Jackson, Meridian, and the coast were fortunate to have them. In those places where they could not be, the laity truly had to rely on themselves, especially if the priest was ministering to a mission or a station. It was not unusual for Catholics living in northern Mississippi, for example, to have mass once a month. Sometimes sending a postcard ahead, the priest would tell his missions and stations when he was coming and how long he would be there. Mass was then celebrated, sacraments administered, and catechism taught. In the stations, all of this might take place in someone's home simply because there was no church or building where they could go. This, of course, was quite different from what existed in Natchez or Vicksburg, where, in addition to the normal activities associated with permanent parishes and resident priests such as daily mass, frequent reception of the sacraments, and various liturgical celebrations throughout the year, there were very active lay organizations, ranging from the spiritual actions of the Sodalities to the more temporal involvement of the later Knights of Columbus.
What this all demonstrates is that the Natchez diocese was still a missionary diocese, especially when compared to other dioceses in the northern or midwestern United States. It was similar, however, to other southern and western dioceses in America that also had problems to resolve. For Natchez, its missionary character remained, moreover, even though the Society for the Propagation of the Faith stopped classifying it as missionary in 1905. Although much had been accomplished in the Natchez diocese, as the 1911 statistics in the Official Catholic Directory showed, much more needed to be done. In some ways, the problems Natchez would face in the 20th century were similar to what it had to confront before 1911. Churches still needed to be built, finances were still shaky, and personnel still needed to be recruited. Yet, as the Mississippi Catholic Church embarked on the 20th century, different and more profound problems would arise. Such issues as fundamental changes within the church brought about by Vatican II, racism in the political and social environment of the state and nation, and the growing demands placed on the church by its members confronted those who were chosen to lead. Bishops John Gunn, Richard O. Gerow, and Joseph B. Brunini all addressed these problems each in his own way and, in so doing, changed the church within and without. How they did all of this, what specifically was done, and what legacy it left are the subject matter of Part I.