Mississippi summers provided bishop with many challenges

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – As we begin our journey into the lovely days of summer filled with that heat and humidity we treasure so much, I thought I would share some more experiences of Bishop John Gunn’s adventures. These few entries detail his battles with travelling in July on the Gulf Coast, which was once part of our diocese until the Diocese of Biloxi was established in 1977.

The 17 counties that make up the Diocese of Biloxi would have been Deanery VII of this Diocese in Bishop Gunn’s time. It stretches up to Laurel and over to Tylertown. Bishop Gunn enjoyed being on the Gulf and spent a lot of time in Pass Christian. He attributed it to the easier access to rail and road travel from the Coast than Natchez had.

DeLISLE – The interior of Our Lady of Good Hope parish is pictured in Christmas of 1920. Bishop John Gunn takes readers on summer adventure at the parish when he visited in July of 1912. Established in 1872, the church was first destroyed by fire in 1905 and rebuilt by Father René Sorin and ultimately destroyed beyond repair by Hurricane Camille in August 1969. (Photos courtesy of archives)

The week of July 23, 1912, Bishop Gunn, who was only a few months into his tenure as bishop, spent a couple of days visiting DeLisle and its missions. Once again, the entries reflect Bishop Gunn’s dry wit and matter-of-fact demeanor. As a disclaimer, the reader needs to remember this is 110 years ago and conditions would have been different in the state of communities and parishes.

“July 23 – DeLisle and Missions: Big reception at the church – dinner in St. Joseph’s Hall. DeLisle has a long history and is connected with big men. The present Bishop of Oklahoma [Théophile Meerschaert] commenced his missionary career at DeLisle. Father [Alphonse] Ketels, now in Biloxi, followed him and Father [René] Sorin has spent nearly 20 years in the most abject poverty and isolation that it is possible to imagine a priest can have.”

“July 24 – Gave Confirmation after Mass in DeLisle. Gave a lecture at Cuevas at eight o’clock on Wednesday night and got the scare of my life in the house to which I was assigned to sleep after the lecture. It was a little bungalow, and I got the best room in the house and I think I got the concentrated heat of the entire coast.”

“I was wet and tired, and I fell asleep as soon as I could. … In the middle of the night I thought my last hour had come as something got into the bed with me and fought me like a tiger. I had nothing but a sheet covering me and in my surprise, to get the bed all to myself I rolled the sheet round the visitor and we had an unequal tussle.”

“It seems a big Scotch Collie had been accustomed to sleep in the bed and had not been notified of the change of occupants. I rolled the sheet ‘round the collie who objected to the familiarity and frightened me thoroughly before I let him loose.”

“July 25 – I gave Confirmation in Cuevas or Pineville. After the Mass and Confirmation and a sermon, I felt as if I had been pulled out of the ocean and it was then I was told that I had to see all the people.”

“I was wet – the church itself was the reception room. The Protestant idea of using the church for everything obtains unfortunately in Mississippi when actual service is not going on. For a little while, I endured the handshaking and the heat, but I begged the priest to get me somewhere where I could get rid of my wet clothes and effect a change at least in parts.”

DeLISLE – Our Lady of Good Hope parish was served by Father René Sorin, from 1896 until his death on Feb. 6, 1955.

“There was no available spot in the church nor in the sacristy, nor behind the altar – nor anywhere and I found my wet clothes now growing cold. Finally, the priest asked me if I would use a kind of closet that was in the sacristy. The closet was about three feet square and contained a barrel in which all the things the ladies of the Altar Society did not want the Bishop to see – old flowers, old candles, broken vases, etc., but I was glad to get even there to get out of my wet clothes.”

“I was progressing rapidly and quickly, when I looked at a slit in the closet and there to my horror, I saw a snake looking right into my eyes. About four or five inches of him stuck to the wall and the rest of him hissed at me.”

“I did not take long to beat a retreat and I never thought I could be such a coward. Irishmen and snakes don’t agree.”

So, I sit here in my air-conditioned office, thinking of those mid-summer days growing up without this luxury and how we managed to endure it. Then I imagine the most likely wool-suited Bishop Gunn perspiring in buckets in his missions throughout the diocese – fending off creatures in the night and slithering snakes in closets – to be shepherd to his sheep. God bless him.

As we make the slide into the heat and humidity of Mississippi’s summer through the traditional doorway of Memorial Day weekend, let us remember to offer prayers and thanks for all who have served our country and paid the ultimate price on the battlefields of the world. Bishop Gunn, who loved three things – his Catholic faith, his Irish heritage, and his American citizenship – would expect that of us. Amen.

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

Crucifix finds home, Natchez archives attempt to solve mystery of blessed nail

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – In the last article we visited with some statues that had found new homes after being displaced. This week I would like to introduce you to a couple of crucifixes that are connected with two churches dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

First, we have the crucifix that adorned St. Mary Church in West Jackson. The parish was merged with St. Therese Parish in 2015. St. Mary Church was completed in the mid-1950s and stood regally on Claiborne Avenue for 60 years, but early on Yazoo Clay began to take a toll on the foundation of the structure. The rise of suburbia took a toll on the size of the congregation and ultimately the difficult decision was made to close St. Mary’s and merge it with St. Therese.

