Servant of God, Sister Thea Bowman cause update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis marks centennial

In place of her “From the Archives” column, archivist and chancellor Mary Woodward requested to run this story from Gulf Pine Catholic on the centennial celebration of St. Augustine Seminary in honor of Black Catholic History Month.

By Terry Dickson

BAY ST. LOUIS – St. Augustine Seminary, the first seminary in the U.S. to train Black men for the priesthood, celebrated its centennial Oct. 29 with a special Mass on the seminary grounds.

Originally established by the Divine Word Missionaries as the Sacred Heart Preparatory Seminary in 1920 in the Mississippi Delta city of Greenville, the seminary relocated three years later to Bay St. Louis, located on the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Biloxi.

On May 23, 1934, four men – Anthony Bourges, Maurice Rousseve, Francis Wade and Vincent Smith – were ordained to the priesthood at St. Augustine. Between its inception and closure in 1968, the seminary produced numerous priests, nine of whom later became bishops, including Joseph Bowers, SVD; Harold Perry, SVD; Carlos Lewis, SVD; Raymond Caesar, SVD; Joseph Francis, SVD; Curtis Guillory, SVD; Dominic Carmon, SVD; Leonard Olivier, SVD; and Terry Steib, SVD.

Prior to celebrating the centennial Mass of St. Augustine Seminary, Bishop Emeritus Terry Steib, SVD, of Memphis enjoys a chat with (l-r) Bishop Louis Kihnemann of Biloxi, Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, and Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile.

Bishop Steib, bishop-emeritus of Memphis, was principal celebrant of the Mass, which was concelebrated by 11 bishops, including Archbishops Thomas Rodi of Mobile; Gregory Aymond of New Orleans; Shelton Fabre of Louisville; Bishops Louis F. Kihneman III of Biloxi; Michael Duca of Baton Rouge; Douglas Deshotel of Lafayette; Anthony Taylor of Little Rock; and Guillory, bishop-emeritus of Beaumont.

“One hundred years ago on Sept. 16, 1923, the House Chronicle of St. Augustine Seminary described the formal opening day of the seminary as a ‘red-letter day in the annals of St. Augustine Mission House in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.’ It was the day of dedication of this new mission house and, in the history of the Catholic Church among the Colored people of America, the day of the of the opening of the portals of the first seminary for young men of their race with a vocation to the priesthood, a day that will be long remembered as an epoch-making forward step,” said Bishop Steib.

“Now, one hundred years later, today is another red-letter day because we are celebrating the centennial year of this seminary, 100 years of preparing young Black men for the priesthood right here at St. Augustine. It is indeed and has been an epoch-making time. We celebrate and we praise God for this epoch-making time. We give thanks for the St. Augustine Seminary, a building that stood majestically and tall for over 75 years, a building where high school seminarians lived and studied, where African American students were trained and formed as they discerned a call to be priests and Divine Word Missionaries, despite the odds. We celebrate proudly how many religious teachers dedicated their lives to educating and forming these young men, how many religious brothers and laity worked and ministered here on this sacred ground 25 to a 100 years ago despite the odds.”

Bishop Steib imagined that, if the minor seminary building were still standing erect and could speak, it would mention how proudly the hundreds of alumni who graduated from here moved on.
“If the oak trees and the pine trees and the magnolia trees that have weathered the storms and hurricanes of past centuries and are still growing, the tress that sheltered the students over the years and are still growing could speak, they would say, ‘Look at all the hundreds who graduated from here, all who went to the novitiate and took vows and were ordained here, look at the first African-American priests to be ordained here – Father Bourges, Father Rousseve, Father Smith and Father Wade. They stood tall in the midst of segregated times. They were the men who stood tall, who served the Lord in some trying times. These are men who are role models for us.”

“How thankful are we that St. Arnold Jannsen, founder of the Divine Word Missionaries, would take to heart his own desire to proclaim the Gospel where it was not yet viable and dare to train African Americans to make it possible. How thankful are we that the (Society of the Divine Word) continues to proclaim the Gospel by calling forth vocations from all nations to serve in this Southern province.”

Father Paulus Budi Kleden, superior general of the Society of the Divine Word who traveled from Rome to take part in the centennial celebration, said although the seminary “has lost its function as a center to train African American candidates for the priesthood, its legacy remains.”

