Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Holy Family, Natchez: The first black congregation of Catholics in Mississippi

 Continuing on toward Martin Luther King Boulevard in Natchez Friday, through the heart of this African American community, I spied another steeple and the back of a large church that reminded me somewhat of St. Mary's downtown.  With good reason I would discover: Holy Family was built in 1894, after a somewhat contentious decision to split the congregation from the mixed race, but white controlled, St. Mary's and establish a separate black church.  Tristano's (1998) micro history is a fascinating look at the origins and development of this parish.  Tristano reports
...founding members were children of white fathers and mixed race mothers...one method of a micro history is recovery of lost people...in this case, lost to Catholic history and lost to African American history... 
 Holy Family was the first African American Catholic Church in Mississippi, built in a 19th century Gothic Revival style with Queen Anne details (Pace, 2007).  It includes a school for children from pre-school through 4th grade.  The Holy Family Choir performs "Southern Road to Freedom" during Natchez' spring pilgrimage.
 Holy Family is staffed by the Josephites, the only community of men in the American Catholic Church engaged exclusively in ministry to African American communities.  The first African American priest trained and ordained in the US was Fr. Charles R. Uncles, and he was one of the founding members of the St. Joseph Society for Sacred Heart, established in 1871.  The society is a multicultural organization, and is also committed to working for social justice in African American communities.
 As I parked and stepped out of the car, an older (well, older than I am) white woman also stepped out of her car that had been stopped in the middle of the street.  She asked me about the garage where I was parked, wanting to know if it was a particular business.  I responded that I did not know, I was not from Natchez, and had only stopped to take a picture of this beautiful church.  She proceeded to tell me that if I thought this church was beautiful, then I must go see Trinity Episcopal downtown...and immediately began giving directions and describing the church.  She mentioned the Presbyterian Church nearby, which I said I had seen the evening before.  I did not mention that I was headed out of town, but thanked her for the information.  I was not interested in going back downtown, even to find a church "much more beautiful" than this one.  I suppose it is all in one's perspective, but I looked up Trinity Episcopal just now, and recognized that indeed, I had been standing right across the street from it the evening before.  I was truly glad I had not made the effort.  In my opinion, it in no way compares architecturally (or historically for that matter) to Holy Family.  I will let you judge for yourself, though.

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