NATCHEZ – A crucifix was discovered by St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee in the original crypt area in the lower level of the church in early 2012. The committee attempted to locate a “blessed nail” thought to be “preserved in the Sacred Feet,” according to note from Bishop Elder dated May 3, 1869. (Photo by Mike Murphy)

We featured St. Mary’s statues previously as mentioned, but the actual dismantling of the high altar and finding a home for the crucifix that graced it was a daunting challenge. Eventually, we made contact with Father Tommy Conway of the Diocese of Biloxi, who was tasked with establishing a new parish ironically in a suburb outside of Hattiesburg.

The corpus was wooden with a long crack down the torso. It was attached to one-inch-thick green now very brittle marble. Therefore, the corpus was removed separately and mounted to a wooden frame for transport to the new parish which was dedicated to St. Fabian.

It was the last item loaded into the 18-wheeler full of crated marble, tabernacle, and candlesticks. As in Caravaggio’s Deposition, the salvage crew reverently carried the Crucified Christ to the bed of the trailer and gently laid him down on a padded cloth. The door slid down like the stone rolled before the tomb.
I have to say it was a very powerful moment for all of us working there that morning. Watching the truck pull away knowing the Lord was entombed in it brought a silence upon us and tears trickled out of the corner of eyes down cheeks.

Our second featured crucifix now hangs on the wall in the St. Mary Basilica family life center in Natchez. In early 2012, the crucifix was discovered by Basilica Archives Committee members in the original crypt area in the lower level of the church. It was mounted on a wall and showed the signs of its age and a few botched repair efforts.

One of the wonderful aspects of archives life is the people one encounters. St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee is a group of extremely dedicated individuals who have taken the reins of creating an amazing local archive, which is a shining example of love for our faith and our traditions.

Immediately the committee, led at that time by Chairman Jimmy Guercio, resolved to have the sacred object researched and restored. According to an article by Guercio on the Basilica Archives web page, there was no real documentation on the crucifix anywhere. The only mention of a large crucifix being in the church was from Bishop William Henry Elder’s note dated May 3, 1869, that a “blessed nail” was “preserved in the Sacred Feet of the large crucifix…in the Cathedral…”

Coincidentally, the Conrad Schmitt design and restoration company, which had restored the Basilica in 2001, was wrapping up its renovations of the Cathedral in Jackson. Wil Kolstad, the lead artisan for the Cathedral project, was sent to Natchez to restore the crucifix.

Prior to completing the process, the mystery of the blessed nail needed to be solved. Therefore, Guercio, Kolstad and other committee members accompanied the corpus across the river to a diagnostic imaging center in Vidalia. The whole process of the patient Jesus being scanned was documented by committee photographer Mike Murphy.

Unfortunately, the scan did not reveal a nail in the feet, but it does reflect the fine dedication of the Basilica Archives Committee and its commitment to document the faith and tradition of the church of Natchez and our diocese. I hope these accounts of our sacred objects will inspire in you, the reader, a sense of Catholicity and a love for the deep and sacred spiritual traditions of our church. There is nothing else like it on this earth; it can only be heaven sent.

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

Rescued statues embody our Catholic faith

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Statues of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and other saints are a wonderful part of our church’s tradition. Unfortunately, we Catholics often are accused of worshipping statues.

The way I normally explain it to those making the accusation is having statues in churches and our homes is the same as having photos of our beloved family members adorning our wallets and walls. They are visual images of members of our family in faith.

Praying in front of a statue of St. Peter and lighting a candle sends our prayers heavenward carried through the intercession of that faith family member. Similarly, I have asked for the intercession of my deceased loved ones since they hopefully are closer to the Lord in the next life. Usually that explanation enlightens the person for the most part.

JACKSON – Jesus “consoles” St. Francis in the Bishop’s Cemetery on the grounds of Cathedral of St. Peter. The statues were moved while preparing for Bishop Joseph Latino’s funeral in 2021. (Photos courtesy of archives)

Sadly, there are times when churches close and the statues inside need to be rescued. I recently met a 100-year-old statue of the Blessed Mother rescued by a priest friend from a church that had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina and ultimately had to be closed. The statue is now used for Marian celebrations in his diocese. What a lovely new life for that statue!

As chancellor, I have rescued several statues from several of our diocesan parishes. I wrote recently about the damaged statue from Greenwood Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. That statue currently is being painstakingly repaired, because rightly so, the parish would rather have that antique, beloved image back scarred, than replace it with a new one.

Three other rescued statues came from St. Francis Church in Yazoo City. One of those was Our Lady of Fatima, which now graces the columbarium at St. Richard Church in Jackson. I have to say it is one of the most beautiful statues I have encountered in my statue relief work. Although, she showed the signs of decades of outdoor Delta life, she had a serene presence that enveloped me in her strength and love.

The other two – Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi – reside in the Bishop’s Cemetery on the grounds of the Cathedral in Downtown Jackson. Last year during Bishop Joseph Latino’s funeral preparations, the Sacred Heart statue had to be moved to get the vault into the burial plot. The vault man moved it in such a way that the Sacred Heart seems to be consoling St. Francis. We have not moved it back yet because it is rather sweet and because it is rather heavy.

When St. Mary Church in Jackson closed, we found homes for all the statues in that beautiful space. The large Marian statue above the main entrance now stands at Locus Benedictus Retreat Center outside Greenwood as Our Lady, Mother of the Delta.

