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Faith and Family: St. Mary welcomes new priests to parish

 

NATCHEZ — St. Mary Basilica welcomed a new pastor and parochial vicar on July 1 and both are young Mississippi natives who said they are happy and proud to be in Natchez.

The Rev. Scott Thomas, 35, said he was surprised and excited to learn on Holy Week that he would be the new pastor at St. Mary Basilica in Natchez in place of the Rev. David O’Connor, who retired at the end of June after 22 years as pastor of St. Mary Basilica.

The Rev. Mark Shoffner, 32, said he, too, was excited to move to Natchez as parochial vicar, which is similar to an assistant pastoral position.

The appointment, Thomas said, is especially good for him because he grew up in Jackson and spent most of his life and career in Mississippi.

“I love Natchez,” Thomas said, adding that he had visited Natchez often in the past. “It is a great, beautiful town; all the history — to end up in such a prestigious church.”

Thomas comes to Natchez from Clarksdale where he had been the pastor of Immaculate Conception for the past six years. Before that, he spent four years at a church in Greenville and two years at a church in Madison.

Thomas said he moved to St. Mary on July 1.

The first couple of weeks have been consumed with getting to know the area, though Natchez is not much of a stretch for him, he said.

“It seems like they are just moving me up and down the river now,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I’m getting to know the people and figure out the best way to shepherd them in a way they need, teach the love of Christ, the beauty he has given us through the church and the best way to give that to everybody.”

Shoffner, who grew up in Greenville and was ordained on May 11, said he is excited that St. Mary Basilica is his first appointment as parochial vicar.

“I love it,” Shoffner said. “For a proud Mississippian and a proud Catholic, it can’t get any better than coming to Natchez.”

St. Mary Basilica is the home to Mississippi’s first Catholic Diocese that was established in 1837 and construction began on St. Mary Basilica in 1842.

Shoffner said he started his career as a cardiac nurse before deciding he wanted to go into the priesthood and followed in Thomas’ path attending St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington and Notre Dame in New Orleans.

In his spare time, Shoffner said he enjoys hunting and looks forward to hunting opportunities in the Miss-Lou, including dove hunting, duck hunting, and he would love to hunt rabbits.

Thomas, whose desk bears a Mississippi State University Cowbell, said he studied international business at MSU for a couple of years before deciding to enter the priesthood.

Thomas then transferred to St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana, and studied philosophy, before moving on to study four more years at Norte Dame Seminary in New Orleans.

Then Thomas said he served as a parochial vicar in Madison before moving on to Greenville and then as pastor in Clarksdale.

Thomas said he loves history, as his mother is a retired history teacher in Jackson, and Natchez offers plenty of opportunities for him to study the local history and to admire the historic structures in the city, including St. Mary Basilica.

In his new position as pastor of St. Mary, Thomas said he is over the parish for Cathedral School and is impressed with the school under the leadership of principal Norm Yvon.

“I’m excited for the school year,” Thomas said.

Thomas recently acquired a Lionel Polar Express train set, which he has laid out to circle his desk, and is considering collecting more model trains he said.

“I’m still trying to learn the area, learn the place,” Thomas said. “It is just exciting being in a new place … and to meet as many people as I can and learn about the culture and the history of the area I love.”