The little wooden St. Joseph's Chapel personified small-town churchgoing. Its simple architecture and quiet setting invited worship. It has been the favored marrying, baptizing, burying and christening place of choice for untold Catholics.
Beginning in 1896, the chapel played a vital role for Catholics in Bay St. Louis' Cedar Point community. This town that grew from European immigrants and first-generation Americans - French, Italian, Slavic, among them - with some Native American blood mixed in, had a strong Catholic calling.
But walking all the way to Our Lady of the Gulf Church was too much, so the chapel filled an important role. In the early days, a priest walked the four miles for Mass at St. Joe's. He'd stay with a parishioner, eat and celebrate Mass before heading back.
The chapel has a fascinating history of priests and nuns who tended to Cedar Point. They filled public school voids, particularly for black and Native American children, and helped families that got low wages for working in seafood factory.
When Hurricane Camille devastated Bay St. Louis in 1969, the chapel revived the community's spirit when word spread that as the water retreated out of the sanctuary, it lifted the statues of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother that flanked the altar and carried them to the front door. There they stood, upright and unchipped.
The little church was repaired. Through the decades, the community changed and fewer Catholics were there to attend the little chapel, although it had its loyalists and claimed a warm spot in many hearts.
In 2004, the Biloxi Catholic Diocese cited a shortage of priests and closed the chapel except for special occasions. The St. Joe's loyalists continued to take care of the chapel.
Then came Katrina. This time St. Joe's is not a hurricane survivor.
"No decision has been made yet about the property," said diocesan spokesperson Shirley Henderson.
For now, the Biloxi Diocese concentrates on communitywide recovery efforts as well as its own losses, which include at least 13 churches destroyed or badly damaged.
- KAT BERGERON