The Our Lady of Fatima Statue in front of the elementary school was dedicated to Father Peter Quinn, the founding pastor. It now stands in the priests’ section of the cemetery at St. Joseph Church in Gluckstadt where Father Quinn is buried.

St. Jude in Pearl now houses two of the interior wooden statues of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother. St. Anthony School in Madison received a statue of its patron from the church as well. St. Richard Church placed a Sacred Heart statue in one of its prayer gardens.

Finding homes for these faith family members is quite edifying. There is something about passing on our faith traditions in this unique way that gives joy to all involved. I liken it to providing hospitality for the saints as they continually transcend our lives.

So, the next time you light a candle in front of a statue or pass by that niche in your church, stop and say a prayer with your faith family. You no doubt will find some peace in that moment as you are enveloped in the strength and love of the communion of saints.

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

Our Lady of Fatima sat in the Bishop’s Cemetery before finding a permanent home at St. Richard parish in the columbarium.

First Mass on Mississippi soil dates back to Easter 340 years

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Possibly a little-known fact by most of us is this Easter is the 340th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated on Mississippi soil. In the southwest corner of the State of Mississippi in Wilkinson County, there exists a very important site of church and American history.

On Easter Sunday in 1682, Father Zenobius Membre, an Order of the Friars Minor Recollect priest, celebrated Easter Mass on the bluff above the river near present day Fort Adams as part of Sieur Robert Cavelier de LaSalle’s expedition down the river from Montreal to its mouth.

Although this is the first documented Mass in the area, there is much evidence that the Hernando deSoto expedition in 1540 would have had Masses celebrated in what is now southern Alabama. It is believed by the time the expedition reached the Mississippi, where deSoto died of a mosquito born illness in 1842 near present day Ferriday, Louisiana, the priests travelling with him would have run out of the wine needed for Mass.

FORT ADAMS – On Easter Sunday 1682, the first recorded Mass on Mississippi soil took place in Wilkinson county. St. Patrick’s Church was built in 1900 on Fort Adams town square. Today, the town has largely become a hunting and fishing camp and was named to the 2021 list of Ten Most Endangerd Places in Mississippi by the Heritage Trust. (Photos by Mary Woodward)

After de LaSalle claimed the territory along the entire river for France and named it Louisiana, the Bishop of Quebec sent missionary priests down the river to evangelize the various tribes of indigenous people. Father Antione Davion was one of these missionaries, who came to the area around 1698 and established a small mission near the site of what is now Fort Adams. He built a small church on the bluff, which became known as La Roche a Davion, and ministered there until he left the mission in 1720.

In 1795, after the Revolutionary War, the United States signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo with Spain, establishing the boundary between Spanish West Florida and the U.S. at Latitude 31 N, a short distance south of Roche Davion. Because of its strategic location on the river, the site became the last military outpost before French territory and served as the port of entry for the United States. The name was then changed to Fort Adams after the President John Adams who was in office at that time.

It is here that in 1801, the Choctaws signed the Treaty of Fort Adams ceding more than 2.6 million acres of Choctaw land to the U.S. When the Louisiana Purchase occurred in 1803, the more than 500 troops on site were moved to New Orleans, but Fort Adams continued to function as a post until the War of 1812.

With time and the river’s changing course, Fort Adams population dwindled as happens in many cases. Those who remained eventually saw the building of a small church dedicated to St. Patrick on the town’s main square in 1900. The church, along with St. Joseph Church built in 1873 were serviced by priests from Natchez mostly until 1940, when St. Joseph was established as a parish again.

Nowadays, Fort Adams has become largely a hunting and fishing camp with only a few houses and two churches remaining, including St. Patrick. Although, the river is now distant from the town, it often visits after a few heavy rains and floods most of the area including the small church, which a few years ago was given to a group of local parishioners devoted to saving the church building. Mass is no longer celebrated there and most of the sacred items are stored safely in higher ground.

On a visit to Woodville and Fort Adams a few years ago, I was given a tour of the area by my dear cousin, Shep Crawford, local lawyer and judge, who has lived in Wilkinson County near Woodville for many years. Shep and I toured Fort Adams on a dry day and were able to see St. Patrick and the almost permanent water line four feet up on the church exterior wall. Pontoons boats were parked on the land adjacent to it. Residents of the area live up on the hillsides that once looked out of the “father of waters.”

We then made our way around to the small hamlet of Pond, which is named so because there is a pond in the middle of it. It includes a small general store and post office and a couple of cabins overlooking the pond.

I have often wanted to return to Pond and one of its cabins to spend a few days steeped in the history of the area. But I also remember Shep casually stating, as we stopped and looked down a road headed south, that 20 minutes down this scenic highway was Angola State Prison. So that was a reality check.

The entire town of Fort Adams was named to the 2021 Ten Most Endangered Places in Mississippi by the Mississippi Heritage Trust. It is recognized for its once pivotal role in the development of borders among nations as our country and state grew into existence.

So, on this Easter Sunday, imagine back 340 years and a missionary journey that brought the sacred mysteries to a small corner of God’s Kingdom. The history is there, and the spirits of the past linger as an inspiration of commitment and dedication to our Catholic Faith. We give thanks to Almighty God for them.

I credit the Heritage Trust website for historical information included in this article. You can learn more about the 10 most endangered places at https://www.10mostms.com/.

