that you’re there, Jim.’ Great man. I do miss him.”

I miss him too. He was an imparter of great wisdom and a wonderful mentor to so many. The memories of his traditions will live on in my heart, Jim’s heart, and especially the hearts of his family.

Whether you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day; whether you go to the family Mass at 4:30 p.m., Midnight Mass, or Mass on Christmas Day; whether you eat turkey, ham or tofu; may you all have a very Merry Christmas where you joyfully celebrate your own cherished traditions and maybe create a few new ones. Take time to remember those who have gone on to the Lord (as Bishop Houck would say) and thank God for placing them in your path.

Christus natus est!

Statues assist in evangelization

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Travelling statues is once again the topic of our archives journey.

This past weekend I was in Greenwood at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish for the celebration of Confirmation with Bishop Joseph Kopacz. As you may recall, IHM sadly was vandalized back in January and their beloved statue of the Blessed Mother was severely damaged.

We were able to restore the statue through the gifted hands of Eyd Kazery and return her to the parish in time for the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in June.

This past Sunday for the first time I was able to see her in person adorning her newly designed place of honor in the church. Joy welled up in my heart to see her standing there watching over the congregation.

For centuries statues have adorned churches and churchyards reflecting images of our Catholic faith family. When people ask me why Catholics pray to statues, I respond by asking them if they have photos of their parents and grandparents somewhere such as the staircase wall.

I go on to explain that our statues and images of saints are similar to their family photos. The images invoke reverence for people who have inspired us, and we believe in faith to be in heaven available to offer prayers on our behalf to God. That usually does the trick and in answering the question an act of evangelization has just occurred.

JACKSON – Diocesan seminarian and some strong Belhaven University students were able to move the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Francis statues in the Bishop’s Cemetery next to the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. (Photos courtesy of Mary Woodward)

Statues at the Cathedral took center stage as tools of evangelization the week of Thanksgiving.

Last year two statues in the Bishop’s Cemetery had to be moved to prepare the grave for Bishop Joseph N. Latino. Those two statues – the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Francis – never got moved back. We had left them in place not only because the Sacred Heart looked as if it were consoling St. Francis and that is a very appropriate scene in a cemetery, but also because they weigh about 400 – 500 lbs. each.

Herein lies the evangelization moment. We have a Belhaven University baseball player named Luke from Lake Charles, Louisiana, who serves at the 10:30 Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral. He loves his Catholic faith and remarked to me one Sunday in the sacristy that there were several other Catholic players on the team who did not always make it to Mass.

Remembering the misplaced statues, I suggested perhaps we could get them interested in coming to Mass if we had some kind of service project such as moving the statues. Luke took this to heart and the Monday before Thanksgiving he showed up for the daily noon Mass at the Cathedral with several teammates.

It just so happened several of our diocesan seminarians were at Mass and just like that we had 10 strapping young men to move those two statues. Indeed, it was a Holy Spirit moment.

The bonus was we wanted the statues placed in different spots from their previous locales and the young men were so very amenable to wrangling them some 20-25 feet from where they were.

The Sacred Heart statue was first to move. He was the heavier of the two and he was too heavy for the dolly. So, they basically walked the statue into its place along the side wall of the Cathedral. At times it looked like a dance and at other times a wrestling match, but mission accomplished.

St. Francis was lighter and easily moved on the dolly to his spot overlooking the bishops’ burial plots with the Sacred Heart. Passersby may now see both statues more easily and hopefully be inspired to offer prayers for our deceased bishops.

After the project was complete, our seminarians invited the teammates into the Cathedral where I gave them an expedited tour of the stained-glass windows and sanctuary along with a little history of the diocese before they headed back to campus. A couple of the baseball players were so enthusiastic they volunteered to come back and move things whenever we needed help.

Mission accomplished. We had connected them to a parish, and they want to come back and be a part.

Evangelization 101 – invite people to church. We know the Lord uses us in creative ways to bring people closer to him. You never know who is seeking the Lord and may be inspired by your sincere invitation.

Gathering around the table for Thanksgiving

By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Once again, we come to the great feast of Thanksgiving throughout our country. Looking back over the years I would like to share some moments at table in the presence of cherished friends, some of whom have gone on to the Lord where they will partake in the feast of Thanksgiving for all eternity.

When we gather around the table with friends and family, we are sharing in communion with one another. I like to think all of our ancestors and dear ones, who made contributions to our lives great and small, are gathered there with us forming a communion of saints.

The Thanksgiving holiday offers a time for us to reflect on those ancestors and dear ones – to enjoy those present physically and those who are there transcending the moment in our memories. It is a time to be thankful for the moments we have shared and continue to share with those who love us and those whom we love.

Pictured are gatherings around tables around the diocese over the years. The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving,” so gathering around the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist is the most profound gathering of all gatherings. (Photos courtesy of archives)

And of course, the ultimate table for us to gather around is the altar where we share in the heavenly banquet with the entire communion of saints. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving, so gathering around the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist is the most profound gathering of all gatherings.
This Thanksgiving I hope we all are able to ponder the many blessings we have in our lives even if they are small. Take the time to let your friends and family know exactly how much they mean to you and what a blessing they are in your life.

