In the course of my travels as Superior General, I am frequently asked, “What do you do?” The question is a reasonable one, for the explicit duties of a Superior General are not necessarily self-evident.
A principal duty, of course, is to prepare and implement General Council meetings, which are held three times a year for a week at a time. Then there are the many canonical visitations of Sulpician institutions around the world, which are followed by the writing of official reports that are sent to the appropriate authorities, such as Provincials, Bishops, and the appropriate Dicasteries in Rome.
But one of the most enjoyable responsibilities I have as Superior General is to preach priest retreats. In this aspect of my ministry, I follow the example of several of my predecessors who regularly accepted invitations to preach retreats around the world.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of preaching a retreat for the priests of the Diocese of Jackson (Mississippi, USA). Bishop Joseph LATINO and Bishop-Emeritus William HOUCK, a Sulpician alumnus of St. Mary’s Seminary & University, also attended the retreat. The reason for this unusual invitation from the southern USA is that the first bishop of Jackson (at the time it was the Diocese of Natchez, established in 1837) was a Sulpician, John Joseph Mary CHANCHE, pss (1795-1852, portrait below).
The retreat was a wonderful experience for me, but it was also good to reconnect with some Sulpician history from the 19th century. Bishop Chanche oversaw the building of the historic St. Mary Basilica in Natchez and was instrumental in evangelizing Mississippi.
Now a lay member of the parish, Mr James GUERCIO, has taken a special interest in the history of St. Mary Basilica and its connections to Bishop Chanche. Mr Guercio, with the encouragement of his pastor, Rev David O’CONNOR, has helped revive interest in this remarkable early cathedral and enthusiastically searches high and low for any information that can enhance the history of his beloved parish.
Bishop Chanche, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, whose family was of French heritage from Haiti, had been a professor and then president of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He was named first bishop of Natchez in 1840, was consecrated a bishop in the Baltimore Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary by his Sulpician colleague Samuel ECCLESTON, pss (1801-1851), fifth Archbishop of Baltimore, and went on to evangelize and organize his new diocese with great fervor.
In 2007, when I was then Provincial of the U.S. Province of Sulpicians, I was privileged to attend the ceremony for the transfer of the remains of Bishop Chanche to the grounds of his beloved cathedral, now St. Mary Basilica in Natchez. There is now a beautiful monument and plaque to mark the multiple contributions of this remarkable Sulpician missionary.
I am most grateful to Bishop Latino, Father O’Connor, and the planning committee for the invitation to preach this retreat and to come into personal contact with this Sulpician heritage. It’s a fine example of the unexpected grace one can sometimes find in the life of a Superior General!