City’s first Catholic bishop to be re-interred at basilica

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NATCHEZ — On Saturday, St. Mary Basilica will receive its first bishop — 155 years after his death.

Bishop John Joseph Chanche, the first Catholic Bishop of Natchez, will be re-interred at a newly constructed monument behind St. Mary Basilica.

Not only was Chanche the city’s first Catholic bishop, he also began construction on St. Mary Basilica in 1842.

Email newsletter signup

St. Mary’s pastor, the Rev. David O’Connor, said the mass on Saturday will follow the format of a traditional funeral mass but will simultaneously honor Chanche’s life.

In a letter written just one year before his death, Chanche expressed his desire to be buried on the grounds of St. Mary Basilica.

However, on a trip to Baltimore Chanche died unexpectedly.

His remains stayed in Baltimore until the Archival Committee of St. Mary Basilica and O’Connor requested they be returned to Natchez in August 2007.

In November the monument marking Chanche’s grave was moved from Baltimore to Natchez and reconstructed behind the basilica.

And this Saturday Chanche too will be returned to the cathedral he built.

“It is customary for a Catholic bishop as chief pastor of this people to be buried in or near his Cathedral church,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said Saturday’s mass is expected to fill the church and will be attended by an array of the church’s hierarchy.

Archbishop of Baltimore William Cardinal Keeler and a handful of bishops from across the South will attend the mass, O’Connor said.

And while Saturday’s event will be a sort of spiritual homecoming for Chanche. it will also be the culmination of an enormous amount of work for the archival committee.

Chairman of the archival committee James Guercio said the entire committee pulled together to make the re-internment possible.

“It’s very gratifying for everyone involved,” he said.

Guercio also encouraged the general public to attend Saturday’s mass.

“There is a sacredness to the occasion,” he said. “Cardinal Keeler said it’s ‘a sign of the presence of God,’ that’s heavy.”

In addition to being a sacred event, Saturday’s mass will also be quite historic.

“This will never happen again in Natchez,” Guercio said.

The mass will begin at 11 a.m. at St. Mary Basilica and will conclude with the burial of Chanche’s remains.