Abdon Callais boat models find home in Vatican City

Harriet Golden
December 21, 2007
Rita LaGrange
December 27, 2007
Harriet Golden
December 21, 2007
Rita LaGrange
December 27, 2007

When Peter Callais, CEO of the Golden Meadow offshore supply boat company Abdon Callais, began naming some of the vessels in his fleet after Roman Catholic religious figures in 2003, he could never imagine that doing so would allow him to meet Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican City during one of the pope’s general audiences.

“I come from a religious background,” Callais said. “My dad was extremely religious. It was done in the spirit of good Catholics.”

Callais has named boats for Sister Mary Roland, his great aunt; Oscar Solis, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and former pastor at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church in Golden Meadow; Mother Teresa; Pope John Paul II; Father John Keller, a Loyola University New Orleans professor and family friend; Manresa, the Jesuit retreat center for men located in St. James Parish; St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and St. Martin de Porres.

Abdon Callais currently owns 36 vessels in its entire fleet. All the boats named after religious figures were newly built.

Father Sinclair Oubre, a Callais family friend and president of the Apostleship of the Sea, contacted the Vatican about the specially-named boats. Oubre heads the Port Arthur, Texas chapter of the apostleship, a Catholic ministry that serves persons working at sea.

To recognize Callais, the Vatican granted him an audience with Pope Benedict on Oct. 31. Callais took along his mother, Gloria; his brother, Paul; his sister-in-law, Tina Callais and nephew, Harold Callais, as well as Abdon Callais President Bill Foret and board member Mike Riche. Their wives accompanied the two Abdon Callais officials.

“It was very humbling,” Callais said. “Pope Benedict shook hands with me and my mother. The Pope doesn’t say much, but he says a lot with his smile. My mother teared up. He seemed so caring and passionate.”

After receiving word that he would have an audience with the pope, Callais commissioned Jerry Dempster, who lives in Lafitte in Jefferson Parish, to build models of the John Paul II and the Mother Teresa to present to the Vatican as a gift.

The models are exact miniature replicas and measure 43 inches long, 14 inches wide and 20 inches high.

The Pope did not accept the models directly during the visit. They were received beforehand by Vatican officials.

The John Paul II is being displayed in the Vatican chapter of the Apostleship of the Sea.

The Mother Teresa will be placed somewhere within the Vatican, though the site has yet to be determined.

Callais could not say precisely what inspired him to begin naming his offshore supply boats after religious figures, other than his devotion to the Catholic Church.

However, the clerical sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church spurred Callais to name two of the boats after John Paul II and Mother Teresa. Both are widely recognized and are strongly influential within Catholicism. They were alive when the boats were named, though the two have since died.

Callais felt invoking the two names would help to support the church.

St. Martin de Porres, a Peruvian who lived in the 17th century, has a special significance for Callais.

His mother contracted polio in the late 1940s and prayed to the saint for a cure. She subsequently was rid of the disease, he said.

Callais was friends with Solis when the priest worked in Golden Meadow. Solis eventually transferred to St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Thibodaux before going to Los Angeles.

John Keller was a friend and associate of Callais’ father when the latter sat on the state Board of Regents, the governing body of Louisiana’s public colleges and universities.

Manresa, also, has special significance for Callais. His father went to the retreat in Convent for over 30 years and Callais has been going there since he was 17.

The 43-year-old involves himself in the church through membership in the Knights of Columbus.

He also sponsors seminarians, and attended the ordination of one of those he supported during his trip to Italy.

Callais said he toured the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel as part of the trip, too.

“Primarily,” he said, “it was a religious pilgrimage.”