Spend time in prayer for those who do not have family and friends available to them or are in strained family situations. Do not miss an opportunity to heal a rift and mend a heart by showing kindness, patience and love. You do not want to have regrets when that person is gone.

Most of all, give thanks to God for bestowing the grace, mercy and peace upon you that can only come from encountering and surrendering to God’s infinite heart. Take care of one another.

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

Cemeteries house archives written in stone

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Cemeteries are fantastic, visual archives. The history of a community, a church, a family is literally written in stone. In a few short phrases, a person’s life is summed up: “Devoted Mother,” “Beloved Son,” “Christian, Southern Gentleman,” “Faithful Wife.” Often it is a favorite scripture verse such as John 3:16 or a favorite poetry line such as “horseman pass by.”

Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, asked that the words “she tried” be on her tombstone. William Faulkner has “Belove’d Go with God” on his marker. One poignant one I have seen is “In the end it all comes down to one word, Grace.” And we all have that person in our family who warrants the “I told you I was sick” epitaph. As Catholics, we like to see R.I.P. on a grave for requiescat in pace or rest in peace.

Currently, the chancellor’s office is assisting in an inventory of Catholic cemeteries in the diocese. We have a listing of all the parish connected cemeteries, but often when a chapel or mission church closed decades ago, small cemeteries can be left off of the registry. We welcome any information on these locations.

JACKSON – Mary Woodward uses a pickaxe to assist in digging a grave at Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in Madison County. On left, Woodward left Bishop Joseph Latino’s favorite flower on his gravesite in the Bishops’ Cemetery next to the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson. (Photos courtesy of Mary Woodward and Joanna Puddister King)

In our diocese, we have several Catholic cemeteries dating back to the early 1800s. Paulding St. Michael, the second oldest parish in the entire state, has a beautiful cemetery filled with founding family members. There is a forest of bamboo standing 30-feet high that surrounds much of the back of the cemetery. Not long ago, St. Michael parishioners with the advice of Mississippi State’s Extension Service invested in a barrier to keep the bamboo from spreading farther into graves. They also built a fence around the graveyard to keep the occasional nocturnal burial from occurring as can happen in small country cemeteries.

It is fitting we are doing this during the month of November. November is the month to remember the dead in our Catholic faith. It opens with the Solemnity of All Saints where we honor all those ordinary people in our lives who were saints to us. The next day is All Souls in which we honor the dead and, in many traditions, decorate graves and have picnics in cemeteries.

The Bishops’ Cemetery on the Cathedral grounds is right across the street from the Chancery. Each year we place flowers on the graves of Bishops Richard Gerow, Joseph Brunini, William Houck and Joseph Latino. This year, as we positioned the roses and sunflowers, I was able to reflect on these men and the act of assisting in burying three of the four.

Because of the location and design of the Bishops’ Cemetery, the graves are hand dug. This is a very arduous task which takes a team of gravediggers many hours to complete.

Burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy and we all have in some way participated in burying the dead by planning funerals, being present for the family, celebrating the funeral Mass, bringing food to the repast. But actually digging the grave with a shovel and pickaxe is a profound way to fully immerse oneself in the act of mercy.

Recently, I participated in two such acts. My brother is head of the gravedigger’s guild at Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in Madison County. He invited me to join in for a dig in August and then again last week.

The cemetery at the Chapel dates back to the mid-1800s and is on a serene piece of property off Hwy 463. The congregation has never allowed equipment onto the property to dig graves. All the graves have been hand dug and the guild coordinates the digging. It is seen as a unique ministry to the family of the deceased – an act of love.

My brother had marked the grave and at 4 p.m., the top sod was removed and set aside, then the team began making its way through soil, clay, roots and the occasional brick down into the cool, damp earth. The shovel crew would give way to the pickaxe crew, who would break up a few more inches of terra firma for the shovellers to get back in and remove. Eventually there is room for only one in the grave at a time. All stand around in support waiting to relieve the current digger by pulling her/him out and the next digger goes in.

This past week, as we dug down to the target depth, the family of the deceased, along with those who had come to pay their respects at the wake service, ventured over to the dig bringing food for the guild and chairs to watch the completion of act. Family members even participated in helping to dig, climbing down into the grave of their loved one and shoveling out clay.

At the end of the dig, the grave was blessed, and libations were passed around in a shared bottle as the deceased was toasted by the team and the gathered assembly. All of this took place under God’s watchful November sky.

As we continue this journey through the month of the dead and we pray for our deceased loved ones, let us be reminded of the sacred places where we bury our family and friends. These are true archives of our communal life and of lives well-lived awaiting the resurrection of the dead – a collection of short epithets giving a permanent record of and an eternal glimpse into those lives.

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