Church to see repairs

Published 12:02 am Monday, August 8, 2011

NATCHEZ — A certain pool of redeeming waters in the 1950s had the power to do more than commit people to life in the Christian church.

It had the power to immerse people into a chapter of history.

Valencia Hall was baptized into Holy Family Catholic Church when she was 3 weeks old in 1956, and she said while she grew up fighting for Civil Rights, she had no idea she was growing up as a part of a historical movement.

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But after being a member of Holy Family for more than 50 years, Hall will now see the building undergo much needed restoration and repairs, thanks to grants she helped obtain through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The department awarded $169,500 to Holy Family out of more than $2 million it awarded to 10 other sites throughout the state, according to a MDAH news release. The money will be disbursed through the Mississippi Civil Rights Historical Sites program.

Historic Natchez Foundation Director Mimi Miller said Holy Family was required to match 20 percent of any grant money awarded, so they will be providing a match of $42,532.

The total amount — $212,032 — will go into building repairs such as installing a new roof and repairing gutters, interior plaster and pews in the church, according to the release.

Hall said Holy Family was active in the Civil Rights movement beginning in 1955 when a meeting was held there in regard to integrating local schools.

In 1965, she said, William Morrissey, Holy Family’s priest at the time, became the first white officer of the Mississippi Chapter of the NAACP, and Holy Family was also the site of NAACP meetings.

“Growing up, you don’t realize you’re going to be a part of some Civil Rights movement,” Hall said. “To realize what (Father Morrissey) and other men, women and children went through in the Civil Rights Movement and that our church will actually be benefiting from this in some way (is great).

“To actually be awarded this grant is quite a testament.”

Miller said Holy Family approached the Historic Natchez Foundation for help in getting approved for the grant. Its history, as well as its current endeavors helped it to be approved for the grant, she said.

“It’s open daily to the public and there’s a priest in residence every day,” Miller said.

“Part of the criteria for this grant was looking at how it was going to increase tourism.”

Holy Family presents a musical titled “Southern Road to Freedom” three nights a week during Spring Pilgrimage, she said, and that was another factor in getting the grant approved.

Hall said she never doubted that Holy Family would get the assistance.

“Holy Family was listed on the national register in 1995, so it’s already part of a historic district,” she said.

Miller said even with all of the landmarks Natchez has, it still sometimes is underestimated.

“People don’t associate Natchez as having strong Civil Rights history, but it does,” she said.