Diocese of Lake Charles
CAMERON — It’s been 63 years since Hurricane Audrey awakened the Gulf of Mexico as if it were a sleeping giant. But Norman McCall, 96, can vividly recall the deadly storm like it happened yesterday.
McCall was among those in attendance at the annual Mass to Avert Storms in Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church on June 1 — the first day of hurricane season.
Bishop Glen John Provost, celebrant for the votive Mass, was joined by pastors of Cameron churches including Rev. D.B. Thompson of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Creole and Our Lady Star of the Sea; Rev. Clyde Thomas of St. Eugene Parish in Grand Chenier; and Rev. Arvind Minz of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Hackberry.
Seeking the intercession of Our Lady Star of the Sea for protection from storms and destruction, McCall knows all too well the importance of turning to Our Blessed Mother for safekeeping. The former Grand Chenier resident lost his entire family when Audrey — one of the most devastating storms to ever strike the U.S. — roared ashore in the early morning hours of June 27, 1957.
“I lost my home. My wife drowned, my little girl drowned and my little boy. All three of them drowned,” said McCall with a tremble in his voice. He was 33 years old at the time. His wife, Phyllis Donatelli McCall, was eventually found, but his 2-year-old son Phillip Alan and 5-year-old daughter Doreen Antonia were among the nearly 200 people missing, never to be recovered.
The communities of Oak Grove, Holly Beach, Grand Chenier and Little Chenier bore the brunt of Audrey’s fury and were almost completely wiped off the map, according to an American Press report. Death tolls recorded more than 520 dead; more than 400 were killed in Cameron Parish alone.
McCall doesn’t hesitate to admit that he was mad at the world for the tremendous loss of life as well as his home.
“I had pretty well lost my faith,” he recalls, even though he had been an altar boy for many years growing up. “After the storm, I had a bad attitude, but I give credit to a nun who visited me every day for a week shortly after the storm when I was admitted to St. Patrick Hospital for double-hernia surgery.”
He tells the story this way:
“Somebody sent a rubber plant to my hospital room. A day or so after the surgery, a nun came to visit me. I think someone must have told her I was mad at the whole world. The nun asked me if she could take care of my plant while I was in the hospital, and I said yes.
“Every day she would come in with a little white bowl and a rag and she would wipe the leaves. When I was discharged a week later, I let her keep the plant. It wasn’t too long after I gave her the plant, I read an article in the Lake Charles American Press that this nun had died, with a picture of her. I was glad I gave her the plant. She came in my room every day and talked to me and convinced me my attitude was bad.”
McCall would eventually remarry Joyce Colligan on Aug. 9, 1958, and they would give life to one daughter, Phyllis Doreen, and two sons, Henry Alan (born two years to the day after Hurricane Audrey) and Joseph Kelan.
At the conclusion of the liturgy, Bishop Provost led those in attendance in procession to the Historic Shrine of Our Lady Star of the Sea in front of the church while praying the “Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Loreto.” The Shrine has been granted the privilege of inserting the invocation “Star of the Sea” into the Litany.
The Shrine plays a big part in bringing McCall, now a resident of Lake Charles, back to the area year after year for the annual Mass as he was instrumental in having the Shrine erected in 1963.
In the years following Hurricane Audrey, The Most Rev. Maurice Schexnayder, Bishop of the Lafayette Diocese, visited Cameron frequently. Noting the emotional suffering of Audrey that continued, Bishop Schexnayder would eventually commission McCall and his father-in-law, Albert Colligan to raise funds for a shrine honoring the deadly storm’s victims.
The Shrine depicts a 7-foot marble statue of a young woman with her left arm around her daughter’s shoulders as they stare out into the Gulf of Mexico. The mother and young girl greatly resemble McCall’s late wife, Phyllis and his daughter, Doreen, from a photograph provided to Enrico Randi, the sculptor.
The Shrine enjoys, with papal approval, the same spiritual privileges as would a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, one of the four major basilicas in the Eternal City.
In his homily, Bishop Provost acknowledged the people on this very spot who have shared in the Calvary of our Lord by suffering and death.
“Many at this very Shrine have pleaded with Mary, the Mother of the Church and Star of the Sea, to protect them as her children,” he said. “Graciously embrace the children of your family on the Gulf Coast. Protect us from all harm.”
Bishop Provost noted that two years ago Pope Francis added to the liturgical calendar a remembrance of Our Blessed Lady as Mother of the Church. This celebration is always to occur on the Monday after Pentecost.
“It is very appropriate that this year this observance falls on the first of June,” said Bishop Provost, “the beginning of Hurricane Season and the day traditionally when we gather at the Shrine of Our Lady Star of the Sea to plead Mary’s intercession to be spared all storms and destructive weather.”
McCall joined the dozens of others gathered around the Shrine in reciting the Prayer for Protection during Hurricane Season as the ceremony concluded, until next year.
Prayer for Protection during Hurricane Season
By The Most Reverend Maurice Schexnayder, Second Bishop of Lafayette
Written in 1957 following Hurricane Audrey
O God, Master of this passing world, hear the humble voices of your children.
The Sea of Galilee obeyed your order and returned to its former quietude; you are still the Master of land and sea.
We live in the shadow of a danger over which we have no control. The Gulf, like a provoked and angry giant, can awake from its seeming lethargy, overstep its conventional boundaries, invade our land, and spread chaos and disaster.
During this hurricane season, we turn to You, O loving Father. Spares us from past tragedies whose memories are still so vivid and whose wounds seems to refuse to heal with the passing of time. O Virgin, Star of the Sea, Our Beloved Mother, we ask you to plead with your Son in our behalf, so that spared from the calamities common to this area and animated with a true spirit of gratitude, we will walk in the footsteps of your Divine Son to reach the heavenly Jerusalem where a storm-less eternity awaits us. Amen.