The Catholic Diocese of Natchez was established in 1837 and included the entire state of Mississippi. In 1977, the Diocese was divided into the Diocese of Biloxi, which serves 17 southernmost counties of the state, and the Diocese of Jackson, which serves the 65 remaining counties.
Today, Catholic Charities serves the 65 counties of the Diocese of Jackson with headquarters in Jackson.
From its very early years, the Catholic Church in Mississippi sought to serve the disadvantaged and those unable to care for themselves. In the mid 1850s, the Diocese established two orphanages in Natchez to serve homeless children, St. Marys Orphanage Asylum for girls and DEvereaux Hall for boys.
These two orphanages continued serving Mississippi children of all faiths from the mid 1850s until the early 1960s. It is from these two orphanages that Catholic Charities traces its beginnings. In the 1950s and 1960s, the national trend moved away from placing children in traditional institutions, such as orphanages, and toward placing them with individual foster families. It was felt that individual foster families could better provide children with a necessary family environment. The two orphanages closed their doors in the early 1960s and Catholic Charities today continues the work they had conducted for over 100 years. However, the orphanages still legally exist and the endowments and income from those two orphanages continue to help support the childrens programs of Catholic Charities.
In the early 1960s, Bishop Richard R. Gerow and his auxiliary, Bishop Joseph Brunini, decided to establish a Catholic social service agency to continue the work begun by the orphanage. Catholic Charities, Inc. received its charter of incorporation from the state of Mississippi in October of 1963. Although its first purpose was to continue the work of the two orphanages, from the beginning its scope was broader than just homeless children. Its purposes as stated in its charter of incorporation are to engage in works of charity of every description. While Catholic Charities continues to serve homeless children, its services reach much further.
Early in its history, Catholic Charities reached out to serve other needs of Mississippians. It not only provided foster care for those children who had been cared for at the orphanages, but it also provided maternity care for unwed mothers and adoption services. Soon it expanded to include emergency assistance and marriage and family counseling.
Its founding executive director, Msgr. Edward Michelin, who served in that capacity until 1973, undertook one of the most ambitious efforts in the early history of Catholic Charities. Msgr. Michelin undertook the construction of housing for the elderly and for low-income families. Catholic Charities and the Catholic Diocese of Jackson were the first sponsors of federally subsidized housing in Mississippi.
Through the efforts of Msgr. Michelin, low-income housing was built in Greenville (Southside Garden Apartments and Northland Village), Leland (Deer Creek Apartments), and Canton (Canton Garden Apartments). Housing for the elderly was built in Jackson (Madonna Manor Apartments), Ocean Springs (Villa Maria Apartments), and Biloxi (Santa Maria Apartments). Over 1,000 units of housing were built. With the exception of those apartments in the Diocese of Biloxi, all these housing developments continue to offer low-income housing.
Over the years, the agency has continued to expand its services and serve Mississippians in new ways. Today, some of the services and programs include maternity care for unwed mothers, including foster care for emotionally disturbed children and refugee children. At any given time, there are approximately 80 children in foster care at Catholic Charities.
Other services include Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, Hope Haven Home Based and Residential Services, two Domestic Violence Centers, two Rape Crisis Centers, Emergency Assistance, Family Life Ministry, family counseling, refugee resettlement and social services, Children’s Mental Health programs, legal aid for immigrants, housing for low-income families and elderly, and branch offices in Natchez and Vardaman.