The Diocese of Jackson has its origins in the establishment of the Diocese of Natchez by Pope Gregory XVI on July 28, 1837.

Bishop John Joseph Chanche, SS, arrived four years later in May 1841 as the first bishop of the Diocese. There was no church building and only a handful of missionary priests to welcome him.

From that humble beginning 175 years ago, the Diocese of Jackson has grown into a region that encompasses 65 of the state’s 82 counties. It is home to 75 parishes, 28 missions, and some 48,000 registered Catholics.

Today we celebrate the accomplishments of the people who have built the Diocese and who remain focused on the great gift and mystery of the Holy Eucharist.

As we celebrate the history of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Jackson and the state of Mississippi, we can trace its clear links to definitive milestones in the nation’s history, as well. It also tells a story of cultural and ethnic diversity that characterizes Mississippi Catholics today.

The first Masses offered in that part of the New World that would later be the state of Mississippi were probably conducted as early as 1519 by Catholic priests traveling with Spanish explorers along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

  • 1500
  • 1540
  • 1540 - Hernando DeSoto

    1540 - Hernando DeSoto

    Spanish soldiers led by Hernando DeSoto, marching across the southland in their quest for gold, entered Mississippi in 1540 and reached the banks of the Mississippi River in northwest Mississippi in 1541. This party included at least 10 priests at…

  • 1542
  • After crossing the Mississippi Hernando de Soto was struck with fever. He died on May 21, 1542

  • 1600
  • 1682
  • 1682 - First Mass

    In 1682, Rene-Robert Cavalier Sieur de la Salle descended the Mississippi as far as its mouth, claiming the entire river valley and its tributaries for France. He was accompanied by Recollect Father Zenobius Membre, who celebrated Easter Mass near present-day…

  • 1699
  • First Baptism

    The French began exploring the Gulf Coast. It was here that Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and his brother, Jean Baptiste de Bienville, established the first settlement in Mississippi in 1699 near today’s Ocean Springs, known as Old Biloxi. Among the…

  • 1700
  • 1716
  • Bienville established Fort Rosalie on the Mississippi River in 1716, and the town of Natchez developed nearby. The first Catholic church in Mississippi was built by the French on a plateau below Fort Rosalie and above the river landing at Natchez. In 1718, the French brought the first enslaved Africans to Mississippi, forever shaping the development of the state and nation. By 1722, a French Catholic parish was established.

  • 1779
  • Spanish rule began in 1779 when the Governor of Spanish Louisiana, Bernardo Galvez, drove the British from West Florida. In 1788, a Spanish church dedicated to the Holy Savior (San Salvador) was built in Natchez at the center of the city. The church’s graveyard is the lot in Natchez on which today’s St. Mary Basilica and its rectory were built.

Although the Diocese of Natchez was established in 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI, the first bishop, Thomas Heyden of Pittsburgh, declined the appointment. The new diocese embraced 47,000 square miles, encompassing the entire state of Mississippi. There was not one Catholic Church or resident priest. The last resident priest in Natchez was withdrawn in 1798 with the end of Spanish rule. It was not until 1841 that a Sulpician Father, John Joseph Chanche of Baltimore, accepted the appointment as the first Bishop.

  • 1800
  • 1837
  • Diocese of Natchez established

    The Diocese of Jackson had its origins with the establishment of the Diocese of Natchez by Pope Gregory XVI on July 28, 1837. Father Thomas Heyden of the Diocese of Pittsburgh was appointed the first bishop of the diocese in…

  • 1841
  • First Bishop

    For four years Bishop Anton Blanc of New Orleans served as administrator. Finally, Bishop John Joseph Chanche, SS, arrived in May 1841 as the first bishop of the Diocese. There was no church building and only a handful of missionary…

  • 1852
  • Bishop Chanche Dies

    In July 1852 while visiting with relatives in Maryland, Bishop Chanche contracted what is thought to have been cholera. He died and was buried in the Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore. In January 2009, he was re-interred in the grounds of…


For 124 years—1853-1977— Catholics in the state of Mississippi would be served by seven Bishops, survive war and natural disasters, respond to dramatic social and cultural changes, and enjoy significant growth.

  • 1800
  • Bones

    During his short tenure, Bishop Van deVelde moved the bones from the original Catholic Cemetery located behind St. Mary's to the City Cemetery in a section for Catholics called Old Catholic Hill. The original cemetery had become a cut through…

  • 1855
  • Bishop Van deVelde died of Yellow Fever on Nov. 13, 1855. He had come to Natchez in search of a milder climate than the one of Chicago. Unfortunatley that opened him up to mosquito born illnesses.

  • 1863
  • Port Gibson

    Port Gibson

    St. Joseph Church in Port Gibson is one of the oldest churches in the diocese in continual use. The current structure dates to 1863. This parish is one of the original 11 established by Bishop John Joseph Chanche. The beams…

  • 1880
  • In January 1880, Bishop Elder was elevated to Co-Adjutor Archbishop of Cincinnati. He remained there until his death in 1904.

  • 1888
  • Bishop Janssens became the Archbishop of New Orleans in August 1888. He remained there until his death in 1897.

  • 1894
  • The Brothers of the Sacred Heart arrived in Natchez to staff the boys school in 1894.

  • 1900
  • 1911
  • Bishop Heslin dies leaves diocese without shepherd

    Bishop Heslin died on Feb. 22, 1911. He guided the diocesan church through the turn of the century. A few weeks prior to his death while visiting churches in East Central Mississippi, he met with an unfortunate accident. Apparently according…

  • 1927
  • Mississippi River Floods

    The Mississippi River overflowed its banks and flooded hundreds of thousands of acres in the Delta.

  • 1939
  • 1945
  • 1957
  • In 1957, the Diocese of Natchez became the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson. St. Peter Church in Jackson became the Co-Cathedral.

In 1979, two years after the Diocese of Jackson was formed, William Russell Houck was named Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson. He was ordained at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by Pope John Paul II.

In 1984, Bishop Brunini announced his retirement, and William Houck was installed as the ninth Bishop of Jackson at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.

  • 1900
  • 1979
  • Bishop Houck's ordination

    Bishop William Houck was one of 27 bishops ordained by Pope John Paul II on May, 29, 1979. The ceremony lasted 4 hours. He was auxiliary bishop for the Jackson diocese from 1979-1984 when he was installed on June 6,…

  • 2000
  • 2016
  • Bishop Houck dies

    On March 9, 2016, Bishop Houck died at St. Dominic Hospital after a heart procedure. His Funeral Mass was celebrated on Thursday, March 17, by Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile. Bishop Kopacz gave the homily. His grave is in the…