South Mississippi's Catholic Population Booming

Born a Baptist and married to a Catholic, Sandy Usey of Biloxi attended and raised her kids in the Episcopal church. But a few years ago she felt a calling.

"After a while the feeling of where I belonged was the Catholic church, and I think it's been the best thing I've ever done in my life," says Usey.

It's a story she shares with a growing number of South Mississippi Catholics.

"I had bounced around from different religions, especially in the later part of my life," says Jackye Bertucci of Biloxi. "And I had always love the traditions and beautiful rituals of the Catholic church."

These two are among the multitude of new Catholics in the six South Mississippi Counties, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

"This past year in 2004 Easter we welcomed here in South Mississippi about 700 new members into the catholic church," says Bishop Thomas Rodi of the Biloxi Catholic Diocese.

South Mississippi has historically had a strong Catholic contingent, however in the past 10 years George, Stone, and Pearl River Counties have seen a near 90 percent increase in the area's Catholic population Bishop Rodi attributes the surge to a number of factors.

"We not only have people moving in from other parts of the United States, we also have and influx of immigrants from Vietnam and Mexico who tend to be catholic, says Rodi. "Also we're experiencing a number of people who have not been Catholic who wish to become members of the Catholic church."

But Rodi believes one factor trumps all others.

"We have a clear teaching about what we believe, what we stand for. A consistent teaching of being faithful to the message of Jesus Christ and I think that's attracting new members."