PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. — The construction of a chapel in downtown Pass Christian along with the dedication later this month of a new Holy Family Catholic Church will close a tumultuous period in the city’s and the church’s history.
A dedication ceremony for the 13,000-square-foot church will be Jan. 25, said the Rev. Mike Austin, pastor of Holy Family Parish. The chapel, under construction at the site of the former St. Paul Catholic Church, will be completed in March.
Holy Family Parish was created after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the schools and churches at both St. Thomas in Long Beach and St. Paul in Pass Christian in 2005.
Years of legal and emotional wrangling followed as St. Paul parishioners fought to rebuild at the site of the damaged church. Lawsuits and an appeal to the Vatican have been unsuccessful, and in December 2010, the remains of the beachfront church were torn down.
In the meantime, the two parishes’ schools were combined to become St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School on a campus behind Our Lady of Lourdes church. The school, after existing in a temporary location in a Long Beach skating rink, was opened four years ago.
The new Holy Family Parish was created by combining St. Paul and Our Lady of Lourdes.
St. Thomas members rebuilt their church at its original site.
The new 400-seat Holy Family church towers over the smaller Our Lady of Lourdes church where parishioners now celebrate Mass. Almost 500 feet of covered walkway link the school, the new church and the old church.
Parishioners are “very excited” about the opening of the new church sanctuary, Austin said.
Frank Schmidt, a parishioner who lives near the new church, has been watching the construction since it began in October 2012.
“It’s coming along real good,” said Schmidt, who was among the 156 plaintiffs who fought to rebuild St. Paul at its original site,
“We have a new pastor,” he said. “He is a very devoted pastor, a very knowledgeable priest the people like.”
Austin described the new church as “a real nice blend of modern and old classical.”
The church’s vaulted ceilings feature exposed oak beams towering over the oak pews. Above the altar is a wooden relief of the Holy Spirit, made in Italy. Marble medallions representing the five wounds of Christ will be inlaid into the porcelain tile floor.
“It will come together pretty fast,” said Austin as he looked over the dusty construction site last week.
“The altars are already built. They just need to be set in place.”
There will be three high altars, salvaged from a 100-year-old church in the Northeast.
The church cost $3.5 million, and $1 million will be spent to build the chapel.
Money for the construction came from “insurance money, and from the Bishop’s appeal back during Katrina,” Austin said.
Some windows and the altar from the Katrina-damaged St. Paul will go into the chapel. One of the stained-glass windows from the original St. Paul — which was destroyed by Hurricane Camille in 1969 — will be installed in the steeple of the chapel.
The chapel is a scaled-down version of that church.
“People are excited to see a chapel up there,” Austin said.
Masses will be held at the chapel Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings and daily at noon during Lent and Advent. The chapel will be available for weddings, funerals and baptisms.
Monsignor Dominick Fullam, vicar general for the Diocese of Biloxi, said Bishop Roger Morin is “hopeful that the St. Paul Chapel, which is currently under construction on Scenic Drive, will be a source of unity for all parishioners.”
The legal resolution of the issues still leaves a bitter taste for some.
“Sometimes people are closer to their church than (to) their kinfolks,” Schmidt said. “You can’t just take it off like a pair of socks and start anew.”
A final appeal is still pending at the Mississippi Supreme Court, though attorney Eric Wooten said their main goal now is to assure all donated money intended for St. Paul went to construction of the chapel.
“We feel we have been successful, because there is a chapel there where there wasn’t one three years ago,” Wooten said.
“The pre-Katrina church in Pass Christian will be remembered a long time by the parishioners in Pass Christian,” Schmidt said.
“It’s good to have a presence of a church in that part of town,” he said. “It’s better for the town than for the parish.”