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Thank goodness St. Mary damage can be repaired

Fear struck my heart last week when I heard St. Mary Basilica suffered water damage during our unusual winter storm.

That glorious, gorgeous church was known as St. Mary Cathedral when I left town to move to Ohio in 1985 for my first full-time job after college. When I returned home 30 years later, it was St. Mary Basilica.

I am not Catholic — at least not yet — but I have attended mass many times at St. Mary, mainly when I was a child growing up in Natchez. When I was only six or seven years old, I began going to church with my family’s next-door neighbors, the late Henry and Lucille Zizzi.

The Zizzis were a wonderful, retired couple and through the years became very close to my family. They were like an additional set of grandparents to the Griffey-Wall children. Their son, the late Hank Zizzi, was a teacher and coach at what was then Montebello Elementary and Junior High and taught me and coached my brother, Bubba.

Mr. Zizzi’s parents emigrated from Italy when he was a young child and they were devout Catholics. My parents were not church goers, but even at that young age, I was fascinated by the Zizzis’ Catholic faith and loved going to church with them, whether it was on Saturday late afternoons to what they called anticipated mass at Assumption Parish Catholic Church in Morgantown or on Sunday mornings to mass at St. Mary.

I became more familiar with St. Mary a little later when my Girl Scout troop had our weekly meetings in its basement.

I also attended Parkway Baptist Church and as I grew older, I was active in that church and its youth group through high school. Little did I realize then what a diverse religious education I was getting between the two churches — and I’m thankful for both.

During college and as an adult when I came home each year to visit my family here, I would always stop by St. Mary and just sit and think. For me, it’s a place of peace, calm and reflection. When I’m in that church, I feel close to my spirit. I will bet many of you understand exactly what I mean by that. One does not have to be Catholic to visit St. Mary and feel what a special place it is.

I am so thankful to learn the damage to St. Mary can be repaired and nothing of historic significance was lost. Parishers are returning to mass in St. Mary today and will continue to do so until repairs to the building close it temporarily.

To me, more than any other structure here, St. Mary represents Natchez. May she continue to offer peace and calm and refresh spirits for many years to come.

Jan Griffey is the editor and general manager of The Natchez Democrat. You can reach her at jan.griffey@natchezdemocrat.

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