Parish History
" The Story of St. Mary's in Jackson as told in the parish records begins in 1866, one year after the end of the War between the States. But the history of Catholicism here goes back much further, to the first Catholic known to have lived in the parish in 1820, and the first Mass in1839.

The Last of The Chickasaws
In the beginning all the territory of the Tennessee lying West of the Tennessee River, known as "The Western District," formed a part of the Chickasaw Indians' hunting grounds. As early as 1783 the State of North Carolina, which extended westward over all the former Cherokee lands and Middle Tennessee to the Tennessee River, made land-grants beyond and into the Western District. Isaac Shelby, Governor of Kentucky, and General Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans in 1814, and later president of the United States, were commissioned to deal with the Indians for opening the country to settlers.. The territory was thrown open and land sold rapidly to settlers in parcels varying in size and price, bringing from one cent per acre in the Hatchee River bottoms to several dollars in choice areas. On November 7, 1821, the new State of Tennessee formed Madison County, which comprised roughly the southeastern portion of the State lying between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers exclusive of a slightly larger area than the present Shelby County. " In August 1822 the community of Alexandria was laid out, which was renamed "Jackson" on August 17th. A public building or court house made of logs was built and for several years served as the church for all religious denominations.

" In 1832, Valentine Derry Barry, Catholic, of Bolivar, petitioned Bishop Kendrick of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to send a priest to the Catholics of this section; there were several in Bolivar and in Jackson. Results are not certain, but there are reasons to believe that nothing came of this petition immediately. This area was not part of Bishop Kendrick's diocese of Philadelphia, but of Bardstown. Priest were visiting Nashville regularly from Kentucky. Barry's request may have borne fruit for the diocese of Nashville was established five years later in 1837. By then there were 550 souls living within one mile of Jackson.

With Benefit of Clergy
The diocese was two years old when the new Ordinary, Bishop Richard Pius Miles, O.P., send Father Joseph Dominic Stokes to Ashport on the Mississippi River near Ripley. Some Catholics were working there for Mr. Connor and threatened to quit because there was no opportunity to receive the Sacraments. Thus Father Stokes was the first English-speaking priest to enter West Tennessee. On this mission Father Stokes visited Jackson and offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass here a week before it was offered for the first time in the Eugene Magevney home in Memphis. Father Stokes baptized three persons in Jackson as recorded in the baptismal book of St. Mary's Parish, Nashville. (These persons were Mary Alston, daughter of Phillip Magevney and Melvina Turney; George and James Hughes, sons of James Hughes and Martha Parham). Mission work continued into the late 1840's.

First Church Built
" Father J. K. Larkin, who styled himself the official historian of the diocese, wrote in 1906: "A Church was built in Jackson in 1849." Other sources also list this as the year. While no early deed records verify this information, the Baptismal Record reveals the fact the our parish has borne several different titles (1874) "Our Lady of Mercy" and (1885) "St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception." " In 1847 there were "six churches and three chapels in diocese" (c.f. Nashville Archives from the Propagation of the Faith, 1847, Vol. 107, Folio 1248) and Jackson is several times mentioned as one of the leading congregations in the middle 1840's. During the early part of the Forties and part of the Fifties, St. Mary's was attended from St. Peter's in Memphis. Prominent families in the congregation were three Magevney, the Hughes, and the Jenkins families. We find a church was built in 1849 and that four of these five families moved to Memphis soon after and that, in consequence, the building was disposed of. There was a financial depression in the late Forties and many families relocated to Memphis.

Growth Previous to the War
" by 1850, the population of Jackson had grown to one thousand persons. The County is said to have numbered 20,000 of which 8,000 were slaves and some 2,000 freemen. But relatively few of these were Catholics for several reasons. Most of the early settlers were from the two Carolinas and Georgia, three Protestant states, and from Virginia. Then too, slave-holding is questionable in moral theology and puts the non-slaveholder at a great competitive disadvantage. Again, the spirit that spawned a vigorous "Know-nothingism" in 1855 and 1856 contributed materially to this situation. "

War Years
" Little is known of Catholic activities in the 1850's and during the four years of the War Between the States. It is to be remembered that were no native priest. The priests were all from the North or from Ireland, a fact which added greatly to the difficulties of the war years. It is known that the railroad building of the 1850's brought in some Catholics but specific records are few. The newness of their arrival from the North and from the Old Country added to the usual hardships the citizens generally were suffering. That last was considerable both during the period of Union occupation (June 6, 1862 to June 6, 1863) and thereafter during the period of Reconstruction."

