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Walpole parish partners with damaged Mississippi church

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WALPOLE —When Dan Kelly traveled to hurricane-ravaged Pass Christian, Miss., this past October with his two daughters and fellow members of his men’s prayer group, he felt as though he was witnessing the aftermath of a “very powerful bomb.”

“The town was surrounded by barbed wire and the National Guard,”Kelly said. “There were no birds, no insects —no life at all.”

Kelly, his daughters, four men from the prayer group and Father Timothy Kelleher made the journey from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Walpole to the Biloxi diocese in hopes of reaching out to parishioners in one of the communities hit by Katrina. What they discovered was the shell of what used to be St. Paul Church, its rectory and elementary school —all of which once sat within 1,000 yards of the ocean before the storm.

The partnership between the parishes began with an idea from Kelly and his prayer group of eight men. They were eager to help victims of the hurricane, while also looking to renew the morale of Blessed Sacrament which, as other parishes, suffered in the aftermath of the abuse crisis. The group presented their idea to Father Kelleher and the remainder of the parish, and the Biloxi diocese pointed them to Pass Christian —a small town on the Gulf Coast and home to St. Paul Parish.

Kelly, Father Kelleher and the others traveled to St. Paul’s, toured the area and attended a special Mass, held for the first time since the hurricane. Father Kelleher presented the people of St. Paul’s with a San Damiano cross, blessed in Rome and Assisi, which memorializes God’s call to St. Francis to rebuild His Church.

“There were 300 people there, many of them seeing each other for the first time since the storm,”said Kelly. “There was no water and no electricity. People sat on folding chairs and sang.”

One month later, back home in their Walpole parish on Nov. 20, Kelly and the rest of the Blessed Sacrament community sat down to a Thanksgiving feast with Father Dennis Carver and parishioners Jim and Laura Currie from St. Paul’s. They shared stories of the hurricane and the devastation, and together, the two parishes pledged to renew each other through prayer, fellowship, and financial aid.

Prior to the Thanksgiving dinner, the two priests concelebrated a Mass and Father Carver delivered a poignant homily on the symbiotic renewal of both parishes, extending a hand as a partner to the community of Blessed Sacrament. During the feast, the Curries and the Blessed Sacrament delegation that traveled to Pass Christian spoke on their testimony of the storm and the aftermath.

“People were very gracious and warm,”said Kelly about the response to Father Carver and the St. Paul’s parishioners. “Many people were crying during the presentations.”

Along with the inclusion of their sister parish each week in the Prayers of the Faithful, Blessed Sacrament is launching an aggressive fundraising drive to aid the members of the Mississippi church. According to Kelly, the bishop has approved the rebuilding of St. Paul’s, whose structure miraculously still remains but is missing portions of its walls, windows, and all of its furnishings. Insurance, however, will only cover 20-30 percent of the cost of such an endeavor.

“We’re asking each family to give $250,”said Kelly, “realizing that some are able to give more and some less. The theme of the fundraiser is for everyone to put St. Paul’s on their Christmas list.”

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