Rodney Sacred Heart Catholic Church | Built c. 1868 in Jefferson County, MC | Relocated to Claiborne County, MS
Once located in the ghost town of Rodney, this church served the Catholic families in a Mississippi river town. They came here for guidance, solace, celebration, community, and even education- and in the late 1870s, it served as a school, too. But over the years, fires, floods, and the fallout from the Civil War relegated the town to a memory of the booming place it once was.
The church was in danger of being lost forever as she sat empty in the ghost town until plans were made to intervene and a unique plan presented that would ensure a future for this church.
Rodney: A Bustling River Town
The town where this church originally stood was founded in the early 1800s along the Mississippi River. The Rodney river landing was a busy place where cotton, goods, and passengers were loaded and unloaded every day. At its height, Rodney had a school, a post office, stores, a bank, a hotel, a doctor, a dentist, and a blacksmith shop.
A Catholic Church Is Founded
The community also built 3 churches, one of which was Sacred Heart Catholic Church. According to the church records, as early as 1844, a small group of Catholic residents in Rodney gathered to form a congregation here. For the next 20 years, they met in the homes of members, and then in a simple frame structure, until 1867 when George and Nancy Hay deeded a lot on the edge of town to build a proper chapel. Over the next year, this carpenter gothic sanctuary was erected by Patrick Murphy, an Irish immigrant, and first used in 1868.
According to Murphy’s journal, he struggled to finish building the church as funds from the small congregation were hard to raise. When the church was first used, the priest wrote: “There is nothing there but the body of the church. It is not plastered. Still we use it. It is $200 in debt.” It seems the building was eventually finished thanks to funds from the diocese and donations from a Catholic society that provided the vestments and altar hangings.
In the 1870s, the church also offered school classes to the Catholic children of Rodney but the enrollment fees became too much for residents to pay in hard financial times and the school closed by 1900.
The Town of Rodney Fades Away
But floods, fires, the fallout from the Civil War, and a shifting river brought this town to the edge of obscurity. Over time, residents moved away for better opportunities, and by the 1930s, the town of Rodney had become largely abandoned. By 1957, there were only 7 congregants left on the register at Rodney Catholic Church.
By the 1960s, the decline in church attendance led the Sacred Heart to close for good. In 1969, the Natchez-Jackson Diocese deeded the property to the Rodney Foundation, a group that was founded to try and preserve as much of the town’s history that was quickly fading away.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church Gets Another Chance
The Rodney Foundation was faced with a difficult decision on what to do with the church. Restoring it on its original site was problematic because of the isolation of the town of Rodney and because of flood waters that have threatened the structure many times over the years. So the building was donated to the State of Mississippi, and a unique solution was reached in hopes to save the church for future generations. In 1983 it was loaded and moved 25 miles away to Grand Gulf Military Park near Port Gibson, MS. Situated on a prominent hill, it was meticulously restored for use as a non-denominational chapel. Many of the original features were kept and can still be seen in the chapel today, including the wooden pews, the altar, and a gothic confessional.
In 1985, it was declared a Mississippi Historic Landmark and in 1987, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it is cared for by Grand Gulf Park which maintains a collection of original historic buildings that have been relocated here from different parts of the state.
It is the most outstanding of the few remaining examples of carpenter gothic church architecture in the state of Mississippi.
Rodney Sacred Heart Catholic, Then and Now
When famed photographer Eudora Welty visited Rodney in the 1920s and 30s, she was enamored by the town, its people, and its sense of place. Visiting often, Welty created a collection of images showcasing the condition of the town of Rodney and many of its citizens during this era. In regards to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Eudora said: “A little Catholic church tiny as a matchbox, with twin steeples carved like icing over a stile in a flowery pasture.”
People of Note at Sacred Heart Catholic Church
In 1894, the church was the setting for the christening of the future Most Reverend Bishop Charles P. Greco, Bishop of the Diocese of Alexandria (Louisiana). Charles Greco was born in Rodney to Frank and Carmela Greco. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1918 and in 1946, Greco was appointed the sixth Bishop of Alexandria. Greco was the first Mississippian to become a Roman Catholic Bishop.
During his tenure, he established 33 parishes, over 125 churches and chapels, 100 convents and rectories, and 7 healthcare facilities. In 1954, he also founded St. Mary’s Residential Training School in Clarks (later relocated to Alexandria, LA). After 27 years as bishop, Greco resigned in 1973.