Growth After the War
" The ten years immediately following the War the population of Jackson tripled. The number of Catholics grew rapidly, notably by conversion among those of the more fortunate class. By 1871 the number of Catholic families had increased to 50."

Locations - Church Street Church
" During most of the years prior to 1869, Mass was offered in private homes. The number of the faithful were increasing. Usually homes where the Mass was offered were not large enough for the congregation. Walsh's Store was used and it was the last place for Services before moving into the improvised church on Church Street. The first known real estate purchased here by the Church was made by Father Orengo on March 16, 1969, and comprised two lots at 109 and 111 North Church Street. On the property was a 20 by 30 foot frame carpenter shop consisting of one large and one very small room. This building was immediately remodeled and converted into a Church and was ready for use by midsummer. St. Mary's Parish at this time embraced all of West Tennessee outside of Memphis. The Parish Registers contain Baptismal records from Bolivar, Bethel Springs, Purdy, Grand Junction, Humboldt, McKenzie, Brownsville and Huntingdon. The earliest existing records kept at the Parish are by Father Francis O'Brien and shows baptisms in December 1866.

Immaculate Conception Academy
" Three months after the Church Street property was purchased, the Dominican Sisters of the new St. Agnes Convent in Memphis purchased at auction the 32 acre homestead property of the late General Hayes in July 1869. An article in the Forked Deer Blade newspaper of January 7, 1888, states that this home was remodeled and became the Immaculate Conception Convent, a day and boarding school in 1871. Both girls and boys, at least small boys as day students, attended this school. Four teaching Dominican Sisters acted the faculty. Tuition at the school for ten months was from $150 up to $180 for boarding students and from $30 - $50 for day students according to their ages. The end of this infant institution came suddenly on February 27, 1873, in its second or third year. Dry leaves were being raked from the under the large oak trees and burned. A small girl helper, carrying the leaves in her apron and pouring them on the flames, caught her dress on fire. She ran into the building screaming with fright. While the Sisters and workers were endeavoring to save the child, the building caught on fire and quickly burned to the ground. After the fire, the old homestead of Judge Milton Brown was used for a while, as well as the church building on Church Street.

Trials and Tribulations - The Church Burns
" The Memphis Commercial Appeal, June 26, 1950, in its 75 Years Ago Column, stated that on the night before June 25, 1875, there was a large fire in the heart of Jackson, Tennessee, destroying "more that a solid block of buildings including the Catholic Church." This marks the end of the Church Street project. The church records were not lost though, since Father John Veale had just completed a new brick rectory at Main and Royal Streets and had the books there. Following the burning of the church, Father Veale rented Stoddert Hall for both school and church. This hall was a part of the Jackson Sun building at the southwest corner of Baltimore and Market Streets.

Father Doyle Builds a Church
" In the spring of 1876, Father Eugene Doyle finished a seven-year tenure of office as assistant at St. Mary's Cathedral in Nashville and replaced Father Veale at Jackson. Sent by Bishop Feehan to build the new church, he planned well and acted promptly. Many men of the parish worked as volunteers and constructed a building of thick brick walls with a Nave 30 by 65 feet and a transept 42 by 28 feet, separated from the Nave by a temporary wall . The former was used as a church and the latter as a school for boys. The pews used until 1950 were built in Jackson for the church and were installed some time after the building was completed. Backless benches had served for the first few years. The church lot was surrounded by a white picket fence. Gas lights had been in use about six years at that time. The gas was then distributed through wooden pipes. Electricity was not added until 1887. About the time of the erection of the church Mr. Schwab gave us a bell weighing 300 pounds. One very cold night the bell cracked and became useless. This "Mr. Schwab, donor" seems to have been the same John Schwab who died in 1899, about the time the bell lost its voice forever. This same bell lay in the church yard until it was given to the scrap drive in 1941 as America prepared for the War that seemed inevitable. "

