I would like to thank the St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee for inviting me to share some thoughts on their web site. I have always been very interested in history. The events that have shaped civilization are quite fascinating. The process of recording these events for posterity had never really occurred to me as something on which to dwell, but after becoming a bishop and working with those entrusted with the diocesan patrimony and archives, I have come to realize the importance of saving even the most seemingly insignificant piece of correspondence.
I commend the Basilica Archives Committee for its diligent work in maintaining so well the history and artifacts of the basilica and for developing this attractive and informative web site.
Our diocesan archives are made up of correspondence of bishops all the way back to Bishop John Joseph Chanche, our first bishop, whose earthly remains now lie on the grounds of our stately and historic St. Mary Basilica, the church that Bishop Chanche built as the diocese’s first cathedral. Because of this, St. Mary Basilica, dedicated to Our Mother of Sorrows, holds a unique and important place in the history and life of our diocese.
When I read about Bishop Chanche and his tenure as bishop here in our state, I am amazed at the faith and perseverance he must have had to come to Mississippi with practically no priests, no Catholic church buildings per se and very little resources.
He came to build the Catholic faith in this state through much prayer and dedicated extremely hard work. With the invaluable help of the devout Catholics already here in the state, especially in the city of Natchez, he firmly established a Catholic presence in the state of Mississippi for his successors.
We are forever grateful for this selfless act of love for Christ and His church. Without Bishop Chanche’s dedication and zeal for the Catholic faith I believe we would not be the wonderful diocesan family we are today. There is the age-old remark that we “stand on the shoulders” of those who have gone before us. Today we stand on the shoulders of Bishop Chanche and his successors, Bishop James Van de Velde, Bishop William Henry Elder, Bishop Francis Janssens, Bishop Thomas Heslin, Bishop John Gunn, Bishop Richard Oliver Gerow, Bishop Joseph Brunini, and Bishop William Houck. We also stand on the shoulders of the countless clergy, men and women religious, and lay faithful who have continued to build up the church in Mississippi throughout these past 172 years. We as Catholics should offer prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving for all these humble servants and friends of the Lord who have given us so firm a foundation on which to stand as we move forward in this third Christian millennium.
In 2012 our diocese will mark its 175th anniversary. Plans are already being made for the celebrations and activities of this milestone in the history of our diocese. I hope that all of us will begin to develop ways to mark this occasion on the local parish level so that our 175th will be a real celebration of the Catholic faith and its history in this diocese. Making sure your own parish’s records and histories are protected and updated is a great way to start. St. Mary Basilica is a fine example to follow.