The Church of the Annunciation is the oldest Catholic Church in northeast Mississippi. The cornerstone was laid on May 4, 1863, marking the beginning of a ministry that once covered 12,000 square miles from Corinth to Meridian. The Parish now serves many Catholic families residing in The Golden Triangle Area as well as East Alabama.
The history of Annunciation Parish predates the laying of the cornerstone, however. Records show that Bishop Henry Elder baptized two Columbus infants on October 6, 1857, before a handful of Catholics gathered in a private home.
The first pastor was Father J. B. Mouton, a French missionary, who envisioned a grand church in the Gothic design of Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Construction was begun, but the chaos of the Civil War and Reconstruction delayed completion of the project for almost 15 years. By that time mortar between the handmade bricks had crumbled and formed a ring of red dust around the base of the church. The walls were then reinforced with stucco and painted gray. Originally the Annunciation Church was built at ground level. It is not known in what year the floor was raised to protect it from water damage since early descriptions of the site noted it was "swampy." Still, the elevated floor does not seriously diminish the Gothic proportions of the church's interior. A series of arches rise 40 feet to form a ceiling that is painted with stars. At the top near the altar can be seen a medallion-like cluster of angels and a dove representing the Holy Spirit. From this point hangs the sanctuary lamp. Once it fell without injury to anyone and has been replaced. Statues of the saints were donated by parishioners to be placed upon wall brackets surrounding the main altar. The statue of St. Patrick was a gift from Irish travelers from the McNally, Sherlock and Gorman families who were passing through Columbus in 1954.
The high altar was carved from wood by a monk from St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. It features a trim of an alternating cross and shamrock design. During one of three major renovations over the past century, original scaffolding was uncovered beneath the altar. Most of the beautiful Jacoby stained glass windows depicting events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary were installed sometime between 1908 and 1923. Three arched openings behind the main altar were painted with beautiful frescoes. The frescoes were painted over during subsequent redecorations and are now stenciled with a pattern of fleur de lis as a symbol of Mary. There was a grotto on the east side of the church that was the work of a monk from St. Bernard Abbey, Father Damian Gusmus. He served as the pastor at Annunciation from 1952 to 1961. Like the church, it was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A renovation was carried out to mark the Centennial Anniversary Celebration on May 12, 1963. Jeremiah Harnett, the pastor, had met a traveling artist, Joseph Kadich, from Trieste, Italy. He dedicated his life to painting churches and he used the color scheme of umber, blue, and gold. At that time globe light fixtures on the marbleized columns were replaced with elongated lanterns. Seating capacity was increased to 200 by removal of a vestibule and replacement of the original wooden stairway to the choir loft and adding more pews. The antique curving altar rail, made of wrought iron, was straightened and its "squeaky" gates removed. A central heating and air conditioning system was installed, along with a new confessional and pulpit.
The opening of St. Mary’s Elementary School as the congregation's Centennial gift to the Parish was a most remarkable undertaking. The school was the first parochial school in northeast Mississippi which has now been renamed Annunciation Catholic School. Under the leadership of our priest, Father Jeffrey Waldrep, who was assigned in 2017, the school has begun its Phase 1 Expansion which includes the Construction of a new classroom facility with 6 classrooms, a library, technology lab, science lab and administrative area.
Annunciation Church sustained moderate damage during a tornado in October of 1992. Many shingles were blown off and 20 feet of wood framing on the west side was damaged. Roofers found that the shingles were laid on top of old wooden shingles, and there was evidence of more than one earlier roof. The force of the tornado did not uproot the 300 pound Gothic cross bolted to the pinnacle of the church façade. However, careful inspection showed that the thick layers of very old cypress were in need of repair. Donations from parishioners made possible restoration of the Gothic cross, which was encased in fiberglass to prolong its life.
Father Gerard Hurley, who came to Columbus in January of 1993, supervised the planning and construction of a new sanctuary which is now located next to the historic one. Also patterned after Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, the new sanctuary was dedicated in December, 2000, and seats over 500 people.
In January of 2005, Father Robert Dore was assigned as pastor of Annunciation - now a growing parish serving more than 400 families. There are many organizations and ministries in the parish that are supported by talented and hardworking volunteers. In 2009 application was made for Mississippi Historic Landmark status and was received. After forming the Friends of Annunciation and receiving 501(c) 3 non-profit status, a historic restoration of the little church was begun with grant money from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History designated for drainage and a new roof. The total restoration was completed in 2014 with a parish-wide celebration and a mass and blessing by our new bishop, Joseph Kopacz. The beautiful historic church is now used as our Chapel for small weddings and baptisms, daily mass, Adoration, and Stations of the Cross during Lent.
If you are ever visiting our area, please take time to attend mass or schedule a tour of our special Annunciation Catholic Church and Chapel.