North America

Our Lady of the Gulf: Rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina

March 07, 2007

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When I first realized the magnitude of the destruction that hurricane Katrina wrought on my hometown of Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi in 2005, one of the first things I thought about was my parish church, Our Lady of the Gulf.  We could always rebuild my house, but I couldn't imagine my church any other way than how it has looked since it was built in 1908 -- a majestic brick edifice with white columns overlooking our bay.
I suppose I have felt this attachment to my church since childhood.  I have to admit that as a kid, I spent a lot of time during Mass staring at the beautiful bright interior, with images of Jesus and the saints that left quite an impression on me.  My favorite image is one of Mary surrounded by angels on a dome above the altar.  Mary's gaze is upon our bay.  In fact, I remember having the sense that our little parish had a special connection with Mary -- as though when we left church to go our cars parked along the beach, Mary was watching over us.

And then came hurricane Katrina.  The only thing that saved Our Lady of the Gulf church from total destruction was the small bluff it sits upon, which shielded it from the worst of the nearly 30-foot high storm surge.  Katrina was strangely selective with what it destroyed:  The roof was gone, but the painted ceiling stayed intact; the doors were blown out and pews were scattered inside and out, but most of the stained glass windows were unharmed.

Not every church in the area made it.  St. Clare in neighboring Waveland completely washed away.  In all, Katrina destroyed, gutted, or flooded 20 churches in the three coastal counties of Mississippi.

For awhile after the hurricane, Mass at Our Lady of the Gulf was held next door to the church in the reception hall.  The rectory still consists of three FEMA trailers arranged around a status of St. Joseph.  However, the church was repaired in time for Easter of 2006 -- changed but yet somehow the same.  The church has been a source of comfort in a time when everything had changed so dramatically -- all within a matter of hours one day in August of 2005.

Emily Liner is a student at Georgetown University.  See images of Emily's parish church during the time of recovery post-hurricane Katrina.