John Mary Joseph Chanche

First Bishop of Natchez A Biographical Sketch

By MARY BELLAN EIDT

John Mary Joseph Chanche was the fourth child of Catherine Provost and John Chanche. He was born on Barre Street in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 4, 1795, and baptized on August 13, 1796, at St. Peter Church. His parents fled Santo Domingo during the slave riots between 1792 and 1793. The John Chanche possibly originated in Orthez, France at the base of the Pyrenees, not far from Lourdes.

In 1806, at the age of eleven, John entered St. Mary's College in Baltimore. The College on Paca and St. Mary streets was within walking distance of his home. In his early years he witnessed two significant events—the construction of America's first neo-Gothic church at St. Mary's College from 1806 — 1808 and the construction of America's first cathedral by Archbishop John Carroll in Baltimore from 1806–1821.

In September 1814 he began his theological studies at St. Mary's seminary in Baltimore. In 1819 John Chanche was ordained a priest in the Society of St. Sulpice. (The Sulpician order had the primary responsibility for training priests.)

John Joseph Chanche, S.S.

My Image

Daguerreotype photograph

My Image

Lithograph portrait

John J. Chanche, S.S. rose in the academic ranks of the seminary. From a professor he was promoted to vice-president and then to president of St. Mary's College in 1834. He was then called to the Cathedral See of Natchez by Pope Gregory XVI in 1840. By special permission he remained a member of the Sulpician order.

Possibly influenced by the construction of the two churches in Baltimore, he envisioned an impressive Gothic cathedral for his diocese. From 1842 – 1843 he worked on his cathedral in Natchez. In 1846 he built his residence adjoining the cathedral.

Bishop Chanche played major roles in the church in the United States. While attending the Provincial Council in Baltimore in 1846, he signed the document decreeing the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin the patroness of the United States. On a mission to Europe in 1848, to seek financial help for his church, he delivered the document for the unification of the Sisters of Charity in America with the Sisters of Charity in France. Upon his return to Baltimore for the Provincial Council of 1849, he brought news of the 1830 apparitions of Our Lady to Sister Catherine Laboure. In 1835 Bishop Chanche brought the first medals of the Immaculate Conception (already know as "miraculous medal" in France) to St. Joseph's Valley (near Emmitsburg, Maryland).

Bishop Chanche died in 1852 in Frederick, Maryland, after attending the First Plenary Council in Baltimore. He was buried in the Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore in 1852 and removed to the new Baltimore Cathedral Cemetery in 1878. His remains were exhumed on August 8, 2007, and arrived in Natchez on August 17, 2007, for re-interment.

For the next six months church officials under Reverend Joseph Latino, bishop of the Diocese of Jackson, and Reverend David O’Connor, pastor of St. Mary Basilica, coordinated detailed preparations for the re-interment of Bishop Chanche.

Local parishioners assisted with the physical preparations. Walter Maier, member of the Building and Maintenance Committee supervised the preparation of the grave site. James Guercio, chairman of the Archives Committee, was overseer of the erection of Bishop Chanche’s monument, which had been dismantled and shipped from the cemetery in Baltimore.

A sprinkling of snow greeted parishioners and visitors on January 19, 2008, as they gathered for the re-interment ceremony. Seven students from Cathedral School served as pallbearers, carrying the coffin (handcrafted of walnut wood by the Trappists monks at New Melleray, Iowa) with the remains of Bishop Chanche into the sanctuary of the basilica.

William Cardinal Keeler, retired Archbishop of Baltimore, presided over the Eucharistic celebration. Concelebrating with Cardinal Keeler were several bishops from nearby southern dioceses, area priest, and Reverend Ronald D. Witherup, provincial of the Sulpicians, Bishop Chanche’s order of priests.

After the church ceremony the clergy and many participants in the liturgy processed to the adjacent grave site for the re-interment and committal rite. The remains of Bishop John Mary Joseph Chanche now rest in the shadows of his beloved cathedral, now St. Mary Basilica.


Anna Byrne presents a Natchez History Minute about Bishop John Joseph Chanche who was born on this day, October 4 in 1795. Chanche became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Natchez and in 1842, laid the cornerstone for what is today, St. Mary Basilica. Originally buried in Baltimore, In 2007, his body was exhumed and reburied in Natchez, in the shadow of his beloved cathedral. Published on Oct 3, 2016… View video


Lithograph on stone - St. Mary Cathedral