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Richard Oliver Gerow Seventh Bishop of Natchez, A Biographical Sketch


Richard Oliver Gerow was the third American-born bishop to shepherd the Natchez See (later, Natchez-Jackson See). He was born in Mobile, Alabama on May 3, 1885. Gerow was one of two children and the only son born to Warren R. and Annie Skehan Gerow. His father was a Mobile native and a convert to Catholicism. Annie Skehan immigrated with her family to the United States in 1863 from North Tipperary, Ireland. Warren Gerow built floats in the Mardi Gras trade in Mobile. He died in 1894 when his son was only nine years old. Annie Gerow supported her two children by renting out small cottages and establishing a dressmaking business.

Young Richard attended Cathedral Grammar School in Mobile for his early schooling. He continued his education at McGill Institute. After graduation from McGill in 1901, he entered Mount St. Mary College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where he earned a BA degree in 1904. Following his graduation from Mount St. Mary, Gerow entered the Pontifical North American College in Rome to begin his studies for the priesthood. He earned a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree in 1909. At the Basilica of St. John Lateran on June 5 of that same year, he was ordained a priest. He celebrated his first Mass in the catacombs of Rome.

Shortly after his ordination, Gerow returned to the United States. Following a very brief assignment as temporary administrator of St. Joseph’s Church in Pensacola, he returned to Mobile. He was appointed a curate at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and pro-chancellor of the diocese of Mobile. He would later become chancellor of the diocese, and would remain in that position until he was named rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in 1920.

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Consecration of Rt. Reverend Richard O. Gerow, D.D., Bishop of Natchez at Mobile, Alabama, October 15, 1924
View image enlarged — Photograph by Erik Overbey

Credit — Erik Overbey Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama

Pope Pius XI appointed Gerow seventh bishop of Natchez on June 25, 1924. The episcopal consecration was bestowed on him the following October 15 by Bishop Edward Patrick Allen at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile. Bishop Gerow was installed as bishop of the Natchez See at St. Mary Cathedral in Natchez on November 15, 1924. He was the successor to the late Most Rev. John Edward Gunn, S. M.

Bishop Gerow’s first mass in his new diocese was celebrated in Brookhaven at St. Francis of Assisi Church on November 14, 1924. A large group of laity and clergy, including Archbishop Shaw of New Orleans, accompanied Gerow, his mother and sister from New Orleans to Brookhaven. The next day a large delegation from Natchez arrived in Brookhaven on a special train to escort the bishop and his entourage to Natchez. Many members of the Natchez clergy and laity, including prominent businessmen, were at the station when the bishop’s train arrived mid-morning. The group formed a procession to the rectory where speeches of welcome were offered. The installation ceremony, presided over by Archbishop Shaw, was held in St. Mary Cathedral at noon. Bishop Gerow told the gathering: “I am surprised how much I feel at home in Natchez. The warmth of the welcome given me by the people and the evident sincerity of the welcome have made me feel already that I am one of them. Today I give myself to God as an instrument in His hands; I give myself to you to do God’s will. Henceforth I devote myself entirely to you and your spiritual welfare. Through God I give you my life, my health, all that I am and all that I possess.” A reception in the bishop’s honor was held that evening.

Bishop Gerow served the Catholic church in Mississippi for 43 years. It was his love of his flock and humble spirit that endeared him to so many people and helped to establish a lasting trust and confidence with both the clergy and laity. His legacy included the rise of parish schools, hospitals, churches and convents over the entire state. He directed a renovation of St. Mary Cathedral in the 1930s in commemoration of the diocese’s 100th anniversary. The main emphasis in the renovation was to highlight the sanctuary area by replacing the original wood with Carrara marble. The bishop also held biannual clerical conferences and worked to establish Confraternity of Christian Doctrine programs in all parishes throughout Mississippi. In 1948 Bishop Gerow moved the episcopal see of the diocese to Jackson and later in 1956 changed the name to the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson. In 1963 Bishop Gerow ordered the desegregation of all grades in Catholic schools in order to “bring our practice into full conformity with the teaching of Christ.”

Throughout his 43 year tenure as bishop of the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson, Bishop Gerow received many accolades. Few meant as much to him as having the local council of the Knights of Columbus name their council in his honor… Knights of Columbus Bishop R. O. Gerow Council 1034. Another distinction he was especially proud of was having the Boy Scouts of America recognize his twenty years of service as the Episcopal Moderator of the National Committee on Scouting by presenting him the Silver Buffalo Award in 1954.

Bishop Gerow resigned as bishop of Natchez-Jackson on December 2, 1967. He died nine years later at the age of 91. He is buried at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson, Mississippi. His successor was Bishop Joseph Bernard Brunini.

The Mississippi Register and Wikipedia

Lithograph on stone - St. Mary Cathedral