Diocese of Lake Charles
Surrounded by visible reminders from back-to-back hurricanes in 2020, dozens of people gathered on June 1 — the first day of the 2021 hurricane season — for the annual Mass to Avert Storms, followed by a pilgrimage to the Historic Shrine of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Cameron.
This year’s votive Mass, celebrated by Bishop Glen John Provost, took on a different format because of destruction to Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church where the Mass is usually held. Instead, the faithful gathered in the parish hall of St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in Big Lake because of extensive damage to that church from Hurricane Laura.
Bishop Provost was joined by Monsignor James Gaddy, pastor of St. Mary of the Lake Parish; Rev. Jerish George, M.O.C., administrator for Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish on the Coast; Rev. Arvind Minz, H.G.N., pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Hackberry; Rev. Clyde Thomas, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Oberlin; Very Rev. Ruben Buller, Vicar General; Father Sam Bond, Master of Ceremonies; Deacon Patrick Lapoint, Sr., director for the Apostleship of the Sea; and Deacon Dale Deshotel, St. Joan of Arc Parish.
“The people of this area and the Diocese of Lake Charles have suffered much since two hurricanes made landfall in almost the exact spot last year,” said Bishop Provost. “Some remain homeless. Others are challenged to rebuild. Despite all this, we have seen the hand of God extending His protection and strength to us.”
Among those in attendance at the Mass and visit to the Shrine were Mr. J.C. Reina, 94, and his wife Madge, 88, longtime parishioners of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Creole and residents of the Oak Grove community between Creole and Grand Chenier. Both retirees from the Cameron Parish school system, the Reinas have never thought about living anywhere else.
“Our plan is to move back to Oak Grove. That is home to me,” said Madge who is no stranger to hurricanes. “We were married in 1953 and Audrey hit in 1957. After starting over from Audrey, Rita, Ike, and now Laura and Delta, we just do what we have to do. The Blessed Mother is our guiding light, and the Holy Rosary is one of our most frequent prayers.”
Madge has deep roots to Sacred Heart, the second oldest parish in the Diocese of Lake Charles. Her grandfather Boyd Nunez was involved in the formative years of the church. “Hurricane Laura makes you face reality,” she said. “It was disappointing to learn some of the churches will not be rebuilt, but at the same time it is realistic to know we don’t have the population or the finances to keep the churches going. I am grateful that our church is going to the Sweetlake community; it’s better than no church at all.”
Mr. Guy Murphy, 81, and his wife, Nelvia, 80, also parishioners of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish have witnessed many hurricanes throughout their 60 years of marriage. What is it about the area that keeps them going back after each storm?
“Our hearts are there,” said Nelvia. “We have property there; we have cattle. My family loves farming. We have a daughter (Lisa Savoie) who is buried in Sacred Heart of Jesus Cemetery in Creole. My heart is there, too.”
A teenager at the time, Guy remembers Hurricane Audrey like it was yesterday. “We made it to the Cameron courthouse through knee-deep water. I could feel the cement walls move 2-3 inches when the waves hit against the building. We saw houses pass in front of us with people on top of the roofs,” he recalled. “After Hurricane Laura, Creole is like a ghost town. Laura tore everything up; barns, fences, cattle guard, cow pens, gone, just all gone.”
Bishop Provost reminded the faithful that God is always present to those impacted by the storms through extraordinary acts of kindness and charity offered by people across the nation.
“I recall visiting a parish in New Orleans last year who had been considerably generous to our Catholic Charities following the storms,” he said. “I thanked the pastor in the presence of some parishioners, and one of them responded, ‘We cannot forget how generous the people of your area were to us after Katrina.’ Charity binds us. Love enriches our lives. This is an important lesson that tragedy can teach us.”
At the Shrine, which was left miraculously unscathed from Hurricane Laura, Bishop Provost led those gathered in praying the “Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Loreto” followed by the Prayer for Protection during Hurricane Season. The Shrine was erected in 1963 to honor victims of Hurricane Audrey, one of the deadliest storms to ever strike the United States.