“It is a permanent call to fight against all kinds of segregation and discrimination, which, like a virus, can quickly enter a person or group without being fully aware of it and affects our way of thinking, judging and acting,” he said.

“In this sense, celebrating the 100th anniversary of St. Augustine Seminary is a privileged moment for all the members of the SVD to recommit ourselves to live and promote interculturality, which is our heritage, commitment and mission. The seminary stands for the Society’s dedication to actively participate in the efforts to eradicate the discrimination of race, religion, nationality, culture, and sexual orientation. At the same time, it calls for all of us to remain firm and consistent in this mission,” Kleden concluded.

“I think a second point to that is that seminaries be more welcoming, but also be sensitive to the different cultures of the people entering the seminary,” said Bishop Curtis Guillory. “One of the many things that we learned here at Divine Word Seminary was, first of all, acceptance of our culture and to see the beauty and the contributions of that culture. With that, we were not only able to be in the midst of other cultures but also learn from them and they from us.”

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

Digital Library houses historic photos from diocesan archive

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Since this edition of Mississippi Catholic is digital, I decided to include a mosaic of photos from our archive’s. In 2016, our diocesan archive was awarded the Cultural Heritage Digitization Grant from the Mississippi Digital Library.

The grant gave us a week of training in digitization and preservation of archives by experts from around Mississippi. Staff from the University of Southern Mississippi’s MLIS and Archives program came on site and digitized almost 600 images from our diocesan collection.

I am sharing a few of those images this week and hope to share more as these digital only papers move forward. If you are interested in seeing all the images online, go to or look for us under the partners section at Roman Catholic Diocese of Jackson.

Enjoy the offerings and see you next time in print.

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

Episcopal lineage secures region together

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

At the end of September, I made a trip to Mobile for my birthday and found myself in the gardens of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception late in the afternoon. The gardens outside the cathedral are filled with flora of the region and statues scattered among the palms and caladiums.

It was a beautiful day with cooler temps and low humidity, so I became engrossed in taking photos of various elements. Losing track of time, I found myself locked inside the garden at the end of the workday on a Friday. I could think of much worse places to be trapped, but I did not relish the thought of climbing the gate to get out.

MOBILE – Mary Woodward explored the gardens outside of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile at the end of September. (Photos by Mary Woodward)

Fortunately, the rector was nearby when I called the office, and he ventured over to unlock the back gate. Kindly smiling and assuring me I was not the first nor would I be the last to be in this predicament, he also gave me a great tour and history of the Lady Banksia on the back fence.

Reflecting on that experience, I began to think of the unique connections that dioceses and bishops have with one another. Our diocese was the 13th diocese established in the United States on July 28, 1837. Nashville and Dubuque were established the same day, but we claim pride of place due to strategic location and age.

We have a unique communion with three venerable and historic archdiocesan sees – Baltimore, the primal see of the U.S.; New Orleans, our first metropolitan provincial see; and Mobile, our metropolitan see, where Mass was first celebrated in 1703.

Bishop John Joseph Chanche (1) and Bishop William Henry Elder (3) are natives and products of Baltimore both being ordained bishops in Assumption Cathedral there in 1841 and 1857. Bishop James Oliver Van de Velde (2) was ordained a priest in Baltimore in 1827.
In 1852, Bishop Chanche ordained Francis Xavier Leray a priest in Natchez. Leray went on to become Archbishop of New Orleans in 1883. Bishop Elder, in 1859, was co-consecrator of John Quinlan, second bishop of Mobile, and Dominic Manucy in 1874, who went on to become third bishop of Mobile.

Bishop Francis Janssens (4) was elevated to Archbishop of New Orleans in 1888 and was principal consecrator of Bishop Thomas Heslin (5) in St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans in 1889. Prior to being elevated to bishop, Bishop Heslin was ordained a priest in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile by Bishop John Quinlan in 1869.

Bishop Quinlan added the portico to the Mobile cathedral and is buried under it instead of in the crypt chapel. He will be able to see his portico again on the day of the resurrection of the dead when his tomb is opened.

In 1890, Bishop John Edward Gunn (6) was ordained a priest in Rome by the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople, which has nothing to do with the current thread but I thought it was really cool. In 1911, Bishop Gunn was ordained a bishop in Atlanta in Sacred Heart Church, which he built. Two of his three consecrating bishops were Archbishop James Hubert Blenk, Archbishop of New Orleans and fellow Marist, and Bishop Edward Allen of Mobile.

