It’s a story of faith that has lasted for centuries, put down roots in Clarksdale and celebrates its 75th anniversary September 8.
Immaculate Conception Catholic Church hosts its Platinum Jubilee next week with the congregation urging the community celebrate this milestone with them.
“People don’t know it but this church started upstairs in the Roxy Theatre,” said Christine McDaniel, a longtime parishioner. “We’ve seen a lot of changes and there have been a lot of changes in Clarksdale, too.”
The story of the Clarksdale church starts in 1940, in World War II, when a soldier by the name of Robert O’Leary found himself being bombarded, death knocking near, as he dug himself deeper and deeper into the rich, wet soil of Holland.
It was there that O’Leary would whisper up a prayer to the Virgin Mary that he would build a church in honor of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception if he was to survive the war. His prayer would be answered, but his calling would come years later.
Prior to O’Leary’s arrival, there were large black congregations of Baptists and Methodists in the Mississippi Delta, but as far as Catholics, there was only the white St. Elizabeth Church in Clarksdale.
McDaniel said the church started in 1945 and the school organized in 1947.
Church records show incredible growth through the 60s, but like most churches, attendance has tapered off.
Father Raju Macherla said they have about 30 regular attendees with from 60 to 70 coming to Mass around holy days.
“We have a very devoted group,” said Macherla. “There is a culture of faith in the Delta. My parishioners are older and this church does a very good job of taking care of each other and sharing responsibility for the work.”
He said while coronavirus has affected attendance, it has not hindered the work of the church.
Macherla, who is from India, said the Catholic Church is universal and no matter how small the parish the power to help others is immense.
“There is a unity in the Catholic Church that may not be found other places,” said Macherla. “We say the same prayers, follow the same rites and traditions. You can go into any Catholic Church throughout the world and worship.”
Agnes Mayo said she raised five children in the Catholic Church attending church events and worshiping at a time when every pew was full.
“I’ve watched this church for 35 years and this is a very special congregation,” said Mayo. “Sometimes we find things missing in our worship. I’ve always found them here.”
The church is a big supporter of the Diaper Bank, Back-To-School Blessing and has a ministry to the homeless.
A special mass will be held Sept. 6 and Sept. 8 for the church. The Sept. 8 mass will include a meal and services at 8:30 p.m.
The community is invited to attend.