The Catholic Church in Mississippi, 1911-1984: A History

Article excerpt

The Catholic Church in Mississippi, 1911-1984.- A History. By Michael V Namorato. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. 1998. Pp. xxiii, 313. $59.95 cloth.)

The Catholic Church in Mississippi seems like an anomaly in what some might think of as the heart of the Southern Bible Belt. We owe a debt to Michael Namorato for a well documented and well written study that tells us otherwise. This work, however, does more than simply chronicle the institutional development of the Catholic Church in inhospitable territory. Instead it is a narrative that allows the reader to see the development of the institution against the background of social and political developments in a predominantly Protestant Southern state. It is also a compelling story of the leadership, compassion, and dedication of those who guided the Church during her formative years, and who in spite of local conventions held steadfast to the ethos of the Church.

Professor Namorato's study, which ought to be considered a standard for church history, is presented in two parts. The first, "The Hierarchy," tells the story of John Gunn, Richard Gerow, and Joseph Brunini, the bishops who provided the leadership and inspiration for the Mississippi Catholic Church from 1911 through 1984. It is a detailed examination of the issues each confronted, from education to racial relations. Indeed, one salutary aspect of this work is Namorato's discussion of the racial issues confronting the Mississippi Church. Gunn, a graduate of the Gregorian University of Rome, walked a fine line between the culture of the South and the needs of his black adherents. He supported the establishment of a black seminary to train blacks for the priesthood and hoped in this way to help deal with the shortage of priests in his diocese. …