Mississippi and Southern Catholicism
Whether in the newspapers, on the radio or television, or in everyday conversations, "Thank God for Mississippi" is an often used expression. Typically, it is expressed in a context that can be considered derogatory or even insulting to the people of Mississippi. The idea behind it is simple. Mississippi is mistakenly perceived to be a backward state that invariably is at the bottom of everything, be it per capita income, population size, or whatever else the individual using the expression is referring to. Being last, it is assumed, means that Mississippi is the worst at whatever people are talking about. Such a stereotype often goes to extremes. One such example is the joke that calls for selling the state of Mississippi in order to pay off America's national debt. According to the supposed laugh, who would miss Mississippi anyway? To the people of Mississippi, of course, the joke is not funny, nor is the stereotype that prevails true. In fact, in many respects, Mississippi suffers from a mistaken public image that actually hurts it politically, economically, and socially. Even Mississippi politicians are aware of this and are more sensitive to letting people know just how much good there is about the state and its people.
In 1996, this author gave a paper at a professional historical meeting on the Mississippi Catholic Church and the New Deal. The commentator, in assessing what the paper offered, concluded the session by saying that, in light of the topic just discussed, he expected that I would give a paper the following year on Hindus in Montana. The remark caused everyone to laugh, and the session ended on a friendly note. Yet, that remark typified not only what people generally still think about Mississippi but also what they perceive as the Catholic Church in Mississippi. For some, the question is not what the Mississippi Catholic Church has done, but rather, are there even Catholics living in Mississippi? 1
If nothing else, this study has demonstrated beyond a doubt, hopefully, that there is a Catholic Church in Mississippi, that it has been around for quite some time, and that it is actually growing and doing quite well. More important, the question that