Bishop Richard Oliver Gerow (7) was born and raised in Mobile being baptized, confirmed; and in 1924 ordained a bishop in the Cathedral there by Bishop Allen. In 1927, Bishop Gerow was a co-consecrator of Archbishop Thomas Joseph Toolen of Mobile. Thirty years later, Bishop Gerow was principal consecrator of Vicksburg native, Joseph Bernard Brunini (8) in our Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle in Jackson. It was a co-cathedral then.

Bishop Quinlan’s grave in the portico of the Cathedral in Mobile. Pictured is the iron gate, Chancellor Mary Woodward decided wasn’t smart to climb after being locked in the Cathedral gardens in Mobile.

Bishop Brunini was a co-consecrator Joseph Lawson Howze as auxiliary of Jackson in 1973. Bishop Howze was a native of the Mobile area in Daphne and went on to become the first bishop of Biloxi when it was established in 1977.

Bishop William Russell Houck (9), a native of Mobile, was ordained a priest in the Mobile Cathedral in 1951. Another interesting aside, Bishop Houck was ordained a Bishop in Rome by St. Pope John Paul II in a group of 27 bishops ordained that day in 1979.

New Orleans native, Bishop Joseph Nunzio Latino (10) was ordained a priest in St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans by Archbishop John Cody in 1963. Forty years later, he was ordained a bishop in our cathedral by Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile. Bishop Houck served as a co-consecrator.

Bishop Joseph Richard Kopacz was ordained a bishop in our cathedral in 2014 by Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, current metropolitan archbishop of Mobile and native of New Orleans.

Well, that was a whirlwind of trails and tributaries surrounding the episcopal lineage of our region that gives a glimpse of the extraordinary interconnectedness of our bishops and dioceses. Even more so it is a microcosm of apostolic succession.

All this inspiration of Catholic chronicles springs forth from a Cathedral garden’s locked gates on a Friday afternoon in September. I now know to set an alarm on my phone for 4:15 p.m. when I am wandering down historic pathways.

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

Archive researcher explores Bishop Elder

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – This past week our diocesan archives hosted Father David Endres, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Dean of the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary where he is professor of church history. Father Endres is also historical theology editor of U.S. Catholic Historian. Father Endres is working on completing an official biography of our third bishop, William Henry Elder.

Bishop Elder, a native of Baltimore, was our bishop from 1858 to 1880 when he was named Archbishop of Cincinnati.

On our diocesan website, we have this brief description of Bishop Elder’s tenure here in Mississippi.

One of his first actions was to appoint Father Mathurin Grignon vicar general of the diocese. He was a capable and energetic administrator who established a strong foundation on which the modern diocese was built.

Bishop Elder is pictured surrounded by his six brothers after he received his pallium as Archbisop of Cincinnati.

Father Grignon, who also served as pastor of the cathedral, had come to Natchez to teach in the school established by Bishop Chanche. It was he who administered the last sacraments to Bishop Van de Velde.
Wanting to make a good impression on Bishop Elder, Father Grignon, the Sisters of Charity and parishioners worked to improve the still unfinished interior of the cathedral, completing the woodwork and windows. By 1859, the task was completed.

Bishop Elder entrusted the running of the cathedral parish to Father Grignon while he traveled throughout the large Diocese to assist struggling parishes. At the same time, St. Mary Cathedral was also assisting missions attached to it in Grand Gulf, Port Gibson, Cedar Creek, Rodney, Fayette, Meadville and Woodville.

D’Evereux Hall, an orphanage for boys, was opened in Natchez.

During Bishop Elder’s administration, the Civil War consumed the nation in violence and bloodshed for four years. Known as a saintly and scholarly man, Bishop Elder wrote to his father on the eve of the Civil War: “It is hard to tell what is to be the fate of the country. I have not enough of political sagacity to see what will be the course of events, nor what would be the fruit of the remedies proposed. … We can all unite in praying to God to guide and protect us.” Bishop Elder ministered to soldiers and celebrated Mass for the wounded throughout the war. He also ministered to a community of freedmen formed in Natchez by slaves who fled after the city was occupied in 1863 by federal troops.

Under Union occupation, the Bishop was expelled from Natchez and imprisoned in Vidalia, Louisiana for refusing to pray for the United States government. Although the war ended in 1865, Union troops remained in Natchez until 1876.

