As the SCJs extended their ministry into the towns across Northern Mississippi, the parishes of those early years had their beginnings in private homes, storefronts, dance studios, gas stations and car auction barns, in churches abandoned by other denominations, even a courthouse.
Small but active parish groups held bake sales and raffles to raise funds for hoped for “real” churches while Catholics continued to travel many miles and long hours to attend Sunday Mass. Land was donated by individual parishioners in anticipation of the day there would be enough money to build. Gradually, more SCJs were sent to pastor the small but growing flocks.
Sacred Heart Church in Walls was established in 1944. Funds were provided by the Catholic Extension Society, the Priests of the Sacred Heart and the small group of Catholics in the area. Because it was war time, permission to build had to be obtained from the War Production Board and on November 26, 1944 Bishop Gerow dedicated it to the Sacred Heart. Walls became the headquarters for the work of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in Mississippi. Sacred Heart became the “mother church” for the missions established in other towns in DeSoto County as well as in Tate and later, Tunica Counties.
Queen of Peace congregation in Olive Branch was founded in 1955. Mass was celebrated first in private homes, then in a 2nd floor dance studio next to a funeral home (which unlike the dance studio, had chairs!). One long time parishioner described the weekly arrangement for Sunday Mass.
“We set up every Saturday afternoon after the dancers’ last class. We borrowed the chairs, hauled them up the outside staircase, and rolled out the altar some of the men had built. After Mass, everyone just picked up their chair and returned it to the funeral home.” Several years later the Queen of Peace Congregation had to move again, and in 1965, Mass was celebrated in a former gas station. Finally, in 1974, ground was broken for a real church in Olive Branch and in 1975 it was completed.
Holy Spirit parish in Hernando started as a mission of Sacred Heart Church in Walls. At first there were 9 or 10 families who met in homes for Mass until they were given the use of a vacant Episcopal Church. That church burned in 1959, so Mass was celebrated in a courtroom until land was purchased to build a permanent church. A parishioner explains, “The Episcopal Church was a beautiful little church with 12 pews and no statues, really a pretty little church with a lot of character. The Court House was just a court room. But, it had a railing and we did have pews. We knelt on the floor. We were happy to have that while our first real Catholic church was being built by Sacred Heart Southern Missions.”
Catholics were little understood by the Protestant majority so in 1961 men of Holy Spirit parish went door to door to let people know about the church and to give them a chance to meet real honest-to-goodness Catholics and invited everyone to come to Midnight Mass. As it happened, a brutal ice storm closed roads for miles around on Christmas Eve and since most of the Catholics lived well outside the town of Hernando they could not get to Midnight Mass. But the building was almost full anyway with the invited town-dwelling non-Catholics. That was the beginning of a tradition of cooperation among the Christian churches in Hernando.
Christ the King parish in Southaven started life in a car auction barn in 1966 until the first Church was built on Stateline Road in 1969. In the 1990s the congregation had greatly outgrown that facility and the present church was built on Church Road.