Ordinarily, the dedication of a new church building is cause for unbridled, unqualified celebration. Such is not the case in Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, where the circumstances surrounding the dedication of the new Our Lady By The Sea Chapel and Catholic Center are anything but ordinary
Our Lady effectively consolidates the Peninsula's two churches: Crystal Beach's St Therese of Lisieux, which was destroyed by Hurricane Ike, and Port Bolivar's Our Mother of Mercy, which survived, only to be later demolished on the orders of Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston. At 50 years of age, it had been the oldest surviving church on the storm-wracked sand-spit that is Bolivar, and it was the site of many marriages and funerals for generations of Bolivarians.
Many former parishioners of Our Mother of Mercy are none too happy. One is alleging that the new church is the product of an arch-diocesan FEMA scam. Others say that the archdiocese misapplied a $300,000 bequest a wealthy Our Mother of Mercy parishioner had left expressly for the purpose of his church's building fund. Instead of spending it where the donor - Daniel Kohlhofer, late proprietor of the Peninsula's retail hot-spot known informally as "the Big Store" -- wanted it to go, the Cardinal chose to spend it where His Eminence preferred. And that was to build a new church on the site of St Therese, which is to say, right across Highway 87 from Kohlhofer's Big Store.
Joy Simpton will not be attending the first Mass at Our Lady By The Sea.
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The septuagenarian mother of five was a pillar of Our Mother of Mercy parish, a lay member of the Carmelite order and a member of the Serra Club, a group that helps support and foster the growth of the Catholic clergy. A former DiNardo fan, she says the Cardinal personally insulted her when he publicly belittled her concerns about the destruction of her church, and she is having a hard time forgiving His Eminence for that.
She tells Hair Balls that it is ironic that DiNardo would come to dedicate the new building, when he spent months avoiding the Peninsula while feelings were frayed and emotions tattered in the wake of Ike. (Left with no functioning church, Bolivar's Catholics were forced to ride the ferry to Galveston or drive the 48 miles to Winnie for Mass, for over eight months after the storm.)
And Simpton is riding the ferry to church still. Now and for the foreseeable future, she says she will attend Mass at Sacred Heart in Galveston. "I know it's not a good Christian thing to harbor bitterness and resentment forever...But I still feel like this never should have happened. I know that life moves on and we have to let it go. Like I told [a co-parishioner] Johnny, 'The Lord said "Vengeance is mine." And then he said 'Well look what happened to Him.'"
Red this week's cover story, "No Mercy," here.