Priest makes Hurricane Katrina damage into cross

Published 12:26 am Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Olive Branch priest selected chunks of glass ripped from a church by Hurricane Katrina and turned what was a mess into a masterpiece.

The Rev. Bruce Cheney worked a year to create a stained-glass cross for Holy Cross Episcopal Church’s building. Using pieces from windows broken at Christ Episcopal Church in Bay St. Louis during the storm, Cheney didn’t just place colorful glass into an eye-catching pattern.

He told a story with the glass.

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One section of blue glass symbolizes the surge. Nine red pieces — three circular, three rectangular and then three more circular ones — reflect the international Morse code distress signal of dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot.

Silvery-white chunks arranged in a swirl represent the hurricane. More blue glass represents sky, and at the top, using yellow-orange pieces, Cheney made a cross.

“When you are ’on the water’ the compass is your direction, helping to guide the mariner to port, to safety,” Cheney said. “The compass guides one to God — to Christ and to safety.”

The pieces of faceted glass were set in a bed of epoxy and sand. After it set, the church of about 130 members framed the cross and inserted it into the wall of the church facing Miss. Highway 178.

Cheney sympathized with victims when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 2005.

It had not been long since he’d elected to go into the ministry after retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard. He had seen firsthand the destructive power of hurricanes.

“You’d skirt it,” he recalled of the Coast Guard’s approach to hurricanes. “The ones I remember the most are the ones that came when I was in Delaware. We would end up responding to all the oil spills … our own facility was flooded.”

Not long after the hurricane, Cheney and his wife went to Bay St. Louis. At the time, an acquaintance was a priest at Christ Episcopal.

Nothing was left standing of the church, built in the late 1890s, except the bell tower.

The hurricane had broken a large stained-glass window behind the altar and several smaller colorful windows.

Cheney took four to five containers of the “slab glass,” thick chunks, home to Olive Branch. Having done leaded-glass projects before, he had in mind to work with faceted glass for the first time.

“They scoured this five-acre site and came up with this glass,” Cheney said. “It’s so heavy when it broke, it stayed onsite.”

Cheney primarily set the pieces as they had been broken. He didn’t re-break them.

Cheney used about 120 chunks to make the cross.

During a recent visit, a bishop noted that pieces of the Episcopal diocese’s southernmost church now are part of the diocese’s northernmost church.

“It brings us closer as a community in Christ throughout the entire state,” said Darlene McGrata, who with fellow Holy Cross member David Howell assisted Cheney in making the cross.

Cheney still has pieces left over from the buckets of colored glass taken from the Bay St. Louis church site.

“I would like to make some smaller crosses,” he said.