St. Mary’s Basilica’s new pastor thrilled with opportunity – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper

NATCHEZ— Reverend Aaron Williams has had a lot to do since arriving at St. Mary’s Basilica.

Not only did Williams arrive during Holy Week, which is one of the busiest times for a Catholic priest, but graduation from Cathedral Catholic School was near and he would be tasked with finding a new chief administrator for run the school next year.

He had a short window of time to introduce himself to Cathedral’s graduating class and get to know its members before addressing them at their debut last week.

However, Williams said school was one of the main things that drew him to Natchez, and he welcomed the challenge.

“Obviously, I love the beauty and the history of this church. I mean it has to be the most beautiful church in the South. But school was really the draw for me. That’s why I wanted to be here,” he said.

Williams, a Jackson native, was raised by a mother who was a devout Catholic from southern Louisiana and worked as a secretary to the Rev. David O’Connor, a former longtime St. Mary’s pastor.

“I’ve known Father O’Connor most of my life,” he said.

Williams attended Catholic schools and graduated from St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Madison. He knew from an early age, maybe 5, that he wanted to be a priest one day, he said.

“My senior year of high school, when all my classmates were applying for colleges, I applied for seminary,” he said.

He was sent to St. Joseph Seminary near Covington, Louisiana, for four years and studied for another four years at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. While there, he was dual enrolled at the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, Illinois. He holds two master’s degrees in theology and liturgical studies and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

During the seminar, Williams said he was assigned to teach 11th graders at an all-girls Catholic school in New Orleans and later taught elementary students.

“This experience helped me realize how much I love being in a school environment,” he said.

He was ordained in May 2018 and his first posting after being ordained was in Greenville. He started as an assistant and became an administrator and led a committee to hire the secondary and elementary school principals for St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville.

He was then assigned to Meridian for a few months and immediately applied to be at Natchez as soon as he heard there was an opening.

“I really wanted to be back in a school environment,” he said. “Curiously, the bishop told me that I was the only priest who had applied to take a school, that’s why I ended up here.”

When not at work, Williams said he could be seen at the gym or at football games. He is good friends with Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker.

Williams is also a professional and published organist and enjoys reading.

The shelves inside Williams’ office are covered with books he brought with him when he came to St. Mary’s three weeks ago, as well as a black and white cat named Reverend Mother.

She’s already established herself as the church cat, sitting on Williams’ lap as he works and roaming the offices at will, greeting anyone who walks through the door.

Williams said he came to St. Mary’s to preach a three-day mission in March, but first visited as a child.

“I then remember seeing the church and being amazed by it,” he said.

His first impression of St. Mary as a pastor is that it is one of the most active churches in the Diocese of Jackson.

“I think it has a lot to do with Father O’Connor being here for so long. He had time to create a solid program here that has continued.

Another thing he noticed about Natchez is that while there’s a sign pointing it out as a great place to retire at the entrance to town, it’s also full of kids. Natchez also uses old traditional Catholic practices that one might find in Louisiana but not much in Mississippi.

“There are a lot of incredible treasures here,” he said. “It’s incredible.”

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