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Diocese of Natchez

Established July 28, 1837, comprises the State of Mississippi

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Natchez, Diocese of (NATCHESIENSIS) established July 28, 1837, comprises the State of Mississippi. Catholic missionary work in this territory began with the expeditions of Marquette, La Salle, and Iberville. Iberville planted a colony in the home of the Natchez tribe, and erected there Fort Rosalie, on a site within the present city of Natchez. Capuchin, Jesuit, and secular priests labored in this field, having missions at Biloxi, Natchez, and Yazoo. Early in the history of the missions, Fathers St. Cosme and Foucault, seculars, were martyred by the Indians, as were the Jesuits Du Poisson, Souart, and Senat. In 1787 three priests from Salamanca, Fathers McKenna, White, and Savage, settled at Natchez and erected promising missions there and in the vicinity. When the territory passed from Spain to the United States, these missions were practically abandoned. Much valuable property was lost to the Church, and the efforts made to recover it were in vain. For many years the Catholics of Natchez depended upon chance visits of priests. The first Bishop of Natchez, John Mary Joseph Chanche, was b. October 4, 1795, at Baltimore; whither his parents had fled from San Domingo. He joined the Sulpicians, and was president of Mount St. Mary’s when appointed bishop. He was consecrated March 14, 1841. Arriving at Natchez, he met there the only priest in the state, Father Brogard, who was there but temporarily. Taking up the rôle of a simple missionary, he began to collect the Catholics and organize a diocese. In 1842 he laid the corner stone of the present beautiful cathedral, and opened an academy for girls. In 1848 he invited the Sisters of Charity to Natchez. At the First Plenary Council, in 1852, Bishop Chanche was chief promoter. He died shortly after the sessions of the Council, at Frederick, Md., leaving his diocese with 11 priests, 11 churches erected, and 13 attendant missions. James Oliver Van de Velde was transferred from Chicago to Nachez, July 29, 1853. He served the diocese but two years. On October 23, 1853, he broke his leg, and a fever set in which quickly developed into yellow fever; he died November 13, 1855. (See Archdiocese of Chicago.) Bishop Van de Velde was succeeded by William Henry Elder (q.v.). The next bishop, Francis Janssens, was b. at Tillburg, North Brabant, Holland, studied at Louvain, and was ordained 21 Dec, 1867. In 1870, he was rector of the cathedral at Richmond, Va., and later vicar-general of that diocese under Bishops Gibbons and Keane. He was consecrated Bishop of Natchez, May 1, 1881, and promoted to be Archbishop of New Orleans, August 7, 1888. Thomas Heslin was b. in County Longford, Ireland, 1847, and on the completion of his classical studies, came to America at the invitation of Archbishop Odin. He entered the seminary of Bouligny, New Orleans, was ordained in 1869, and was pastor of St. Michael’s, New Orleans, when he received his appointment as Bishop of Natchez. He was consecrated in 1889. The religious institutes represented (1910) in the diocese are: Lazarist Fathers; Josephite Fathers (three charges); Fathers of the Society of the Divine Word (three charges); Brothers of the Sacred Heart, (six charges); Sisters of Charity (Emmitsburg); Sisters of Charity (Nazareth); Sisters of the Perpetual Adoration; Sisters of St. Francis; Sisters of St. Joseph; Sisters of Mercy; School Sisters of Notre Dame; Sisters Marianites of the Holy Cross; Sisters of the Holy Ghost. There are 39 secular and 7 regular priests; 33 churches with resident priests, 42 missions, 31 stations, 18 chapels, 1 college for boys, 2 academies for girls, 32 parochial schools, 5 ecclesiastical students, 2 orphan asylums (158 inmates). Total of young people under Catholic care, 4,988; total Catholic population, 25,701.


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