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

Current war tactics date back centuries;
Bishop Elder describes destruction in time of U.S. Civil War

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – This week we are journeying back to Civil War times in analyzing the current situation in the world. In no way would I equate the motives of the Civil War to that of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but the siege tactics are classic military maneuvers that date back centuries.

In July 1863, the city of Vicksburg fell after a 47-day siege by General Ulysses S. Grant. Forty miles to the east, General William Sherman arrived at Jackson to implement a similar siege strategy.

My knowledge of Civil War tactics may not be precisely accurate, but we read in Bishop William Henry Elder’s diary about the Civil War’s destruction to Jackson and its only Catholic church – St. Peter. Bishop Elder’s writing style is more phrase-based than in complete sentences, but it is easily followed.

The original St. Peter Church was located about five blocks south and east from its current location on the corner of West and Amite Streets in the center of the capitol city. In May 1863, it along with the school and rectory was burned to the ground by Federal troops exiting Jackson. The troops were ordered to burn tar in a storage shed adjacent to the church according to the diary and despite the pleas of Father Orlandi, the pastor, to move the tar into the street away from the church, the shed was set ablaze and with it all the parish buildings.

A view from a drone shows the site of a destroyed shopping center after it was hit during a Russian military strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 21, 2022. During his March 20 Angelus, Pope Francis condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine, calling it a “senseless massacre” and “sacrilegious” attack on human life. (CNS photo/Marko Djurica, Reuters)

We read in the diary marked May 21: “Father Orlandi begged for fifteen minutes to roll the barrels into the street where they would burn with less danger to the church, but the officer would allow of no delay and the shed was so close that there was no possibility of saving the church, etc. – All the ornaments and furniture were removed to safety. Dr. Hewet, surgeon in the Federal Army, brother to Rev. Dr. Hewet of the Paulists, himself a convert, endeavored also to obtain the respite, and when he could not succeed, he helped to save the things.”

Two months later, on July 18-20, Bishop Elder is able finally to visit Jackson and this is what he reports: July 18: “General Crosby, Commanding the Rear Guard, first refused to let me go to Jackson. When I explained that I wanted to see to the Sisters [of Mercy], he agreed to let me go.”

“Left Brandon at 4 p.m. for Jackson. Some cotton burned along the road and some burning [still]. Federal Pickets allowed me to go to the hospital – the field hospital of the Confederates during the siege of Jackson: attended still by Confederate Surgeons – although in the Federal Lines. Dr. Hinckley – son of Lawyer Hinckley of Baltimore has charge.”

July 19, Sunday – “No Mass. Spent the day visiting the hospital. The Federal Soldiers wounded here were moved – nearly all of them to town today.”

July 20 – “Continued in the hospitals till dinner time. The doctors here have been very polite to me.”
“After dinner drove into Jackson – trestle work burning – rails torn up – crossed river on the pontoon bridge of the Federals. In the warm ashes and ruins at every step. Melancholy desolation. Found Father Orlandi at Mrs. O’Connor’s house. Sad meeting.”

“The chapel he had fitted up with so much labor – in the Spengler’s Saloon – has been burned – the chalice and crucifix stolen – though recovered broken – bought by a Catholic Federal soldier and brought back to Father Orlandi. Father Orlandi’s house was robbed of all his clothes and the provisions he had laid up.

“He is now living on Army rations – he has no place to cook them. Today he has eaten only some crackers.”

“We went to General Ewing’s quarters to find a safe place for my horse and buggy. General Ewing is a Catholic from Ohio. He promised to see that the Sisters’ Convent in Vicksburg would be preserved unhurt for them. I could not talk much, I felt myself choaked with sadness.”

A man walks near a block of destroyed apartment buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 17, 2022. A theater in Mariupol, where hundreds of people are said to have taken shelter, has sustained heavy damage after it was bombed by Russian forces. (CNS photo/Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters)

I share these moments to bring us back to the notion that no matter the era, the destruction of war only hurts those caught in the middle. The human toll – both physical and spiritual – is immeasurable.
Those trying to bring aid and relief to the people of Ukraine in the midst of the chaos and savage violence are much like the wandering Bishop Elder trying to minister to those he encountered in field hospitals and burned-out towns.

Now as we are spectators to a war unfolding before us, let us pray for peace and hope for a miracle.
Pope Francis is consecrating Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord. Here is a snippet of the prayer he is using:
Therefore, O Mother, hear our prayer.
Star of the Sea, do not let us be shipwrecked in the tempest of war.
Ark of the New Covenant, inspire projects and paths of reconciliation.
Queen of Heaven, restore God’s peace to the world.

Eliminate hatred and the thirst for revenge, and teach us forgiveness.
Free us from war, protect our world from the menace of nuclear weapons.
Queen of the Rosary, make us realize our need to pray and to love.
Queen of the Human Family, show people the path of fraternity.
Queen of Peace, obtain peace for our world.

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

Glimpse of WWI and WWII through lens of Bishops Gunn and Gerow

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Considering the volatile situation, the world is facing, I thought I would share some more somber notes from Bishop John E. Gunn’s diary about World War I and a reflective paragraph from Bishop Richard Gerow’s diary on the beginning of World War II.