Bishop William Henry Elder and his chalice. (Photos from archives)

Expanding their educational ministry in the diocese, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart opened a school for boys in Natchez in 1865.

Bishop Elder was named coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1880 and would later become Archbishop there. When he arrived in Mississippi there were nine priests, 11 churches, three educational institutions, one orphanage and a Catholic population of 10,000.

When he left Mississippi, there were 19 priests, 42 churches, 12 schools for white children, three schools for black children and a Catholic population of 12,500. Among the parishes established during this time was St. Alphonsus in McComb.

For five days, Father Endres poured through original documents, letter books and correspondence from the 19th century carefully indexed by our master archivist, Bishop R. O. Gerow. Working in the diocesan archives vault among all the papers and files in boxes, cabinets stacked to the ceiling, there is a unique feeling of connection with those who have gone before us. We have a national treasure in our vault containing more than 200 years of American and church history.

JACKSON – Father David Endres of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati recently spent a week at the Diocese of Jackson’s chancery office researching Bishop William Henry Elder for a biography he is writing. He said that through his research he was “amazed by the fortitude that it took to be a missionary here in the 19th century.” (Photo by Tereza Ma)

The diocesan archive collection is only open to research by historians such as Father Endres. It is not like a library where one is able to walk in, browse and pull books off the shelf. Researchers must present credentials and an outline of the project they are researching before being approved for entry.

As archivist, I would then pull and group the information for the researcher to enable accomplishment of the project. For Father Endres’ research, there were 18 extremely fragile letter books, an 11-volume index, approximately 10 cubic feet of documents and several odds and ends in our vault.

By the end of the week, Father Endres had captured a wealth of information for the book. I very much look forward to reading Father Endres’ biography of Elder and placing a copy of it in our diocesan archive collection.

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

Yellow fever martyrs abound in the South

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – This past June at the U.S. bishops’ annual spring meeting, the Diocese of Shreveport put forward the cause for canonization of five priests who had served and died there during the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic. These men ministered to the sick and dying in and around Shreveport until succumbing to the dreaded fever themselves.

HOLLY SPRINGS – Archive photo of St. Joseph Catholic Church. Six Sisters of Charity along with the pastor died during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878 at the Marshall County church. Archivist, Mary Woodward gives an account of that time period in her latest “From the Archives” column.

I mentioned in the last installment of this series that our second bishop, James Oliver Van de Velde, died of Yellow Fever in 1855. Yellow Fever was a frequent visitor to the South in the 1800s.

Bishop William Henry Elder, our third bishop, contracted the fever but survived it. However, much like Shreveport, Bishop Elder lost six of his priests to the fever’s outbreak in 1878. From Aug. 31 – Sept. 14, 1878, the then Diocese of Natchez lost: Fathers Jean Baptiste Mouton (8/31), Patrick Cogan (9/8), John McManus (9/8), Anacletus Oberti (9/11), Charles Van Queckleberge (9/11) and John Vitolo (9/14).

In a letter from November 1878, Father Patrick Hayden writes Bishop Elder from Columbus lamenting the loss of the six men, especially Father Mouton, who was a trained architect and had designed several of the churches in the eastern half of the diocese, including the original church in Columbus.

Father Cogan was in Canton and was said to be the only remaining minister in the town when the outbreak occurred. An interesting note from a newspaper article reveals ministers of other denominations wanted to stay but were convinced to leave due to the fact that they had wives and children, who would be left destitute without them if they died. There is a monument for Father Cogan at Sacred Heart in Canton.

We must remember, though, that alongside these priests were fearless women religious – Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity – Angels, who served as nurses to the sick and eventually themselves died. Rarely are these heroic women given names, but in the case of Holly Springs St. Joseph, we do have at least the first names of the six Sisters of Charity who died – Stanislaus, Stella, Margaret, Victoria, Lorentia and Corinthia.

Cleta Ellington in her masterwork “Christ the Living Water” written for the Diocese of Jackson’s 150th anniversary in 1988, gives a stirring account of the epidemic of 1878 in Holly Springs. It follows below along with the tribute given to Sister Corinthia Mahoney by an eyewitness account.

