St. Mary's of Natchez: The History of a Southern Catholic Congregation, 1716-1988. Volume 1: The History;Volume 2: Signs of Parish Life. By Charles E. Nolan. (Natchez, Mississippi: St. Mary's Catholic Church. 1992. Pp. xxxvi, 402; x, 403-732. $39.95 the set
In the fall of 1986, the parish council of St. Mary's of Natchez asked Dr. Charles E. Nolan, archivist of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and author of the South Central section of the 1987 Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life, to write a history of St. Mary's from 1888 to 1988. Early in 1992, St. Mary's Catholic Church published his work in two volumes. With illustrations, bibliography, a fifty-one-page index, and eighty-one pages of notes, the final product is huge.
St. Mary's of Natchez is, of course, an atypical Southern Catholic congregation, for its story is long and varied and includes the centennial in 1888 (thus the terminal dates proposed in 1986) of the erection of the parish of San Salvador del Mundo by Louisiana's Spanish governor, Estaban Miro. Part 3, "Historical Overview 1888-1988): surveys the period foreseen in that proposal. The reactions of the community to the World Wars, the Depression, the integration crisis during which local church leadership was heroic), and Vatican Council II are interpreted. During this century Natchez had to accept the loss of preeminence in Mississippi effected by the railroad's replacement of the steamboat. Natchez, the proud city on the bluffs, was surpassed by upstart Jackson, the railhead. In 1948 Bishop Richard D. Gerow sorrowfully moved to Jackson, and in 1977 Jackson became the see city and St. Mary's was no longer a cathedral.
What marks St. Mary's of Natchez as a significant contribution was the determination of Dr. Nolan and his collaborators to work from a post-Vatican …