Biloxi landmark returns home, church members call it 'a miracle'

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Under gray skies and the threat of rain, about a dozen parishioners waited anxiously in front of St. Michael's Catholic Church Wednesday morning. They didn't want to miss a significant moment in their church's 46 year history.

"I just wanted to see St. Michael go back on his perch.  Just like seeing an old friend come back home," said long time parishioner Cynthia Powell.

St. Michael has been lying helplessly on the ground since Katrina knocked him down.  Despite the storm's powerful surge, amazingly, the statue didn't float away.

"I heard someone say that it landed in the same space that it landed during Hurricane Camille and that's a miracle.  Really a miracle.  It's meant to be there," said another parishioner, Stacey Johnston.

Their patron saint was carefully strapped in, preparing to return to his prominent post on top of the day chapel.

Suzy Senseney grew up around the corner from the church and remembered walking to mass as a child.

"Chills went through my body," Senseney said.  "I was so excited.  It's just great. I feel like I've taken this beautiful church for granted most of my life."

With arms raised and wings spread, the archangel soared once again, with help from a crane and a very cautious crew.

"If I could use a kid's term, it's awesome!" said the pastor, Father Greg Barras.  "Because what it means to me now is through all the suffering and pain and destruction, it's a sign of hope.  As you look at the church, we're boarded up, but still there's progress."

St. Michael's resilience has been tested again and again.  He didn't just survive two killer storms, he also showed vandals that they can't ruin his homecoming.

"Just Monday night, someone came and popped off the sword," said Fr. Barras.  "But luckily enough, we were able to retrieve the sword and they welded it back yesterday so we could finish this phase of the restoration.  So it's very exciting."

St. Michael is finally back where he belongs, and ready to be the protector and defender of their faith.

"He's flown off twice already in Camille and Katrina, and we just hope he stays where he is this time," Powell said.

The next phase of the construction involves repairing the church offices, sacristy, storage, and meeting space. The renovations should wrap-up in about a year.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.