Category: Archive

Turkey and a trailer

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The Co. Mayo native is the pastor of Our Lady of the Gulf parish in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
The town and the immediate area surrounding the church was flattened by Hurricane Katrina.
Now, almost three months after the most devastating storm in U.S. history, Tracey’s daily work still revolves around picking up the pieces and comforting those who have lost most, if not all, of their worldly possessions.
But he will take a little time off on Thanksgiving, which, as it happens, falls just six days before the official end of the hurricane season.
Something to be thankful for, indeed.
And then there’s the trailer, which finally arrived in early November courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is now planted on what was the concrete foundation of the rectory.
It is one of several that comprise a small colony housing teachers and other parish workers.
The trailer has the essentials including a fridge, shower and a sink.
“I’ll be in my trailer for Thanksgiving,” said Fr. Tracey with a cheerfulness that is remarkable, all things considered.
“There’s not a whole lot of storage room in it, but then again I haven’t very much to store.
“We’ll be having turkey and all the trimmings on Thanksgiving Day. Plenty of trimmings,” he added with a laugh.
The Killawalla native, who has made the Mississippi Gulf Coast his home for the past three decades, will at least have plenty of company for the holiday.
“We’ve had a new batch of about forty volunteers working on reconstruction in recent days. One of our parishioners is going to feed them in the school,” said Tracey.
Tracey said that the parish community was also planning a dinner so that nobody would be left out.
“It will be very simple,” he said.
At the same time, not everybody will be at the table.
“A lot of people are not back and some of the older people won’t be coming back at all. They’ve given up. It’s day by day so this Thanksgiving will be bittersweet.”
Bittersweet, but busy. The amount of work that needs to put Tracey’s parish community back on its feet is immense, almost incalculable.
And of course the challenges faced by the parish are reflected right across the town and other nearby coastal communities that took the full brunt by Katrina.
Our Lady of the Gulf, which sits 24 feet above sea level, was hit by a 35-foot sea wave at the height of the storm.
The water level rose four feet inside the church, washed away all the pews, tore up the floor, ruined the plumbing and destroyed the electrical wiring.
The wind also tore up the church’s roof. The church clock is stopped at 4:50 a.m. — likely the precise moment when the huge wave collided with the building, which is only yards from the ocean.
“Nothing prepares you for the devastation,” Tracey said of what is still a disaster zone in the early stages of a recovery that will take years.
Part of Tracey’s day is spent as a kind of tour guide, as he shows fresh volunteers what they will be facing. Right now there are volunteers signed up all the way through to spring break next year.
“A lot of timber, lumber and debris,” is how he sums up the scene for new arrivals.
One standout moment since the storm was when Tracey met a fellow Mayoman who was working with FEMA.
“He was from the Westport area. Small world,” Tracey said.
Clearly, once Thanksgiving has past, the thoughts of this pastor will be turning to Christmas.
“We’re working on the roof of the church and hopefully it will be finished in time so that we can get inside and celebrate Christmas,” Tracey said.
If the roof is repaired in time, it will indeed be a significant triumph.
But there will be no pews for sitting and kneeling. The parishioners of Our Lady of the Gulf will have to stand for a good while yet.
But that’s what they are doing anyway; standing up in the face of tragedy that has been as near total as anyone would rightly expect in a lifetime.
“It’s important to hope, to look forward and to give thanks,” Tracey said.

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