.- For one east Biloxi parish, the New Year signifies a new beginning.
Bishop Roger Morin will re-consecrate the "Fisherman's Church," as St. Michael Church is commonly known, on Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m.
The cylindrical church with the scalloped shell roof suffered extensive wind and water damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
St. Michael pastor, Father Greg Barras, said the church building, much like the people who worship in it, is a powerful symbol of resiliency.
“The most important thing in my mind is simply the resilience of the community as is symbolized in this architecture, which is resilient to major hurricanes” said Father Barras, who was assigned to St. Michael in Jan. 2006.
“The community still exists and supports the parish. It still comes to worship. We’ve drawn a very diverse community since the storm. We’re growing more now than they were before the storm.”
Before Katrina, St. Michael had 180 registered families. Today, the parish has 300 families.
Father Barras sees the increase in membership as another powerful symbol of that resiliency.
“It is the resilience of the people,” he said. “This icon of a church draws from the casinos. We’re drawing from D’Iberville, Ocean Springs, Gulfport and Latimer. It’s a welcoming, warm community with good liturgy and good music.”
But, undoubtedly, the main draw is the building itself.
“When people walk in this space, a common comment is ‘I just feel so lifted up.’ There’s a circular energy. It does that,” Father Barras said.
The church was nearly flattened by an errant casino barge that was washed across Hwy 90 during Katrina. Luckily, the wayward barge avoided the church. However, there was no escaping Katrina’s massive tidal surge, which shattered portions of the church’s unique windows, causing extensive interior damage. Katrina also destroyed the parish hall and rectory.
When Father Barras came to St. Michael in early 2006, he said “little or nothing had been done” to the church in the way of repairs.
However, after sending out an SOS to the diocese and to volunteers, the parish was able to move back into the church the following March.
“People from all over the country helped clan up – kids, adults and elderly,” Father Barras said. “It was marvelous.”
The church’s north wing, which once housed a mechanical room, sacristy and the choir, has been converted into office and meeting space. Also added were a sacristy and restroom. Future plans include construction of a parish life center. However, Father Barras said construction of a new rectory is “a distant possibility.”
“We have to be really good stewards of our money. (Building a new rectory) is really not necessary,” said Father Barras, who currently resides at the cathedral rectory.
As he stands in the newly refurbished sanctuary and thinks about what he discovered when he arrived on the scene in 2006, Father Barras is truly awed by the transformation.
“It’s a wonderful experience of community and a wonderful experience of faith – people responding, people determined and tapping into the creativity and determination that’s here,” he said.
“It’s what church is about – dealing with life and finding God’s presence in the midst of it. No easy answers, no easy solutions, but a determination. And it’s centered on the Eucharist. That is a constant source of focusing, hope and grace.”
Printed with permission from Gulf Pine Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Biloxi.