LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - A Long Beach congregation that's been worshipping in an old skating rink since Hurricane Katrina, will be coming home soon.
Construction is nearly finished on the new St. Thomas Catholic Church, which is being rebuilt on its original site, right along the water front.
And church leaders are getting excited about the homecoming.
"This rectangular space will be statues of the holy family, Mary holding the child Jesus, and St. Joseph," said Father Louis Lohan, as he led a visitor on the tour of the new church building.
Father Lohan calls this construction site "holy ground".
Church members wrestled with the decision to rebuild on this same site, so close to the water.
The new St. Thomas, with its much larger sanctuary and impressive community center, is truly awe inspiring.
"I'm filled with hope. Joy. And maybe pride, which I shouldn't say. But I am. I feel very humbled by what has come about here. It's a work of art I think," said the priest.
Stained glass windows, salvaged from the old church, are eye catching focal points.
"In the evening, when the setting sun comes through there, it is absolutely glorious," said Father Lohan, pointing to the western window.
Jim Daniels, a parishioner here for more than 60 years, has taken some 4,000 pictures of the construction.
"It's an experience for me. And when people come to church here, they're going to be amazed at what they see," he said.
Church members have been watching the progress from Highway 90. Some have gotten a glimpse inside.
"When people come in, people of different committees, I love watching their faces and watching the "Ah" when they look at it," said Father Lohan.
Construction began 18 months ago, with lots of workers lending a hand.
"Probably at least 150 to 200 between all the different trades. Between iron workers, stucco, concrete, dirt, site utilities, windows, sheet rock, paint, floor," said construction supervisor, Hank Martinez.
Father Lohan said this new church not only represents a lot of hard work and sacrifice, it also symbolizes hope and new beginnings.
"This coming year will be a year of tremendous hope. I think we have been blessed so much since Hurricane Katrina. We've struggled a tremendous amount, but we've had great blessings. And I think it's going to be a really great year for us," said the smiling pastor.
St. Thomas Catholic Church in Long Beach will celebrate the new church with a dedication ceremony on Friday, February 11th.