WWI was the war to end all wars, but obviously that was not the case. My paternal grandfather served as a mule-trainer in WWI as part of the 39th Infantry 140th Field Artillery Regimen in France during the last stages of that war. He never spoke of it.

Volumes of Bishop Gerow’s diary sit on the desk of Mary Woodward.

Bishop Gunn writes in his diary at Christmas 1915: “It seemed hard to preach on peace on earth and good will to men at Christmas when everyone was talking of the big war. I made no allusion to it in my notes of 1915 because our President told us to be neutral in thought and word.

“However, now everybody is talking of it – in fact, the world is talking of nothing else, it may be no harm to note some dates and facts that will live in history.”
“In the summer of 1914, an Austrian Archduke was assassinated in Servia. The crime was an atrocious one and was turned over to the world politicians for adjustment. The politicians fumbled and turned the crime over to the war lords of Europe, with this result:
1914 – July 28th Austria declares war on Servia
August 1st Germany invades France
August 4th England declares war on Germany
August 6th The Germans take two Belgian forts
August 10th France breaks with Austria
August 13th England declares war on Austria
August 18th English soldiers land in France
August 23rd The Allies take offensive against the Germans along 150 miles from Mons to Luxembourg but on the 24th the Allies were forced to fall back. The Germans had all the initial advantages and on August 30th the French left wing had to fall back, thus exposing on August 31st even the capture of Paris; the French government voted to move the capital temporarily to Bourdeaux.”

Shelby Woodward, sitting, is the paternal grandfather of diocesan chancellor and archivist, Mary Woodward. He is pictured here with others at Camp Shelby for training before deployment in World War I. (Photos courtesy of Mary Woodward)

“Apart from the Battle of Marne the first few months of the war was entirely favorable to Germany. Americans read and listened and the biggest propaganda that was ever known in the history of the world was started in 1914 and continued all through 1915 to get the Americans actively interested on the side of the Allies. In this diary I shall say little about the war, except where the Diocese took some part in it.”

On April 2, 1917, the United States entered the war on the side of the allies. It was the beginning of Holy Week in the Catholic Church and Bishop Gunn writes the following in his diary from April 1917: “The usual routine of Holy Week at Natchez – the blessing of the oils, the washing of the feet, the big ceremonies of Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Easter were all thrown in the shade by the declaration of war against Germany.

“This declaration upset everyone and everything and its influence was felt in every circle. I made up my mind before Easter Sunday the role that I would play as Bishop of Natchez during the war.”

“I had no time for consultation with anybody but at the Pontifical High Mass on Easter Sunday, April 8, I declared my policy very clearly and very plainly. While preaching on the subject ‘Christianity is not a Failure’ (because it never got a chance) as we were living in an age when there was knowledge without faith, manners without morality; plenty of work but ill-directed, I took up the President’s proclamation and told the Catholics of the Diocese that during the war they had to follow one leader; they had to form their conscience to one direction and to do everything as men, as Christians and as Catholics to win the war.”

Shelby Woodward’s ring commemorating WWI. He was a part of the 39th Infantry 140th Field Artillery Regimen in France.

Twenty-two years later, on Sept. 3, 1939, Bishop Gerow writes this bleak entry in his diary: “Today, England and France officially declared a state of war exists with Germany. Though we in this country are three thousand miles from Europe, we feel that the inauguration of another great war in Europe cannot but have a vital influence upon us and upon the other nations of the world, no matter how far away they may be.”

“We cannot but hope and pray that the other nations of the world will not be involved in this conflict and that another world war may not ensue which might wreck our modern civilization.”

Only two years later, he writes on Dec. 8, 1941: “Today, President Roosevelt addressed Congress telling them of the attack of the Japanese upon the Hawaiian Islands and our naval and air forces there, asking them to declare war.”

Bishops’ diaries provide a unique lens on history often including facts that do not make it into the history books. We are fortunate to have these diaries to be able to look back on the development of the church in Mississippi, the region, the country and the world.

I share these sobering passages from the two diaries to put into perspective what is going on in Ukraine as this is written. Who knows what will be by the day this is published and where we may be in two weeks or even two years? We can only pray and hope for peace.

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

Commanding figure, Bishop Chanche rests in Natchez

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – In his person, Bishop Chanche was of rather a tall and commanding figure, and prepossessing in his appearance. The grace and dignity with which he conducted the ceremonials of the church, on marked occasions, will long be remembered. By his courteous bearing and suavity of manner, as well as by sacerdotal virtues that graced his life, he won the esteem and respect of all who knew him.

The above is taken from a funeral story published July 24, 1852, in The Catholic Mirror, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, upon the July 22 death of Bishop John Joseph Chanche, SS, first bishop of our diocese.

On Feb. 19, Bishop Joseph Kopacz presented the Bishop John Joseph Chanche Medal to 17 individuals from parishes around our expansive diocese. This diocesan award, established in 2012 in honor of our diocese’s 175th anniversary, is given for outstanding service to parish, diocese and community.

Bishop Chanche was a Sulpician. Since 1641, Sulpicians have dedicated themselves to assisting bishops by providing seminary education and ongoing formation to priests.

Arriving in Natchez from Baltimore St. Mary College and Seminary where he was president and rector in May 1841, Bishop Chanche found a couple of missionary priests and no real church building. By his death in July 1852, the diocese had grown to 11 parishes throughout the state and 13 priests.