“In the late summer and early fall of 1878, yellow fever swept across Mississippi like a conquering army, but it appeared that Holly Springs was to be spared. The city fathers, in a burst of generosity and believing that the germ could not live in such a high and dry climate, opened the doors of the town to fever refuges from surrounding counties.

“Two articles from New Orleans newspapers reveal the swiftness with which the townspeople learned their leadership was in error.

“Aug. 13, 1878: ‘The town is clean and healthy…no symptoms of the outbreak here. We have thrown open our hospitality to our sister cities, even accepting Grenada where the fever rages. The mayor and the community council decided today to use disinfectants merely as a precautionary…’

“Aug. 19, 1878: ‘Yesterday there were seven deaths, last night six, five of whom died in our house. The situation is too appalling to be described and the worst is, not a single case has recovered or promises recovery.’

“The Marshall County Courthouse was turned into a hospital where beds were piles of straw, where black and white lay together to await medical treatment almost certainly useless.

“The 12 sisters at Bethlehem Academy closed the school and took over the courthouse hospital. They were joined by a number of volunteer doctors who had heroically rushed to the town and by Father Anacletus Oberti, a friendly Italian priest, 31 years old, who had been working very hard to establish a Catholic library at St. Joseph.

Archive photo of Father Jean Baptiste Mouton. Father Mouton died on Aug. 31, 1878 from Yellow Fever. (Photos from archives)

“Six of the sisters, all of them part of the original group at Holly Springs, died during September and October. Father Oberti died on Sept. 11. Over 300 of the townspeople perished, 30 of them Catholic.

“Dr. R.M. Swearingen, a volunteer from Austin, Texas, penciled a tribute to Sister Corinthia Mahoney on the plaster wall of a jury room.

“It remained there until 1925 when the courthouse was renovated.

“To save the tribute, R.A. McDermott had workmen remove that section of the wall. Then he took it to Nazareth, Ky., where it remained until 1971 when it was returned to Holly Springs to the Marshall County Historical Museum where it can be seen today.

Within this room, September 1878, Sister Corinthia sank into enteral sleep. Among the first to enter this realm of death, she was the last, save one, to leave. The writer of this humble notice saw her in health, gentle but strong, as she moved with noiseless step and serene smiles through the crowded wards. He saw her when the yellow plumed angel threw his golden shadows over the last sad scene, and eyes unused to weeping paid the tribute of tears to the brave and beautiful “Spirit of Mercy.”

She needs no slab of Parisian marble
With its white and ghastly head,
To tell wanderers in the valley
The virtues of the dead.
Let the lily be her tombstone,
And dewdrops pure and bright,
The epitaphs the angels write
In the stillness of the night.
R.M. Swearingen, M.D.
Austin, Texas
Let no one deface.

“Father Oberti and the sisters were laid to rest in the local cemetery where a monument was erected by a grateful town. And Bethlehem Academy reopened its doors.”

Kudos to Shreveport for putting forward the five martyrs from their diocese. The clergy and sisters in our diocesan history may be called martyrs too.

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

Education, roof, bones mark Bishop’s tenure

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – When Bishop Van de Velde arrived in Natchez on Dec. 18, 1853, he inherited a cathedral in debt and needing completion on top of repairs to what already was there.

In a letter to the Propagation of the Faith written on Jan. 2, 1854, Bishop Van de Velde describes the scene:

“When my venerable predecessor was nominated to the new Diocese of Natchez in 1841, he had not a Catholic church in this city. He had only one church and one priest in the whole extent of the diocese.

“The Catholics in general were poor and few in numbers, as they still are. He was forced to build a church here to serve as his Cathedral and he used all the money which he could obtain by gifts, subscriptions, contributions, collections, allotments, etc.

NATCHEZ – Bishop Van de Velde was buried in the crypt beneath the St. Mary Basilica sanctuary until 1874 when his remains were transferred by his Jesuit brothers to Florissant, Missouri. (Photos courtesy of St. Mary Basilica Archives/Mike Murphy)

“He contracted debts in building this church which he has left half-finished. There are walls, furniture and roof which already need to be renewed. The windows have been boarded up, leaving an opening in each one in which panes of glass have been placed.

“It is absolutely the appearance of a great barn, and it has been in this state since 1843.”

Archbishop Antoine Blanc of New Orleans gifted Bishop Van de Velde with around $2000. Adding that to a parish subscription, he was able to put a slate roof on the church and with some other funds collected locally and from the Propagation of the Faith was able to do some repairs.

