By Mary Margaret Halford
VICKSBURG— For Angela Canizaro, St. Paul Catholic Church is so much more than a building, it’s a tradition.
On October 16, the downtown Vicksburg church celebrated its 175th anniversary since that tradition of faith began, and Canizaro has been around for 83 of those 175 years.
“I’ve been here all my life,” Canizaro said at a reception following a celebratory service. “I am amazed at how we’ve changed over the years.”
Canizaro and the parishioners of St. Paul experienced the liturgical changes that came as a result of Vatican II.
“I remember the classes we had that showed us how and why things changed after Vatican II,” Canizaro said. “The laity was so much more involved after that, and we adjusted.”
And the church, which is nestled just atop a hill on the banks of the Mississippi River, weathered quite a physical change when a tornado ripped through downtown on a Saturday afternoon in December 1953, destroying nearly everything in its path.
“After it (the tornado) was all over, a man came running down the street yelling that Washington Street was no more, it was gone,” Canizaro said. “The next day was Sunday, and it was time for Mass, so we all went to the (St. Francis Xavier) auditorium, and the nuns took us in. We just carried on.”
During Bishop Joseph Kopacz’s homily at the 175th anniversary Mass, he noted the difference between a church building and the actual faith of the people.
“The image we’re given in the Gospel is when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith?” Kopacz challenged the assembly. “Churches, sure—but, faith? I think yes. When that tornado hit, people rallied. Their faith was such a power, and you’re being here today is a sign that if the Lord did come back today, He’d find faith.”
The Rev. Tom Lalor, who is the current pastor of St. Paul, agreed that the faith of his parish has remained steadfast through the years.
“I see that sense of fidelity of the people through the centuries,” Lalor said. “Hundreds of people came as immigrants from a very hard life. They came here with the lived faith of their ancestors, and it is being lived out here today, that very same faith.”
Lalor also appreciates the changes that have been made over the years, and the way the church has evolved without losing its true purpose.
“When those people started this 175 years ago, they had no idea there was going to be a Vatican II, they had no idea we’d be saying Mass in English,” Lalor said. “I think our celebration was a magnificent moment of prayer, it was a celebration of the people of God celebrating this faith from 175 years ago being lived out today.”
After the Mass, parishioners made their way to Farrell Hall, where artifacts, scrapbooks, photos, and other items were on display.
“Just to see that history, it was like going into a museum,” Lalor said. “It gives you that sense of precious heritage that has been passed on and is being lived here right now.”
And for church members like Canizaro, it was a walk down memory lane coupled with a taste of what’s to come.
“My father came over from Italy when he was 16 years of age, and I watch my niece sing as a cantor today,” Canizaro said. “They’re carrying on the tradition, and that’s what this is all about.”
“I do miss so much of the old, and you can change the physical church, but as long as we have the Eucharist, that’s all that matters,” Canizaro said. “We’ve changed some things along the way, but that has never changed, and if it wasn’t for my faith in that, I don’t know what I’d do.”