City’s first bishop to be buried at St. Mary Basilica

Published 12:23 am Friday, November 30, 2007

NATCHEZ — After 155 years, Bishop John Chanche is finally at peace in Natchez.

In an almost prophetic letter written just one year before his death, Chanche — the city’s first Catholic bishop —wrote to a fellow bishop expressing his wishes to buried in Natchez.

“I have become accustomed to the South,” he wrote. “If I could only see the church finished and matters a little better settled, I would lay my bones here with satisfaction.”

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The church he referred to is now St. Mary Basilica.

And the recent discovery of this letter by the Archival Committee of St. Mary Basilica opened a floodgate of activity.

Chairman of the archival committee James Guercio said when the letter was discovered the group felt inclined to act on it.

“In reading his letters it was clear he wanted to be buried here,” he said.

So after a series of phone calls and small a letter-writing campaign, Chanche’s remains were exhumed in Baltimore and returned to Natchez in August.

So much of Chanche’s remains were still intact that he could not be buried under the altar of the basilica, as is customary in the Catholic Church.

Instead Chanche will be buried behind the rectory near the monument that originally marked his grave.

All seven pieces of the massive marble monument were disassembled in Baltimore, packed in crates and shipped to Brookhaven.

Owner of the Natchez Monument Company, Dave Pace said reassembling the monument was, well monumental.

“We haven’t done anything like this before,” he said.

While the 5,000-pound monument looks like it could have grown from the earth, Pace said it’s actually quite fragile.

So with great care and a bit of nervous anticipation, Pace and his two-man crew reassembled the 10-foot monument.

One of Pace’s crew, Danny Porter, aptly summed up the main goal in reassembling the monument.

“We’re going to try really hard not to damage it,” he said.

After a few hours of making inch-by-inch adjustments with a crane and some wooden shims, the unbroken monument was in set in its new home.

Just before the last piece of the monument went on a small group of men gather around to watch its completion.

And when the last piece of the monument, the cross, was settled into place, the group gathered at its base with a shared look of accomplishment — just like men might have 155 years ago.