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 clergy with d’Iberville were Recollect Father Anastase Douay and Father Bordenave, probably the first priest to officiate at Mass for a colony of white settlers in Mississippi. Father Paul du Ru was also present in Old Biloxi and built a house of worship among the Houma Indians in 1700. There Father Jacques Gravier baptized an infant, probably the first baptism in Mississippi.
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 Fort Adams, the first definite record of a Mass on Mississippi soil.
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 the outset. The ruthless Spaniards inflicted grave harm on the native people they encountered and unsuccessfully attempted to enslave and convert to Christianity.