After serving as Chief Promoter of the First Plenary council of Baltimore in May 1852, Bishop Chanche went to visit family in nearby Frederick, Maryland. It is believed that he contracted cholera which led to a slow, painful death two months later. He was buried in the Baltimore Cathedral Cemetery.

The following was written in The Catholic Mirror after his Requiem Mass: Bishop Chanche was greatly beloved in our community – his native city and the field of many years’ zeal and labor – the tears which moistened the eyes of those who surrounded his grave evidence that his absence from among us had not caused him to be forgotten.

In 1878, he was moved with the remains of his sister, Mary Marcilly Edwards, to the new Cathedral Cemetery. There he remained until the fall of 2007, when after many years of research and preparations, the St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee in Natchez in conjunction with then Bishop Joseph Latino asked the Archdiocese of Baltimore to have his remains sent back to his diocesan home to be buried.

His Eminence, William Cardinal Keeler, then Archbishop of Baltimore, agreed to the exhumation and to come celebrate the re-interment Mass on Jan. 19, 2008.

The morning of Jan. 19, we awakened to three inches of snow on the ground. It had not snowed in Natchez in 15 years. I wondered if it was a message from Bishop Chanche to please not dig him up again and let him rest in peace, since this was the third time he would be buried.

Unbeknownst to most, we had requested a small box of soil from St. Mary Seminary on Paca Street in Baltimore to put in the grave so that Bishop Chanche would have some native soil beneath him. As an aside, St. Mary Seminary gave us Bishop Chanche in 1841 and Bishop William Houck in 1979.

When the snow stopped, I emptied the soil into the grave which is located on the grounds of St. Mary Basilica behind the rectory. Fortunately, the grave had been covered for several days.

The Mass was concelebrated by archbishops, bishops, and clergy from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Music incorporated into the liturgy was indicative of pieces from the times of Bishop Chanche.

In spite of the weather, a large congregation gathered to pay their respects to the well-travelled bishop, who left the comforts of his life at the seminary in Baltimore and journeyed to what must have seemed like the edge of the universe to serve God’s people in Mississippi. He served fervently and faithfully until the end.

Father Jean Jacques Olier, founder of the Sulpicians, penned a beautiful prayer for his confreres, which was placed in the worship book for the Mass in 2008. It is indicative of Bishop Chanche’s ministry and zeal and embodied in our Chanche Medal recipients:
O Jesus living in Mary,
Come and live in your servants,
In the spirit of your holiness,
In the fullness of your power,
In the perfection of your ways,
In the truth of your virtues,
In the communion of your mysteries,

Have dominion over every adverse power,
In your Spirit for the glory of the Father.

As Bishop Kopacz presented the medals to this year’s awardees, memories of that Mass in 2008 filled my mind – the snow, the dirt, the Spirit – all reflective of honoring our first bishop – John Joseph Marie Benedict Chanche, a tall, commanding figure; prepossessing in appearance.

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

Vandalism damages items procured from days of ‘Apostle of the Delta’

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Somewhere around Jan. 26, our diocesan church family was wounded by an act of violence and evil against Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Greenwood.

Most likely the work of someone high on crack or mentally ill, nonetheless the church was broken into and vandalized – the altar was overturned, and an antique five-foot statue of the Blessed Mother was heavily damaged. The Blessed Sacrament was removed from the tabernacle and placed on the church’s original altar. The antique baptismal font was damaged, and songbooks were strewn all over the pews. Fortunately, no spray paint was involved.

Throughout its early history, Greenwood Catholics were served from Water Valley and Lexington. The initial church structure was built in 1901 and in 1912, Father John Clerico, a young priest from Italy, was appointed the first resident pastor.

Msgr. John Clerico was known as the “Apostle to the Delta” because he ministered to much of the area, including Grenwood, Shelby, Leland, Hollandale, Anguilla, Indianola and Belzoni. Many of the items damaged in a break-in at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish were procured from Italy by Msgr. Clerico.

Father Clerico was ordained on June 9, 1906, in Genoa, Italy and came to the diocese in March 1907, where he began serving in Shelby at St. Mary Church and its missions. Father Clerico who became a monsignor in 1951, became known as the “Apostle to the Delta” because he ministered to much of the area from Greenwood for the next 52 years until 1964.

Msgr. Clerico considered the entire area, which included Greenwood, Shelby, Leland, Hollandale, Anguilla, Indianola and Belzoni, as his parish and he knew all the families of the region. Hence, he was given the title mentioned above. There is even a park named after him in Greenwood.

Many of the furnishings in IHM church were procured from Italy by the apostle. The 100-year-old statue which was heavily damaged was hand-painted and made of plaster. I have brought it to Jackson in the hopes that a local artist might be able to repair it.

The altar that was turned over was restored more than 10 years ago and was rededicated by Bishop Joseph Latino in a beautiful ceremony with the whole parish present. The parishioners were so excited to have another piece of their history becoming a part of their worship.

On Tuesday, Feb. 1, in a very moving and compassionate manner, Bishop Joseph Kopacz celebrated a Mass of Rededication for the parish and again anointed the altar and walls of the church returning it to sacredness from the evil that had been wrought upon it. There was a sense of resolve and relief among those present that what Msgr. Clerico had put in place was now made whole and healed once more.

