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Last modified: Monday, December 5, 2005

Other churches open their doors to parishioners from St. Michaelís, damaged by the storm

Dec. 5, 2005

Despite damage to their sanctuary, worshippers at St. Michael's Chuch in Biloxii, Miss., held one service to express their faith that the church will be restored. Photo by Shirley Henderson.

Print-Quality Photo

Editors: Katrina recovery stories and photographs by IU School of Journalism students also are being distirbuted today and are available for one-time use in newspapers and at media Web sites without charge. Photographs for these stories, along with a general file of other pictures, are available at

The students retain their copyright to the stories and photos. Before publication, please e-mail Professor Carol Polsgrove at to express your understanding that the writers and photographers retain their copyright. The writers and photographers would appreciate having clips of their published work, which can be sent to Carol Polsgrove, School of Journalism, Indiana University, Ernie Pyle Hall, Bloomington, IN 47405. All of the stories can be found at


By Amanda Robert

While Hurricane Katrina conquered towering steeples, shattered stained glass windows and defied serene statues, St. Michael's Catholic Church is one church in the Diocese of Biloxi that will rise again.

According to Shirley Henderson, director of communications for the Diocese of Biloxi, 10 churches in the diocese were gutted or destroyed. Before the Aug. 29 storm sent a 38-foot surge of water through St. Michael's, it had seating for 600 parishioners. Now all of the pews have been ripped away, the 6-foot altar has been toppled and all of the statues have been broken -- except for one depicting a praying Virgin Mary. The crucifix is also still hanging where it was before.

Dubbed the "Fisherman's Church," St. Michael's sits in Point Cadet, an area of Biloxi inhabited mostly by fisherman and shrimpers. Its seashell-shaped roof and stained glass depictions of the 12 apostles, who were fishermen themselves, are still intact.

Even though the rectory and the parish hall were demolished and the church has been greatly damaged, its people are not going anywhere. Earlier in November, Bishop Thomas Rodi joined Father John J. Kelly of St. Michael's to celebrate mass inside their broken church, complete with folding chairs.

"We set up a temporary altar and it was nice to be there in spite of the structurally-damaged building," Father Kelly said recently from the rectory of Christ the King Church in Latimer, Miss., where he has temporarily relocated. "The attitude was warm and encouraging and proves the theological understanding that it's not the church, it's the people and their faith."

Faith was also celebrated in another way that Sunday, in the form of a baptism. Three month-old Landon Joseph Lancon, son of Brandee Lancon and Thomas Summerlin, was welcomed into the church. Father Kelly said that the child was a source of inspiration for the people.

"It gave us hope," said Father Kelly. "Here's a little child who is taking a step into the faith in spite of the storm. We should learn from his faith that things will work out."

Father Kelly holds weekly masses for St. Michael's parishioners at Christ the King Church. The Vietnamese Martyrs' Church in Biloxi has also welcomed the people of St. Michael's for Sunday 11 a.m. masses.

After the Vietnam War ended, many immigrants came to the coast of Mississippi to make a living through fishing. St. Michael's allowed them to have masses in their own language until they were able to build a church of their own. Now Father Kelly said that they are returning the favor.

"It's important to welcome someone into your home because you never know when they will welcome you," he said.

Like many other churches along the coast, St. Michael's will be rebuilt. In his Sept. 3 and Sept. 4 homilies just days after the hurricane swept through, Bishop Rodi said this of the diocese's plans, "I told a man, 'We will make it.' He smiled at me and replied, 'Bishop, we already have.' He was right, we have made it, now we rebuild."

Amanda Robert is a graduate student in journalism from Georgetown, Ind.