Biloxi, Diocese of

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At the time that the diocese of Biloxi (Dioecesis Biloxiiensis ) was established in 1977, it covered 17 counties with 42 parishes, 28 schools, and 48,000 Catholics. As early as 1970 Bishop Joseph Brunini of Jackson approached Rome about creating a second diocese in mis sissippi. Brunini successfully pressed his case and in 1977, Rome created the diocese of Biloxi in the southeastern part of the state along the Gulf coast. Like Jackson, it is a suffragan see of the Archdiocese of new orleans. Its first bishop, Most Reverend Joseph L. Howze, was no stranger to Mississippi, having served as auxiliary bishop in the Jackson diocese since 1973.

Howze was the first African American bishop to head a diocese in the 20th century. Born in Daphne, Alabama, he was 53 at the time of his appointment to Biloxi. A convert to Catholicism, he earned his B.S. from Alabama State University at Montgomery, and for a time taught high school. He studied for the priesthood at Epiphany College in Newburgh, NY, the Diocesans Preparatory Seminary in Buffalo, NY, and St. Bonaventure University. Ordained for the diocese of Raleigh, NC, he served as a parish pastor for a time, and in 1973 was appointed Brunini's Auxiliary Bishop.

Serving from the beginning of the diocese in 1977 until his retirement in 2001, Howze concentrated his efforts on building up the diocese in parishes and the number of Catholics while addressing prominent issues such as the role of the laity, the growing influence of women, race, suppression of a short-lived Lefebvre movement, and the promotion of peace. Historically, the area has been the home to people of different ethnic backgrounds: French, Spanish, African Americans and more recently Asian immigrants. Bishop Howze established a parish in D'Iberville, MI for Vietnamese Catholics. Its economy and the counties covered by the diocese depend on the fishing industry, shipbuilding (the famous Ingalls Shipbuilding company), and importing/exporting. In the year 2000 the diocese spanned 11 counties with a Catholic population of 68,000 out of a total population of 737,000, 41 priests and a representative number of brothers and sisters, along with 18 schools and 44 parishes.

On May 15, 2001, Rome announced that Thomas Rodie, vicar-general of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was chosen as Howze's successor. Bishop Rodie was officially installed as the second ordinary of the diocese of Biloxi in July, 2001.

Bibliography: c. ellington, Christ: The Living Water, The Catholic Church in Mississippi. (Jackson, 1989). m. v. namorato The Catholic Church in Mississippi, 19111984 (Westport, CT, 1998).

[m. v. namorato]