As a diocese, Bishop Van de Velde maintained the 11 original parishes established by Bishop John Joseph Chanche at Natchez, Paulding, Biloxi, Jackson, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Vicksburg, Sulphur Springs (Camden), Pearlington, Port Gibson and Yazoo City. There were also a few dozen mission stations being attended to monthly around these locations.

During his tenure, the Bishop tried to develop Catholic education in his diocese. He invited the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet to staff a new mission and future school built at Sulphur Springs. Five Sisters journeyed down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg, where they were met by the Bishop. From there they travelled by stagecoach to Canton and on to Sulphur Springs.

Bones from the old Spanish burial ground located behind St. Mary Basilica rest under the sanctuary of the church.

There is an interesting event that occurred along the journey which reflects an undercurrent of anti-Catholic sentiments in the State. The stagecoach owner apparently was one who expressed these sentiments as a member of the Know-Nothing movement. Simply put, the Know-Nothings believed Catholics were conspiring to subvert civil and religious liberties in the United States.

During the ride, the man, who also was intoxicated, accused our Bishop of being a priest and spat tobacco in his face several times in front of the five Sisters. Bishop Van de Velde maintained his composure and temper blocking the spew with his hat. Finally, when the stage stopped to change horses near Canton, Bishop Van de Velde threw the man out of the coach.

Another major education initiative of Bishop Van de Velde’s was to establish a Jesuit College at Rose Hill near Natchez. But this was not to be due to a lack of qualified clergy available for the endeavor and, the Jesuits were unable to accept the Bishop’s proposal.

Overall, Bishop Van de Velde was a much-loved bishop among the clergy and laity. His efforts to grow Catholic educational opportunities in his diocese show his commitment to further the faith in the State.

Back in the city of Natchez, the Bishop briefly obtained possession of the old Spanish burial ground located behind the church. The grounds had become a playground for children and dogs, with bones being unearthed and scattered. The city had even used some of the ground containing bones to level city streets. Bishop Van de Velde had all the bones gathered into two boxes and interred them in a crypt under the sanctuary in the church, then built a high wall around the rest of the area to protect the remaining graves.

In the fall of 1855, Natchez and Mississippi were under another siege of Yellow Fever. Several of the Cathedral staff were ill with the disease and suffering in the rectory next to the church. On Oct. 23, the Bishop fell on the steps of the rectory while going out in the evening to close the front gate. He fractured his leg in two places. Those inside suffering from fever were unaware of his predicament, and the poor Bishop had to lie there until morning when passersby heard his moans.

Soon the Bishop himself had contracted Yellow Fever and suffered for several days in agony. His beloved flock would pass by his room and receive a blessing from him while the fever raged. Then on Nov. 13 in the middle of blessing a parishioner, he succumbed to the illness.

After his funeral Mass, he was buried in the crypt beneath the sanctuary until 1874 when his Jesuit brothers took his remains to Florissant, Missouri. The Jesuit cemetery was relocated in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2006. Similar to his predecessor, he has been buried three times.
Bless his heart. His prayerful desire to be a missionary priest led him along a circuitous path to frontier mission work. We are blessed by his short term here in our diocese.

A special thank you to the St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee, who provided photos for this article and facts from their web site:

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

Bishop Van de Velde transfers from Chicago to warmer climate

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – In our last column, we ended with James Oliver Van de Velde, SJ, having been appointed the second bishop of Chicago in December 1848 and being ordained on Feb. 11, 1849.

According to “Cradle Days” (Bishop Gerow’s book), Bishop Van de Velde went about his ministry “with the utmost zeal.” He committed himself to the spiritual growth of his diocese and flock by visiting all the regions of his territory, expending great amounts of energy to the care of souls.

Envelope corner and stamp from Bishop Van de Velde’s letter to Msgr. Grignon from Nov. 7. 1853.

His health, however, was not cooperating. Bishop Van de Velde, suffered from rheumatism and the Chicago climate did not lend comfort to such an ailment. Soon he petitioned Rome to be allowed to resign and return to his brother Jesuits in Missouri. The Holy See’s answer was “carry on with patience…”

An opportunity for relief arose for Bishop Van de Velde when in 1852 at the First Plenary Council of Baltimore, he was elected to carry all the decrees from the council to the Vatican. While there in Rome, he again petitioned Pius IX to be relieved of Chicago. In the midst of this Bishop John Joseph Chanche, SS, of Natchez died during a post plenary council visit with his family outside Baltimore. This left a more temperate climate vacant and in need of a bishop.

