By Pamela Seal, Diocese of Lake Charles
It’s been 63 years since Hurricane Audrey awakened the Gulf of Mexico as if it were a sleeping giant. But Norman McCall, 96, can vividly recall the deadly storm like it happened yesterday.
McCall was among those in attendance at the annual Mass to Avert Storms in Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Monday, June 1 — the first day of hurricane season.
Bishop Glen John Provost, celebrant for the votive Mass, was joined by pastors of Cameron churches including Rev. D. B. Thompson of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Creole and Our Lady Star of the Sea; Rev. Clyde Thomas of St. Eugene Parish in Grand Chenier; and Rev. Arvind Minz of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Hackberry.
Seeking the intercession of Our Lady Star of the Sea for protection from storms and destruction, McCall knows all too well the importance of turning to the Blessed Mother for safekeeping. The former Grand Chenier resident lost his entire family when Audrey — one of the most devastating storms to ever strike the U.S. — roared ashore in the early morning hours of June 27, 1957.
“I lost my home. My wife drowned, my little girl drowned and my little boy. All three of them drowned,” said McCall with a tremble in his voice. He was 33 years old at the time. His wife, Phyllis Donatelli McCall, was eventually found, but his 2-year-old son Phillip Alan and 5-year-old daughter Doreen Antonia were among the 191 missing, never to be recovered. The communities of Oak Grove, Holly Beach, Grand Chenier and Little Chenier bore the brunt of Audrey’s fury and were almost completely wiped off the map, according to an American Press report. Death tolls recorded more than 520 dead; more than 400 were killed in Cameron Parish alone.
McCall admits being mad at the world for the tremendous loss of life and home.
“I had pretty well lost my faith,” he recalls. “I give credit to a nun who visited me every day for a week shortly after the storm when I was admitted to St. Patrick Hospital for double-hernia surgery. She came in my room every day to wipe the leaves of a rubber plant given to me as a gift. She talked to me and convinced me I needed to change my attitude.”
At the conclusion of the liturgy, Bishop Provost led those in attendance in procession from the church to the Historic Shrine of Our Lady Star of the Sea. The Shrine plays a big part in bringing McCall back to the area year after year for the annual Mass as he was instrumental in having the Shrine erected in 1963.
In the years following Hurricane Audrey, The Most Rev. Maurice Schexnayder, Bishop of Lafayette Diocese visited Cameron frequently. Noting the emotional suffering of Audrey that continued years later, Bishop Schexnayder would eventually commission McCall and his father-in-law, Albert Colligan to raise funds for a shrine honoring the deadly storm’s victims.
The shrine depicts a 7-foot marble statue of a young woman with her left arm around her daughter’s shoulders as they stare out into the Gulf of Mexico. The mother and young girl greatly resemble McCall’s late wife, Phyllis and his daughter, Doreen, from a photograph provided to Enrico Randi, the sculptor.
In his homily, Bishop Provost acknowledged the many on this very spot who have shared in the Calvary of our Lord by suffering and death.
“Many at this very Shrine have pleaded with Mary, the Mother of the Church and Star of the Sea, to protect them as her children,” he said. “Graciously embrace the children of your family on the Gulf Coast. Protect us from all harm.”
McCall joined the dozens of others gathered around the Shrine in reciting the Hurricane Prayer as the ceremony concluded, until next year.