Alderman-at-Large Chipper McDermott has been leading the Blessing of the Fleet in addition to the Seafood Festival for the past several years. He is also co-Captain with the St. Paddy's Parade -- Krewe of Blarney.
Blessing the Fleet
Blessing the Fleet
Sunday, April 24, 2005
The Blessings have their historical origins since 1937 as reported in a former Pass Christian newspaper, the "Tarpon-Beacon."
"For the first time in the history of fishing here, the shrimp fleet will be blessed Sunday by Father Hayes, who recently was appointed to take the place of Father Leech. At this writing about 75 trawlers are here, many more are expected before Sunday. On account of the large number of boats it is presumed Father Hayes will bless them as a group, however, this has not been fully decided.
The Blessings continued for about 20 years, thereafter, however, they were held intermittently during the next 20 years. Because of the drowning death of Frank Daley, Jr., while shrimping on Nov 9, 1954, the Daley Trophy was instituted as a perpetual memorial, but over time this dedicatory tradition was lost.
Through the Pass Chamber of Commerce which the Fleet Blessings were once more observed beginning in 1977. Ed Alley, then Chief of Police, rounded up over thirty boats to participate. The Lady Barbara, owned by Bookie Scarborough was judged "Best Decorated Boat".
In the following year, 1978, Chief Alley bettered himself and promoted the first Queen of the Fleet contest inviting every young damsel of Harrison County to submit their picture for the competition. The Chief, as Chairman of the Blessing, corralled over a hundred boats to enter and set aside part of the area for a street dance. He also promoted 1400 pounds of free seafood. The Rev. Joseph Howze, Bishop of Biloxi, was assisted by Rev. John O'Brien of St. Paul's Church, to administer the Blessings.
Over 4000 spectators viewed the freshly painted and beautifully decorated boats composed of all kinds and sizes. Melanie Fayard reigned as Queen of the 1978 Blessing Festival.
Thereafter, a bevy of beauties reigned during the next six years accompanied by King Fisherman of PC. Those lovely ladies were Dee Dee Torgeson, Charlotte Jones, Desiree Davion , Kimberly Cunningham, Melanie Bratton, and Lamar Billups. The respective KingFishers were: Richard Purchner, Eugene Wescovich, Louis Schruff, Houston Pavolini, Emory Pavolini, followed by Emile Schmidt.
In 1985, the custom of selecting King Fisherman was continued but the Queen was renamed "Queen Fisherette."
The royal highnesses of the Deep were Joe and Audrey Bell, followed in 1986 by John and Ann Ulrich.
With the opening of the brown shrimp season, the traditional spiritual blessings were rendered for a good season's catch and for the safety of the fishermen.
Rev. Bronson Bryant of Trinity Episcopal Church, in 1985, stated, "It's one way of praising God's holy name in a very general way. Some may never go to church and this is where they get close to God."
Rev. Father Ron Herzog of St. Paul's Church, in 1987, stated, "Death is a sobering thought and the fishermen who face life-threatening situations want to believe a higher authority will intervene. The blessing cements their faith. The sea is so big, and the fisherman's boat is so small."
Incidentally, the First Deep Sea Rodeo on the Gulf Coast was held in Pass Christian in 1925.
Tossing the Wreath has strong emotional meanings for those who died at sea and for those who take to their ships in seeking shrimp and oysters as their livelihoods.