The Scourge of Disease - Its Heroes and Heroines
" Cholera and Yellow Fever raged in Memphis in 1873, taking the lives of five priests. The latter disease reached the epidemic stage again in1878 killing twelve priests and again in 1879 killing four. Father Doyle was sent to Memphis due to the death of many priests. While he survived the epidemic of that fall, he fell a victim to the dreaded disease the following year. A new pastor, Father O'Brien came from Ireland to replace him. Father D. A. Quinn in his history of the three great epidemics in Memphis "Heroes and Heroines of Memphis", 1887, has an interesting quotation from the Chicago Journal of May, 1884, concerning Father O'Brien: " In the middle of August 1879, he was allowed a vacation which he did not enjoy. The cry of the Yellow Fever Plague brought him back to his scattered flock which was now increased by the refugees from Memphis. There was scarcely a village in Tennessee within one hundred miles of Memphis but what in a few short weeks was afflicted with the dreaded Yellow Fever. Father O'Brien's frail and delicate constitution was brought in contact with the worst features of the dreaded plague. A shot-gun quarantine was then the order of the day an was enforced, even against the priests. When all the Catholics and others accepting his ministry had been prepared for death at Grand Junction, Father O'Brien found himself quarantined, deprived of the necessities of life, and confined to the houses in which he was ministering to the sick and dying. Having boarded a passenger train, he endeavored to get back to Jackson, but the train was not allowed to stop here and had to be dashed through at the rate of 30 miles an hour or its occupants accept the compliments of a shot-gun or rifle salute. Three years later, a brother priest, Father Walsh, was stricken down with smallpox while visiting him. When it became known that the case was one of smallpox, a rigid quarantine was enforced against the house. Guards were placed at a convenient distance around it and no one, not even the physician, was permitted to enter. The medical prescriptions and other necessities were flung toward the front door and picked up by Father O'Brien or by the good old lady housekeeper, Mrs. Margaret Callaghan. Thus confined, the devoted priest had to become physician, nurse, etc. until the death of his companion. One family, that of Captain McMullen, braved quarantine regulations and visited at the bed of the dying priest, as did, also, the Dominican Sisters. The undertaker sent a casket and screw-driver, which he never reclaimed, and Father O'Brien had to act as undertaker. Captain McMullen and Mr. Cunningham assisted in digging the grave, escaping to and from the cemetery under the shades of night and in the torrents of downpouring rain. The mad rigors of the quarantine were to continue fourteen days after the death of Father Walsh. The rectory was almost entirely depleted: - "carpets, bed and bedding was almost entirely destroyed.broke and burned his stove." Father O'Brien, eighteen months later, also established Calvary Cemetery for the sum of $500.00 by the purchase of 10 acres in the "Diamond Addition" off North Royal Street in 1883.

Teachers in the School
" It is established that the Dominican Sisters left Jackson and went back to Memphis not long after the Academy burned. Two lay teachers were in charge most of 1873 and until 1875 at the Church Street location and from 1875 to 1877 at Stoddert Hall. At the end of the June term 1879, the Sisters went to the Memphis convent as usual to make their retreat and spend the summer. The Yellow Fever again became an epidemic that month and the city authorities urged all to leave who could. Several Sisters went to St. Cecilia's at Nashville and five came to Jackson and taught in a summer school. When the epidemic ceased, so many Sisters had died that the three schools in Memphis and Jackson were given up by the St. Agnes Convent. " The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia's in Nashville took over the school in the fall of 1889. At the end of the second year in September 1891, the Sisters of Mercy of St. Bernard Convent, Nashville were placed in charge of the school. In the spring of 1896, the Bishop of the Diocese, Bishop Byrne, communicated with Mother Helena of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, about taking care of St. Mary's School, but later changed his mind. " On September 8, 1900, when Mother Berchmans, R.S.M., Superior of the Mercy Sisters called on Father William Walsh, then pastor in Jackson, and it was decided that a new Order of Sisters should take over. The reason they thought this change necessary was that Mother Berchmans had found it expedient to make frequent changes in the faculty to the dissatisfaction of Father Walsh. A few days later the Sisters of St. Dominic of St. Cecilia in Nashville began their long service at St. Mary's. The girls school moved from the Brown Place soon after the remodeling of the Sharpe home in 1884. The boys moved into the church building in 1878 and remained there until 1897. The boys were taught one year and then moved into the building with the girls and co-education had come to stay.

Years of Accomplishment
" The old rectory build by Father Veale in 1874 was replaced in 1908. It had a hot air furnace and both electric and gas lights. The house was large because at that time, priests working in West Tennessee were living there and it was thought that Jackson would continue to serve as a base for priests in this part of the State outside of Memphis.