It is hard to put into words the myriad of feelings experienced when evil attacks the church – even if it was a misguided or mentally ill person who perpetrated the acts. It was still evil. IHM is home to many, and the violence of this vandalism was heart-breaking.

In its infinite wisdom, Holy Mother Church has beautiful and deeply profound rituals that bring solace and a renewed sense of hope in the Lord by reclaiming the sacred from the profane. I consider it a blessing and a privilege to have been present for Bishop Latino’s dedication of the refurbished altar many years ago and for the rededication on Feb. 1, by Bishop Kopacz.

As Bishop Kopacz anointed the walls of the church with Chrism, I imagined Msgr. Clerico looking down lovingly upon all gathered in IHM from where he now celebrates endlessly at the table of the heavenly banquet.

The next morning as I was driving home from Greenwood in the rain with the broken statue of the Blessed Mother lying in the back of my car, I reflected on the liturgy the night before and the beautiful depth of faith shared at IHM. What an awe-inspiring numinous moment in the life of our universal church where the communion of saints joined with the people to restore a sacred space.

When it began to rain harder and I approached several 18-wheelers spraying blinding mist on my windshield, I felt fear rising in my heart as I engaged to pass them one at a time on the slick, ponding road. We have all been in this situation and it is no fun thinking about passing these mammoth vehicles in those conditions.

GREENWOOD – Pieces of the Blessed Mother statue damaged in a break-in at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, pictured below, ride in the back of Chancellor Mary Woodward’s vehicle brought back to possibly be repaired by a local artist. (Photo by Joanna Puddister King)

Suddenly, I remembered I had the Blessed Mother with me in the back seat. Even though she was battered and broken in many pieces, she came together and gave me the strength to put the pedal to the metal and get past those trucks.

Thank you, Blessed Mother! What a great church!

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

Bless the Kelly’s of Potato Hill

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – As we begin the new calendar year, let’s visit another interesting stop in Bishop John Gunn’s diary. This time we are on the road in northeast Mississippi in June of 1912.

On this trip, Bishop Gunn visits Tupelo and Plantersville among other places. He conferred the sacrament of confirmation and spoke to large gatherings of Catholics and non-Catholics in each location.

On June 12 he arrived in Tupelo and here is what he had to say about his visit: “Tupelo is a boom town of new growth with plenty of activity, and a promise that it may become something. The town hall was secured, much free advertisement was given, and I said Mass on the stage, confirmed a few Catholics there and found the big event of the visit was to be a mass meeting in the theatre to hear the Bishop talk of Catholic claims.”

“I spoke about an hour in Tupelo on that night and was congratulated for nearly another hour afterwards with such vigorous handshaking that I was afraid of arm dislocation.”

Similar to the Kelly cabin in Plantersville, this house from our diocesan archives photo collection in Hickory Flats could have been a visiting place for our early bishops, such as Bishops Elder and Gunn.

From Tupelo, Bishop Gunn headed the next day to Plantersville – called Potato Hill by locals. There he encountered an elderly Mrs. Kelly, who was overcome with tears of joy to meet the Bishop. Bishop Gunn’s diary account gives the reason for her outpouring.

“There was one family of the name Kelly – the oldest settler in that section – and after walking, riding and climbing for a number of hours we reached the little log cabin on a hill where Mrs. Kelly was rocking herself in expectation.”

“She was old and very religious and as soon as she heard that there was actually a Bishop on her porch she commenced to weep and to talk about John. ‘Do you think, Bishop, he will ever be forgiven, or what part of hell is he in, or can you get him out?’ Or other questions equally hard to answer.”
“I thought that John probably had misconducted himself in years gone by – he was now eleven years dead – and his wife had not completely forgiven him. I tried to make the man’s excuse as well as I could, but she would talk of John and finally I let her tell the whole story.”

“John and I came from Ireland to Mobile and we got married there and struck out to find a quiet place to spend our honeymoon. We got tired just here and we camped and thought it would be a good place to remain.”

“The Indians were everywhere but they didn’t bother us. John – who was a carpenter – cut down the logs and I was strong enough to drag the logs up here. John and I built this log house, and we were the happiest people in the world for some thirty or forty years. The Indians roundabout didn’t bother us, but the Protestants wanted me and John to go to their meeting houses, or they wanted us to pray with them.”

“This made John mad and every time he saw anything like a preacher he commenced to curse and swear, and I had great trouble in keeping John from attacking the preacher. This kept on for years and finally the great trouble came to John one evening when two men came up the side of the hill on horseback. John and I were on the porch looking at them coming.”

“John whispered to me ‘here are two more preachers’ and it was not long until one of them came up and said, ‘Aren’t you John Kelly?’ He said ‘Yes, what do you want?’ “Well, John, I heard you are a Catholic.’”

“Then John got mad, and he asked the preacher what in —- did it matter to him, and the preacher smiled, and that made John madder and madder. He told the preacher to go to the bad place. This made the man get off his horse and John got ready to thrash him when the preacher said to him: ‘Why, John Kelly, I am Bishop Elder, the Bishop of Natchez, and that is the way you receive me and treat me.’”

“Poor John was dumbfounded that he couldn’t speak but fainted. To send his Bishop, who had come 28 miles on horseback to see him – to welcome him in such a way. And Mrs. Kelly’s whole trouble was to find out if poor John, who had received the last Bishop who had visited them, was still suffering from the reception given.”

