PORT ARTHUR, Texas — On Sunday, Bishop Curtis Guillory held a rededication Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Port Arthur — the final church in the Diocese of Beaumont, which spans 33 cites in Southeast Texas, to re-open after Tropical Storm Harvey.
“We had about a foot and a half of water in the sanctuary, 4 feet in the school, Every building flooded, even the rectory where I live,” said Father Kevin Badeaux, pastor at St. Joseph.
The Beaumont Enterprise reports all traces of damage from the August 2017 storm are erased, with new tile flooring, fresh white paint and golden accents added to familiar fixtures.
One recurring comment was the “lightness” and “brightness” of the chapel, which was built in the 1970s and had boasted a much darker color scheme since.
A local artist repainted the stations of the cross, and the children’s chapel is now home to a vivid portrait of the Infant Jesus, as well as an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restroom.
“Our old pews were warped, so these are all new — solid oak,” Badeaux said before Sunday’s Mass.
The benches in the sanctuary were rearranged slightly to allow for more wheelchair-accessible seating and a space for the choir to the left of the altar.
The crucifix was outfitted with a new base — a gilded depiction of the empty tomb of Jesus — and the adoration chapel was refinished.
A few volunteering parishioners and the Knights of Columbus, who made a significant donation to the church’s restoration efforts, walked about the chapel early Sunday morning, preparing for the arrival of the bishop as the band members tuned their instruments and adjusted their music stands.
(The Knights of Columbus are a principal sponsor of Crux.)
One such parishioner, Nilda Ramirez, took a moment from going over the songs she would sing with the band to discuss what it was like when her house and her spiritual home were both flooded.
“It’s challenging, not being in your home and trying to serve your community,” Ramirez said. “Challenging, but not impossible.”
Ramirez, who is now back in her Port Arthur home, lost everything but her house in the flood.
“I had to throw everything I owned away. It was heartbreaking,” she said. “But some of our church community are still out of their homes now.”
Ramirez said the shared experience of loss and tragedy brought the community together and fortified her faith in God. Even though they did not have their own place of worship, they were together — working to help bring solace and supplies to a community devastated by tragedy.
The parish was welcomed by St. James Parish after the storm. Badeaux lived there until the rectory at St. Joseph was repaired.
“We hold five services over the weekend — two in Spanish and three in English, and they let us use their chapel. They were very kind,” Badeaux said.
“I like to say we were trying to do three things at once. We were trying to recover ourselves, trying to help the community recover, and then maintaining our regular ministry. It was a lot.”
Around Easter of 2018 the St. Joseph congregation was able to move back onto their own property, holding Mass in Cody Hall behind the sanctuary.
It was not until December that Badeaux was able to once again give a sermon surrounded by the prismatic stained-glass windows that encircle St. Joseph’s sanctuary.
“It’s great to be home,” he said, smiling.
There have been many changes to the church, including a baptismal well that now looks as if water flows from a gilded seashell into a stone pond.
For Alfredo Garcia, one new addition to his church stirs a well of emotion.
Standing in the new day chapel that he, his wife and sons built for their parish, Garcia, with his voice catching in his throat, spoke of the tabernacle that will now hold the holy sacraments at the church he and his family attend.
“I have this happy feeling here,” he said, gesturing to his chest. “In my heart, I cannot explain.”
The small church’s new altar was anointed by Guillory after the Holy Eucharist. Garcia then wiped it down before the cloth was placed on it.
Usually reserved for the first Mass in a newly built church, the rite of dedication was altered slightly for the Sunday morning proceedings.
The altar in the main chapel of St. Joseph was not damaged, and did not need to be re-anointed, but Guillory thought it important to re-establish the sanctity of the church after the massive renovations. He blessed and anointed the sanctuary walls and fixtures with holy water, which served both as a sign of repentance and as a reminder of one’s baptism.
“It’s really the essence of a dedication, in that Harvey was so traumatic, and this church is the center of the faith community, and they’ve come through it, too,” Guillory said. “It’s a sign of the presence of God in times of tragedy, as well as in times of joy.”