On July 29, 1853, Pius issued a decree transferring Van de Velde to Natchez and its warmth to be its second bishop. Van de Velde spent several more months in Chicago arranging various matters in order before leaving for his new flock. He documents his circuitous journey to Natchez in a letter dated Nov. 7, 1853, to Monsignor Mathurin Grignon, who had served as Vicar General under Bishop Chanche. The original is in French and was mailed from St. Louis where Van de Velde had arrived to visit his Jesuit confreres. Here is Bishop Gerow’s translation:

“Mons. Grignon, My very dear “Abbé”:

Although I have not the pleasure of knowing you personally, I hasten to announce to you that I have arrived here [St. Louis] on my way to Natchez. Before I leave this town, I will visit St. Charles, St. Stanislaus & Florissant in Missouri and Quincy, the new See, where I have many things to arrange.
“I have promised to give the veil Sunday, feast of the amiable St. Stanislaus of our Company, to a young convert, one of my parishioners who is now a postulant of the Sacred Heart Convent in that town.

“I will start then Monday or Tuesday of next week for New Orleans; maybe ‘en passant’ will stop in Natchez. I will have with me a French priest who was one of my clergy for three years in the Diocese of Chicago, and a very good and pious old maid of Chicago who according to the advice of doctors is going to a warmer climate on account of her health. Maybe she could be our housekeeper.

“It is probable that when I will pass by Natchez I will leave them there, and in that case, I will recommend them particularly – the priest could assist you at the Cathedral and the old maid could stay with the Sisters of Charity until I come back.

NATCHEZ – Photo of the rectory at the (now) Basilica of St. Mary in June of 1941. (Photos courtesy of archives)

“I will write again from this boat. In the meantime, I recommend myself to your good prayers…Yours very sincerely, My dear ‘Abbé’, Yours very devoted in Christ, Jacques Oliver, Bishop of Natchez.”

Initially, the bishop arrived in Natchez on Nov. 23, where he was received with a great welcome by the clergy and people of the diocese. He dropped off his traveling companions and proceeded to New Orleans to assist at the consecration of the new Bishop of Natchitoches, Auguste Marie Martin.

After this celebration, Bishop Van de Velde journeyed to Mobile to make a retreat at Spring Hill College. Finally, on Dec. 18, 1853, he took possession of his new diocese.

In August, we will look at Bishop Van de Velde’s short tenure as bishop and the tasks he accomplished as the Second Bishop of the Diocese.

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

Pictured is a 1845 Roman Pontifical belonging to Bishop Van de Velde, the second bishop of the diocese.

Missionary zeal brings Van de Velde to America

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – He only wanted to serve as a missionary priest. That was the spirit of a young James Oliver Van de Velde in May 1817 as he embarked on a rather circuitous journey to becoming the second bishop of our diocese 36 years later in 1853.

Bishop Van de Velde, SJ, is the shortest serving bishop of our diocese. His tenure lasted from his taking possession of his diocese on Dec. 18, 1853, until his death of Yellow Fever two years later on Nov. 13, 1855. All of our other bishops have served close to 10 years or more. But in his short time, +James Oliver accomplished some very important initiatives for the church.

Over the next couple of articles, I will share more about +James Oliver’s missionary ministry here in Mississippi. For now, let me give some background on his interesting odyssey to Natchez.

The following biographical details are culled from Bishop Richard Gerow’s landmark work, “Cradle Days of St. Mary’s at Natchez,” where the seventh bishop details the early days of Catholicism in the state up to the 1890’s.

Bishop James Oliver Van de Velde was born in Belgium in 1795. Mary Woodward explores his early life and how he made his way to America before being named the second Bishop of Jackson (nee Natchez) by Pope Pius IX in 1853. (Photo from archives)

Born on April 3, 1795, in Belgium near the town of Termonde, James Oliver Van de Velde was from a family of high social and official standing in the community. His family was a devout Catholic one and early on James Oliver showed signs of his desiring to enter the religious life.

