We Live to Glorify God in All We Do
The history of St. Rose Parish goes back over one hundred years.
According to the findings made by His Excellency, Most Rev. Richard O. Gerow, S.V.D., in his book “Catholicity in Mississippi”, there was an elementary Catholic religion school in “The Bay” as early as 1868 which was attended by the Colored. Possibly, the school had been operating even earlier than 1868 but there seems to be no written record about it. It was in 1868 when Father Henry LeDue, pastor of our Lady of the Gulf Church from 1859 to 1897, wrote to his Bishop that in his school for colored children there were 24 pupils.
In 1885, the sisters of St. Joseph were asked to take over the school as an addition to their main activities at St. Joseph Academy for girls. In 1886, the number of pupils at the school for Colored had grown to 85 students. From then on, through the years, the total enrollment varied but slightly from that total.
It is not recorded where the original site of this colored Catholic school was nor its name. In the early 1920’s, the school had been given the name “St. Rose School.” At that time, it had six grades and was then located at the extreme rear of Our Lady of the Gulf Church property on what is now Second Street.
In 1921, finding it too difficult to run both schools, the sisters asked that some other group take over the black school.
Shortly before 1921, the Divine Word Missionaries, having come to the United States, established a mission in Bay St. Louis; the place we know as the “Seminary” for the training of African American men to Priesthood and religious life. Since their mission was to provide a Christian education to those in need and the promotion of vocation among the African American community, the Divine Word missionaries took over the responsibility of educating the black children.
In 1921, the school was put in the care of the Divine Word Missionaries priest. Father Aloysius Heick, S.V.D., took up residence in the town but did not immediately relieve the Sisters of St. Joseph of care for the school. In 1922, Father Matthew Christmann, S.V.D., became acting principal of St. Rose School even as he was laboring to establish the local seminary. He had to constantly move between his duties at St. Rose School and his classes at the seminary. It was then that the work of the Sisters of St. Joseph among the colored children of Bay St. Louis ended and a new era began.
Fr. Francis Baltes was appointed head of the school 1923, teaching at the seminary in addition to discharging his duties as head of the school. As Bishop Gerow’s findings have shown, it was clear to Father Baltes from the start that the workload was too great for one person and petitioned a group of nuns, the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS), for help. Thus, in 1924, four nuns arrived as full-time teachers.
The school attendance jumped from 65 pupils to 155. Father Baltes decided to abandon the old St. Rose School and move to property he had acquired on Necaise Avenue.
When St. Rose de Lima High School opened its doors in 1925, it was the first high school for the Colored in Bay St. Louis as well as for the local towns and rural areas. St. Rose School was now completely separated from its former surroundings after 1925. The next year, on August 28, 1926, St. Rose de Lima Parish was made independent of Our Lady of the Gulf Parish.
St. Rose High School served a wide area and its enrollment quickly grew. More Sisters were needed and a large convent was built for them in 1927. The Bishop promised between $1,000 and $1,500 for the convent and the Divine Word Missionaries gave $3,000 for it.
On November 14, 1926, St. Rose became a fully functioning parish with the dedication of its new church by Bishop Richard O. Gerow along with eleven priests. Adding to the solemnity of the occasion, forty-two persons made their First Holy Communion in the morning and were confirmed that afternoon! St. Rose had become a reality! It is the same church we worship in today. Bishop Gerow gave $3,00 for the church, a Mrs. K. Burke gave $1,000 and the remaining sum needed was raised by a mortgage. Soon a house was bought and remodeled into a rectory which is still in use.
Father Baltes left Bay St. Louis for Jackson Mississippi in 1931. On November 27 that year, Father John Hoenderop, S.V.D. became pastor. On January 14, 1935, Father Joseph Holken, S.V.D. took his place. He put a new roof on the school, built the gymnasium, enlarged the playground, and installed a new sanitary system for the school. During his stay at St. Rose, the high school enjoyed its peak enrollments. In 1939, the number of pupils in the entire school was listed at 236. According to the St. Augustine Messenger, in 1943 the total enrollment at St. Rose was just about double that of the local public school while the difference in high school enrollments was ever greater. St. Rose High School had 51 students while the public high school in Bay St. Louis had only 19 students. St. Rose High School was on the list of approved Negro schools during Father Holken’s pastorship.
Father John Kinder, S.V.D. succeeded Father Holken. He gave to St. Rose its well-remembered marching band. Father Joseph Eckert, S.V.D. and Father Louis Nau, S.V. D. had successive charges of St. Rose School. It was Father Nau who ventured to build the new grammar school in 1955. Under his pastorship in 1954, the school’s playground was greatly enlarged by filling a ravine which cut through the school property. Running parallel with the L & N Railroad tracks and across the entire width of the school property, the ravine formerly wasted more than half of the school’s present expansive playing area.
The frame building built in 1925 stood for 34 years until, in the spring of the year 1959, it was demolished to make room for the new brick and metal high school building dedicated October 18, 1959. Only the old gymnasium has been left standing. Earlier, in 1955, the grammar grades abandoned this old frame structure for a new brick and metal building erected by Father Louis Nau, S.V.D.
In 1955, Father John W. Bowman, S.V.D. was placed in charge of St. Rose School. In the fourth year of his pastorship, work was begun on a new high school building. The architect was Jay Carroll, Associates and the contractor was J. & B. Manufacturing Co. out of Houston. The building can be described as a prefabricated steel and brick structure of modern design.
St. Rose school enjoyed another 13 years of success in providing education, both spiritually and academically, to the people of Bay St. Louis and the surrounding area.
In 1968, St. Rose, because of dwindling enrollment and financial problems, closed its doors. This action ended a great tradition of Catholic education for African Americans all along the Gulf Coast. We are thankful to God for His blessing us with the dedicated priests and sisters of The Divine Word Missionaries and The Holy Spirit Missionaries and to our founding members of St. Rose Parish for their will to sacrifice and their achievements. To all the students, parents of students and friends, we thank you for your support of our beloved St. Rose school and church.