REMEMBERING THE STORM: St. Paul Catholic Church was heavily damaged during tornado

Published 10:23 am Saturday, December 2, 2023

One of the victims of the Dec. 5, 1953, tornado that hit Vicksburg was a city landmark for more than 100 years.

St. Paul Catholic Church, which stood at the corner of Walnut and Crawford streets, was dedicated in October 1849.

When the tornado hit Vicksburg, the 104-year-old church was in its path and was severely damaged from the storm as it swept through the city on its trek north.

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“As I recall, there was a huge hole in the roof and there was interior damage, said Marie Renaud, who was 11 years old in 1953. “Of course, nobody was ever allowed to go in but I think around the altar there was damage.”

When the church was being demolished, she said, people could get a piece of marble from the communion rail. She said the church pews went to another church.

“Other than that, I don’t know of anything that was damaged on the inside,” she said.

According to a Vicksburg Post article written about one week after the storm, the twister damaged the roofs church and the adjacent rectory. One of the church’s priests, Father Flynn, was hearing confession when the roof above the confessional collapsed.

“There were also several parishioners in the church at the time,” according to the article. “All of them escaped injury by leaving through the sacristy door.”

The article said the altar boys’ sacristy and a meeting room in the rear of the church were demolished, and the church windows were damaged with some blown out. Also damaged was the church organ, and the balcony in the church was partially collapsed.

Because of the damage, Monsignor Daniel J. O’Beirne, St. Paul’s pastor, moved Mass to the St. Francis Xavier Academy auditorium.

“The only thing I remember vividly,” Renaud said, “we lived above a store that my Daddy had and the next morning (after the tornado) we got up and walked up the hill to go to Mass and there was no church. It was off limits; you couldn’t get in. We just never imagined the church would be damaged; it would be OK.”

She said parishioners were told there was structural damage that made the church unsafe “and that’s when they built the new church after a period of time.”
The first Mass was said in the new church on Feb. 10, 1957.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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