Bishop William Henry Elder

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1857-1880
Born: March 22, 1819 – Baltimore
Ordained a Priest: March 29, 1846
Ordained a Bishop: May 3, 1857
Co-Adjutor Archbishop of Cincinnati – Jan. 30, 1880
Died: Oct. 31, 1904
Episcopal Motto: Faith Conquers the World

William Henry Elder, born in Baltimore, was ordained the third Bishop of Natchez in 1857. One of his first actions was to appoint Father Mathurin Grignon vicar general of the Diocese. He was a capable and energetic administrator who established a strong foundation on which the modern diocese was built.

Father Grignon, who also served as pastor of the cathedral, had come to Natchez to teach in the school established by Bishop Chanche. It was he who administered the last sacraments to Bishop Van de Velde.

Wanting to make a good impression on Bishop Elder, Father Grignon, the Sisters of Charity, and parishioners worked to improve the still unfinished interior of the cathedral, completing the woodwork and windows. By 1859, the task was completed.

Bishop Elder entrusted the running of the cathedral parish to Father Grignon while he traveled throughout the large Diocese to assist struggling parishes. At the same time, St. Mary Cathedral was also assisting missions attached to it in Grand Gulf, Port Gibson, Cedar Creek, Rodney, Fayette, Meadville, and Woodville.

D’Evereux Hall, an orphanage for boys, was opened in Natchez.

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During Bishop Elder’s administration, the Civil War consumed the nation in violence and bloodshed for four years. Known as a saintly and scholarly man, Bishop Elder wrote to his father on the eve of the Civil War: “It is hard to tell what is to be the fate of the country. I have not enough of political sagacity to see what will be the course of events, nor what would be the fruit of the remedies proposed. . . . We can all unite in praying to God to guide and protect us.” Bishop Elder ministered to soldiers and celebrated Mass for the wounded throughout the war. He also ministered to a community of freedmen formed in Natchez by slaves who fled after the city was occupied in 1863 by federal troops.

Under Union occupation, the Bishop was expelled from Natchez and imprisoned in Vidalia, Louisiana, for refusing to pray for the United States government. Although the war ended in 1865, Union troops remained in Natchez until 1876.

Expanding their educational ministry in the Diocese, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart opened a school for boys in Natchez in 1865.

During the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, the Bishop personally ministered to victims and contracted the disease himself. He survived, but six diocesan priests were among the many who perished.

Bishop Elder was named Coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1880 and would later become Archbishop there. When he arrived in Mississippi there were nine priests, 11 churches, three educational institutions, one orphanage, and a Catholic population of 10,000.

When he left Mississippi, there were 19 priests, 42 churches, 12 schools for white children, three schools for black children, and a Catholic population of 12,500. Among the parishes established during this time was St. Alphonsus in McComb.