“The Kelly’s had been visited 28 years before by Bishop Elder and poor Mrs. Kelly was glad to see another Bishop who promised all kinds of excuses for her old man, John.”

“She had a number of grown-up children and their families. They were all at supper in the log cabin at Potato Hill. I got the best room and enjoyed it as the trip was long and tiresome.”
This is a great account of life on the road in our diocese. We take for granted being able to travel most places in the diocese in one day. Here we have the accounts of bishops travelling to some outlying areas to find their sheep – even sheep who greet them in a not so pleasant way.

God bless the Kelly’s of Potato Hill – salt of the earth.

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

Rich tradition links Archdiocese of Mobile and Jackson

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Recently, I spent a few days in the Mobile area getting some spiritual guidance and refueling after some interesting months. As I sat in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I began to think about the historic connection our diocese has with Mobile.

To give a brief history of the region, I have taken the following from the Archdiocese of Mobile’s website history section.

The Archdiocese of Mobile was established as the Vicariate-Apostolic of Alabama and the Floridas in 1825 and became the Diocese of Mobile on May 15, 1829, with Bishop Michael Portier, D.D., as the First Bishop of Mobile. The newly created Diocese of Mobile encompassed the entire State of Alabama and the entire State of Florida.

In the 1850’s new dioceses were created in the State of Florida, nonetheless, the Diocese of Mobile still retained the panhandle of Florida until 1968 when the panhandle of Florida became part of the Diocese of St. Augustine and later the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. On Oct. 8, 1969, the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham was divided into two separate dioceses with the newly created diocese in the state known as the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.

In 1980 the Diocese of Mobile was raised to the status of an archdiocese and Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb was appointed the First Archbishop of the newly created Archdiocese of Mobile. Today the archdiocese encompasses 22,969 square miles and includes the lower 28 counties of the State of Alabama.

Bishop Michael Portier, D.D., first bishop of Mobile. (Photos courtesy of The Catholic Week/Archdiocese of Mobile)

The arrival of Catholicism in the region traces its origins to the early Spanish and French explorations and permanent settlements at Pensacola, Florida in 1696, and in Mobile in 1702, where a parish was erected on July 20, 1703, with Henry Rolleaux de la Vente as first pastor. At the time of the creation of the new Diocese of Mobile in 1829, most Catholics were centered in the principal towns of Mobile, Pensacola and St. Augustine.

I have such fond memories of Archbishop Lipscomb who died July 15, 2020. He was a consummate man of the church who exuded priesthood and the office of bishop and had a deep, abiding love for the history and tradition of the Catholic faith in our region.

A man of gentle voice and spirit, he was the principal consecrator of Bishop Joseph N. Latino on March 7, 2003. After the ceremony, we were headed back to the bishops’ vesting area, where he asked me to summon the miter and crozier bearers who had served him that day. When brothers Garrett and Gordon McMullin arrived, the Archbishop presented each of them with two gold Sacagawea dollars stating it was an ancient tradition in the church for the bishop to present two gold coins to them because they were considered part of the bishop’s household.

That was such a special moment to witness, and it testified to the Archbishop’s love for history and the church’s rich traditions.

Oftentimes as Mississippi Catholics, we connect ourselves to New Orleans because we share the River with Louisiana. Our diocese originally was cut from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which is the Mother See of the United States. In 1850, New Orleans was elevated to an archdiocese and became our longtime province and metropolitan see until 1980, when Mobile was elevated to an archdiocese. We then were reunited with our sister territory of Alabama into the Mobile province as mentioned in the last article.

So, in reflecting on our history as a combined U.S. territory with Alabama in the early days of America, we have a lot of extraordinary connections to Mobile not only ecclesially, but also through the air we breathe, the soil upon which we trod and the beaches we enjoy year-round. We are sisters and brothers in one of the most unique territories in the country – Spanish West Florida.

Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb was the first Archbishop of the newly created Archdiocese of Mobile in 1980.

In another profound way we are linked to Mobile through the office of bishop. Both Bishop Richard O. Gerow (1924-1966) and Bishop William R. Houck (1984-2003) were Mobile natives and Bishop Joseph L. Howze (auxiliary of our diocese from 1972-1977) was from Daphne.
Bishop Houck had a unique connection to Archbishop Lipscomb in that the Archbishop’s uncle, Msgr. Hugh Lipscomb, was Bishop Houck’s first pastor to serve under as a newly ordained priest in 1951. Bishop Houck often remarked that the Monsignor was quite the mentor.
Therefore, as I sat in the Cathedral in Mobile, I pondered on the rich tradition of Catholicism in the region and offered a prayer for Archbishop Lipscomb, who is buried in the crypt below the altar there, and for Bishops Gerow and Houck – sons of Mobile. Then I prayed for the laity, religious and clergy of our diocese and the archdiocese along with our current bishops – Joseph Kopacz and Thomas Rodi, who carry on the ministry of those 19th-century bishops of the region – John Joseph Chanche and Michael Poitier.
May God continue to bless our region with strong faith and a deep connection to our mission to serve the Lord in this distinctive corner of God’s kingdom.
I pray you all have a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year. See you from the archives in 2022.

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

MOBILE – The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was consecrated by Bishop Portier on Sunday, Dec. 8, 1850. The Diocese of Jackson is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Mobile.