May hosts a myriad of ordinations

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

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

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

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

Bishop R.O. Gerow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priests of the diocese

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

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

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

Holy Week adventures

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrism Mass moves to daytime again

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!