The Civic League Hospital, later known as Memorial Hospital was under construction between 1906 to 1909. The architecture was made to harmonize with that of St. Mary's rectory, then in the process of being built, for an Order of Sisters was to take over the new hospital and run it. This plan failed, however, because the Sisters would not assume the responsibility without a deed to the property and that was not agreeable to the builders. The name was changed in 1924 to Memorial Hospital. This hospital ceased operations after the opening of the new Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. The Knights of Columbus Council 1101 was chartered March 25, 1906, when the Order was only six years old. Tom O'Malley was elected first Grand Knight. "

St. Joseph, Jackson -1913
"The Last Will and Testament of Dennis Donovan, dated August 10, 1888 devised that his farm be given in charge of St. Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart of Baltimore, Maryland, in order that a Catholic mission be established for the African American people of Jackson and vicinity. Prior to the 1960's, Catholic parishes were racially segregated. In October 1913, Father Joseph J. Kelly, S.S.J., was sent to found the mission. He built a small frame building on the eight acres of land adjoinnig the city water works. Here he instructed thirty non-Catholics. The only black Catholic in Jackson was Louis Norman, the sexton at the St. Mary's. Father Kelly had these thirty prsons well prepared for baptism, but then was tranferred to Alexandria, Virginia before he could receive them into the Church. Shortly before Father Kelly's departure, the Right Reverand Thomas Sebastian Byrne, D.D., sold the land to the city and Father Kelly purchased a new site on South Market street. Father Lawrence Schaefer, S.S.J., succeeded Father Kelly in 1915, and built the combination church and school. The school enrollment was promising but after a few months it became necessary to close the school, largely because of racial prejudice. Father M.A. Donahue followed Father Schaefer in 1918, and during the influenze epidemic performed heroic services, especially for the people of St. Mary's, their pastor being sick. Father Patrick F. McConnell, S.S.J., came to St. Joseph's in August 1919. He baptized the first native parishioner born to the Faith, Joseph Jackson. Father McConnell opened the school again, securing as teachers the St. Cecilia Dominican Sisters of Nashville. Fathers John Gaffney, William Reichmeyer, Michael J. Flaherty, James V. Finnegan, Thomas J. Foley, Aloysius O'Reilly, Martin McNicholas, James Faherty, and Dominic Marchese served the mission. The pastor in 1951 was Father John J. Rawlings, S.S. J. The parish flourished until the 1960's when the Josephite Fathers withdrew from it and the priests at St. Mary's served the parish. Racial integration of the parishes had begun and the need for St. Joseph's in Jackson appeared to be lessened, so Bishop Joseph Durick of Nashville, in a letter dated November 20, 1968, officially closed the parish. (Source: Between the Rivers, pages 86 - 87.)

Church Improvements - 1950 and 1951
" A historical article on St. Mary's appearing in "Columbian" in July of 1926 made two observations: that "Jackson is talking strongly of a new St. Mary's," and that it would be a mistake indeed if the beautiful old church building was disfigured by any changes in its graceful lines. During World War II the number of parishioners increased greatly, notably because of the military personnel at the local McKellar Air Base. Due to a shortage of materials, it was impossible to build, but fund raising continued into 1948. A new parish was established at Savannah, Tennessee on July 4, 1948, removing from St. Mary's control - Hardeman, McNairy, Hardin and Decatur counties, thus leaving St. Mary's only three counties - Madison, Henderson and Chester counties. " Renovation of the old church was begun in May 1950 with the building lengthened over 38 feet. Mass was first offered on January 28, 1951 and the entire debt of $82,478.22 was paid by the end of 1951. "To all the faithful for whom St. Mary's is truly a home and a haven, that all may better love and cherish this historic parish".

Introduction by Rev. Wiley, 1951.
The following was abstracted from Between the Rivers,
The Catholic Heritage of West Tennessee,
Catholic Diocese of Memphis, 1966.

In 1965, Fr. Vincent Hines purchased the by-pass property for future expansion. In 1970, the present school, convent, and parish office were completed. In 1989, St. Mary's School began a middle school by adding the seventh and eighth grades, and making St. Mary's a K-8 school in 1990. In the Fall of 1991, the community rejoiced in their new church building and the completion of the move to the by-pass. Additional facilities for the parish and school were dedicated in the fall of 1995. The Parish presently encompasses all of Madison County.
Abstracted from St. Mary's Church, Jackson, Tennessee, "The Story of Catholicity in Jackson, Tennessee from earliest times", Rev. J. W. Wiley, McCowat-Mercer Press, Jackson, TN, 1951.

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