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Re-Interment of Bishop Chanche

Cathedral, Natchez, Mississippi

To Bishop Joseph Latino I am deeply grateful for the invitation to preach on this occasion and for attending to the details associated with my coming to Natchez.

Thanks also to Mr. Michael Ruck and his staff. When Bishop Latino wrote about the possibility of bringing Bishop Chanche back here for burial, I immediately turned to Mr. Ruck for assistance, and he responded magnificently. The Holy Father, in creating new cardinals, did pose a difficulty, but Bishop Latino helped solve the problem.

Bishop John Joseph Chanche was born in Baltimore on October 4, 1795, nearly six years after the establishment of the first American diocese. His parents moved to Baltimore from what is now Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

John Chanche had reason to know the first three archbishops of Baltimore: Archbishop John Carroll enrolled him in the ranks of the clergy by giving him tonsure in 1810; Archbishop Leonard Neale, who had served for 15 years as the coadjutor to Archbishop Carroll, conferred the Minor Orders on him around 1813; and his brother Sulpician, Archbishop Ambrose Marechal, ordained him a priest on June 7, 1819.

John Chanche saw the first Cathedral of our nation rise in the Church dedicated to Our Lady’s Assumption, a reminder of the 15th day in August, 1890, when John Carroll was ordained a bishop in Lulworth Castle, England. (Like this Basilica of St. Mary’s, the cathedral came to be declared a basilica. This happened in 1937, under the administration of Archbishop Curley.) In the early days of the U.S., John Carroll’s cousin, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, died at Doughoregan Manor, and Father John Chanche was at his side, to administer the Sacraments of the Church.

Like Jeremiah in the First Reading, John Joseph Chanche shrank from being put over others. He could not plead youth as an excuse, as did Jeremiah. He told his brother bishops to not recommend him as coadjutor archbishop of Baltimore and as coadjutor bishop of Boston and New York. Finally, the pressure on him was so great that he accepted the call to Natchez, one of the earliest dioceses in the United States to be made a titular see. (The present titular bishop of Natchez is the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileoné, Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego.)

On December 15, 1840, Pope Gregory XVI named him Bishop of Natchez and in February, 1841, he received from Rome the papal bulls officially appointing him to this see. Baltimore comes in again, inasmuch as he was ordained a bishop by Archbishop Eccleston, the Sulpician-trained priest who had preceded him as President of St. Mary’s College, the first seminary in our country. The archbishop was assisted by Bishop Fenwick of Boston, who earlier had urged him to accept nomination as coadjutor archbishop of Baltimore, and Bishop Hughes of New York, himself a graduate of Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg.

In his ministry here in Natchez, Bishop Chanche lived out the words of the Second Reading today. He “tended the flock of God”… “overseeing it not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.” Bishop Chanche took to heart the words of the Apostle: “Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock.”

As Bishop Chanche struggled with the debt incurred in building this Church, he found his Calvary, his meeting with the cross of Jesus. And yet, while burdened with the Cathedral debt, he managed to found a number of churches and mission posts.

The whole Catholic Church suffered a loss in the death of Pope Gregory XVI, who died in July, 1846, on the very day that the chalice sent by him for the Diocese of Natchez, was brought by Bishop Odin, of Texas, later Bishop of Galveston and Archbishop of New Orleans.

Bishop Chance earnestly tried to fulfill the mandate of today’s Gospel passage: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The harvest is good, but the laborers are scarce. Beg the harvest master to send out laborers to gather his harvest.’”

 In Europe and in our own country, the bishop pleaded with other bishops and with the heads of religious communities to send priests. He ordained a number of priests also for the Diocese of Natchez, beginning in 1850, when he ordained, on January 30, “two priests, a deacon and two subdeacons … May it be the commencement of better things.” (Letter to Bishop Blanc of New Orleans, p. 91)

On April 3 of the same year, 1850, he ordained two more priests and two years later, on March 27, he added by ordination, three to the number of priests in the diocese.

Writes Bishop Gerow in <EM>Cradle Days</EM>: “He had intensely at heart the spiritual welfare of the Colored people of his jurisdiction. In 1842 he caused to be held a mission for the special benefit of the Colored people. At first, only two or three persons attended the instruction; but this did not discourage Father Francois, who conducted the mission, and soon his audience increased to sixty; and among the first fruits of this truly charitable work may be mentioned the conversion and baptism of fifteen adults.” (p.91)

Meanwhile, the Church in the United States was going forward. Bishop Chanche, who had the title of Promotor at three Provincial Councils, was named the Chief Promotor at the First Plenary Council of Baltimore. Shortly after that Council, the Lord called him home.

Bishop Gerow summed up others when he wrote of him: Bishop Chanche’s “fine appearance, dignified carriage and devout manner added much to the effect of the ceremonies in which he participated. At his Cathedral in Natchez he took care to present to the people the solemn services of the Church with all the imposing ceremony and grandeur in his power, and he united with the Church at large on all occasions of those celebrations which are so beautifully expressive either of her joys or of her sorrows.”

Bishop Latino has organized just such an occasion for us, and we must enter into it with all our heart. Shortly, in the Eucharist, under forms of bread and wine, Jesus will come among us, suffering, rising, and ascending to heaven. May we take advantage of that moment, be spiritually absorbed in it, and so make the very most of this Holy Eucharist.