Last Mass At St. Thomas Catholic Church Before Demolition

It's not the first time the members of St. Thomas Catholic Church have returned to the shattered remains of their sanctuary. Sunday, members gathered to say goodbye to their sanctuary.

"We gather together to collect our memories and to place them on the alter and say to God, Lord may your will be done," says Father Louis Lohan.

"A number of us have had our children baptized here, some or us were married here," says Paula Spears who coordinated this final mass. "This is a very special holy place and it's bitter sweet. It's wonderful to come back and it's sad to see it go."

With demolition about to begin, members returned by the hundreds to heed Father Louie's call to remember and cherish 35 years of happy and hard times in this unique structure, born from the rubble of South Mississippi's other great storm, Hurricane Camille.

"I've been here 13 years and it's tough for me," says Father Louie. "And I really can't imagine what it's like for someone who was born and raised, baptized, made first communion, got married, buried their parents through here, that this is holy ground for them."

Holy ground that they're not giving up, unlike other beach front churches that have headed for higher ground.

"I think the leap of faith is there's so much history and tradition here," says Pastoral Council Chairman Jerry Levens. "To a great extent this parish was started by retired Priests on retreat around the turn of the century along with European immigrants who settled in the community."

So despite higher insurance premiums and the and ever present threat of more storms, the people of St. Thomas chose to return as a symbol of a brighter future. Something Father Louie says they've been for more than a century.

"I dream that this church will be a light, a hope, a beam of hope for those who are out on the waters and for everybody who passes up and down on Highway 90 for years to come."