St. Ann’s roots reach to early Catholics, converted slaves

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 11, 2000

FAYETTE — Parishioners at St. Ann Catholic Church celebrate the church’s 50th anniversary this weekend — but their roots reach back even further.

Long before St. Ann was established in 1950 and integrated in the late 1960s, a maverick French priest was slowly converting slaves on Jefferson County plantations.

&uot;I was born and raised Catholic,&uot; said St. Ann parishioner Rachel Buie. &uot;But my forefathers in slavery were not.

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&uot;It’s puzzling to a lot of people how there are black Catholics in Jefferson County.&uot;

One of the reasons, according to St. Ann history, is the Rev. John Andrew Fierabras, who planned in the 19th century to spread the Catholic faith across the countryside by building small, plain Catholic churches. At the time he arrived, Catholic records indicate no black Catholics in the diocese of Natchez.

But Fierabras died of yellow fever in 1853 before he could see his plans fulfilled. Natchez priests then ministered to the Catholics in Jefferson County for the next 100 years.

Just after the turn of the last century, three Catholic missions were built in Jefferson County — two for whites and one for blacks.

In the late 1940s, Trinitarian missionaries decided to build a church in Fayette, and St. Ann was dedicated Dec. 10, 1950.

But St. Ann served only white parishioners until the late 1960s, when the diocese decided to close St. Anthony’s, the black mission church in Harriston.

When blacks began attending St. Ann, many white parishioners quit attending the church.

&uot;We hated it, but it’s not our fault,&uot; Buie said. &uot;We’re all Christian people. People don’t know what we have gone through as black Catholics.&uot;

St. Ann now is made up of black and white parishioners, as well as immigrant families, Buie said.

And that diversity is what has kept St. Ann strong, Buie said. The church — the only Catholic church in Jefferson County — now numbers about 75 parishioners.

&uot;What made it last so long is the uniqueness of the people, the diverse congregation,&uot; Buie said.

Now the congregation is made up of black and white parishioners as well as Vietnamese immigrant families, Buie said.

&uot;We welcome all groups, all nationalities,&uot; she said. &uot;We’re an open-door church.&uot;

And parishioners like Buie have not forgotten the roots of their church.

&uot;It’s a privilege now to be a black Catholic in Jefferson County,&uot; she said.

St. Ann celebrates its anniversary with a concert at 6 p.m. today at the church featuring Alvin Shelby and the Holy Family Gospel Choir, the choir from St. Ann’s sister church in Natchez. An anniversary celebration Mass will be said at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.