Bishop Morin’s chalice and New Orleans: Better than ever

The irony is not lost on Biloxi Bishop Roger Morin.

With 80 percent of New Orleans submerged in the days following Hurricane Katrina, the then-auxiliary bishop of New Orleans was informed during a disaster recovery meeting in Baton Rouge that his residence on South Carrollton Avenue across from Notre Dame Seminary was burning to the ground.

 “Somebody came into the meeting and said, ‘CNN is showing your house going up in flames,’” Bishop Morin recalled last week from his office in Biloxi. “I’ve never seen the film to this day.”

No one could determine the exact cause of the fire – people were seen two days after the storm on the front porch, going in and out of his house – but the results of the blaze were not open to debate.

When the two-story residence collapsed in the inferno, the mud pit that remained swallowed up most of Bishop Morin’s earthly possessions. The most sentimental loss was the sterling silver, gold-plated chalice that family friends had given him for his ordination to
the priesthood in 1971.

In the weeks after Katrina, Bishop Morin raked through the ruins but found only a couple of small figurines, a Waterford crystal paperweight sculpted in the form of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and a few pages of his extensive stamp collection. His chalice, which he stored in his residence’s chapel, was nowhere to be found.

Although Bishop Morin had given up any hope of finding it, several seminarians kept poking in the ashes around the spot where they believed the chapel would have collapsed into the mud. What they stumbled on was the chalice and paten, “burnt, corroded and bent out of shape.”

“It seemed beyond repair,” Bishop Morin said.

Bishop Morin asked a religious articles store in Baton Rouge if the sacred vessels could be salvaged, and the store shipped it off to CM Almy, which specializes in chalice restoration.

When Bishop Morin got the chalice back a few months later, it not only was pristinely restored, but an anonymous benefactor had paid for the painstaking work.

“I’ve never to this day found out who had underwritten the expense,” Bishop Morin said.

“I would use that chalice for Mass when volunteers would come to New Orleans for recovery work. I would explain to the volunteers that the chalice had been severely damaged and bent out of shape -- as if something had fallen on it -- just as all of our hopes and aspirations had been for New Orleans. I could show them that the chalice was not only as good as it was before the storm -- it was even better!"

Bishop Morin said his Katrina losses do not compare to so many other stories he heard in the shelters.

“There were people who had a lot more to cope with,” he said. “I was immediately provided with a place to live. I was deeply touched by the faith of the people who had survived the storm. Even in those early days after the storm, people were able to say those words: ‘Thank God I am still here. Thank God my life was spared.’ I learned by listening to other people telling me they were counting their blessings. I had to count my own.”

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