When he turned 15, he was sent to boarding school, where he excelled in his studies, especially in the area of language. James Oliver was so proficient that a few years later at age 18 he was asked to teach his fellow students French and Flemish. During this time, he began to study English and Italian. These studies proved beneficial as he entered the Archepiscopal Seminary in Mechlin, Belgium, in his early 20’s, where he was again asked to teach his fellow students – this time adding Latin to his repertoire of languages.

It was in seminary that his desire to become a missionary began to burn within him. In early 1817, James Oliver was fortunate to meet Father Charles Nerinckx, a fellow Belgian, who was considered the Apostle to Kentucky. Father Nerinckx was returning through Belgium from a trip to Rome when he encountered the young Van de Velde at the seminary.

Sharing the need for priests to serve the missions in America, Father Nerinckx offered to bring James Oliver to the frontier missions of Bardstown, Kentucky, where Nerinckx was based. The seminary allowed for the transfer and he joined Nerinckx and a handful of other young Belgians who were bound for Georgetown College in Washington to enter the Jesuit novitiate there.

The plan for James Oliver to follow Nerinckx to Bardstown, however, was upended when during the transatlantic crossing the ship encountered a violent storm and Van de Velde was seriously injured. The loss of blood caused such weakness in him that upon arrival in the United States, he was taken to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore to recover instead of travelling on to Kentucky. [Bishop William Houck was a graduate of St. Mary’s.]

Seeing the damage done, Nerinckx advised James Oliver to follow his fellow Belgian ship mates to Georgetown and the novitiate of the Jesuits. Again, his intellectual acumen led him to be asked by the faculty to not only be student, but also be a professor to his fellow classmates teaching “belles lettres” at Georgetown, a class studying the art and beauty of literature in and of itself. [Bishop Joseph Brunini graduated from Georgetown and was editor-in-chief of the yearbook.]

Ten years after arriving in America, James Oliver was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Ambrose Maréchal, SS, in Baltimore on Sept. 25, 1827. [Archbishop Maréchal also would have ordained to the priesthood John Joseph Chanche, SS, our first bishop, in 1819.] He served some missions in Maryland before being sent to the newly established Jesuit College in St. Louis where he taught rhetoric and math. In 1833, the college became the University of St. Louis and Van de Velde became its vice president and procurator.

Finally in 1837, Van de Velde made his solemn vows and became a professed member of the Society of Jesus. During an 1838 trip to New Orleans, he stopped in the freshly erected Diocese of Natchez and for two weeks served the Catholic congregation there which was still awaiting its first bishop – a foreshadowing of the eventual arrival of James Oliver as bishop in 15 years.

Van de Velde continued to be promoted at the University of St. Louis and in the Jesuits becoming president of the university in 1840 and vice provincial of the order in 1843. As vice provincial he oversaw the growth and flourishing of the Jesuit missions. His zeal for missions and his keen intellect and administrative skills did not go unnoticed by the Holy See so that on Dec. 1, 1848, he was appointed as the second bishop of Chicago. It required the cajoling of several friends and much prayer for him to accept, but in the end, he accepted and was ordained a bishop on Feb. 11, 1849, in the Church of St. Francis Xavier at the University of St. Louis by the Archbishop of St. Louis, Peter Richard Kenrick.

Thus, we will end this initial look at our second bishop – a man of extreme intellect and passionate zeal for the missions. In the next installment, we will explore how Bishop Van de Velde made his way from Chicago to Natchez and explore several of his initiatives in our diocese.

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

Ordinations from yesteryear

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Last edition I wrote about May being the month for ordinations. This week for the digital edition I thought I would share several photos of our three most recent bishops at their ordinations. It is very enriching to look back on lives well-lived in the service of the Lord.

Keep all of our priests in your prayers as they strive to be humble servants of the Lord.

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

Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb lays hands on the head of Bishop Joseph Latino at his ordination on March 7, 2003.
Bishop Houck following the ordination of Father Joseph Marino, a student of bishop’s when he was a priest in Birmingham. Father Marino went on to become Archbishop Joseph Marino, apostolic nuncio to Bangladesh and Malaysia. Bishop Houck was a co-consecrator at Archbishop Marino’s ordination to the episcopacy as well.
Then, Father Latino gives a blessing to his parents at his first Mass.
Archbishop Thomas Rodi pours Sacred Chrism on the head of Bishop Joseph Kopacz during his ordination on Feb. 6. 2014. (Photos from archives)