OWENSBORO, Ky. (CNS) – After a 400-mile road trip Dec. 15 through his tornado-ravaged diocese of Owensboro in western Kentucky, Bishop William F. Medley said he would not forget the destruction, “but what will be left with me are the people I saw.
The tornadoes that also struck Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois on the night of December 10 broke records as the worst tornado event in Kentucky and U.S. history.
Of any other American diocese affected by the tornadoes, the territory of 78 parishes in the Diocese of Owensboro was the most affected by the disaster. Effects include the destroyed Resurrection Church in Dawson Springs, badly damaged St. Joseph’s Church in Mayfield and several parishes without power.
The number is still unknown in terms of how many parishioners lost their homes in the nighttime devastation.
Bishop Medley considered it essential to drive around the entire diocese, not only to see the impact firsthand, but also because, in practice, the widespread blackouts of electricity and the Internet at the time prevented digital communication with many regions.
The bishop left Owensboro at 7:30 a.m. that day, stopping first in Madisonville, where the parish and Christ the King School operated a community resource center outside of the gymnasium. After that, he traveled to Dawson Springs to see the damage at Resurrection and spoke with several parishioners and Deacon Mike Marsili.
He then traveled to Princeton, where Father Jojy Joseph, HGN, narrowly avoided the tornadoes while staying in the basement of St. Paul’s Parish Hall. The parish campus was not damaged, as was the other parish of Father Joseph de St. Mark in Eddyville.
But the priest, a member of the Heralds of Good News clerical missionary society, reported that several parishioners, including Deacon Paul Bachi, had lost their homes in the storms.
Next stop was Mayfield, where residents of St. Joseph’s Parish operated a similar community resource center – despite damage to their church. The steeple of St. Joseph’s Church had been knocked down by the tornado, but a more severe impact was prevented by the buffer of the old school building next door.
After meeting the residents of St. Joseph Parish, Bishop Medley traveled over two hours to meet the priests of Bowling Green, who serve St. Joseph and Holy Spirit parishes in Bowling Green and the Catholic Campus Center of the Western Kentucky University.
There he heard the priests – and several parishioners and seminarians – talk about the severe impact on Bowling Green and the surrounding areas.
Chris Durbin, a parishioner in St. Joseph’s Parish, said a tornado removed the roof of his house, but he was moved by all who came forward to help him and those who suffered loss.
“The physical needs of the people are being met,” he said, but added that in light of the devastation experienced and observed by many local people, “what they will need is advice or spiritual help.
Father Randy Howard, pastor of the Holy Spirit, recalled that “immediate needs seem to be met,” but as a parish community they begin to look at people’s long-term needs, such as cleaning. and insurance issues.
His parish vicar, Father Stephen Van Lal Than, said the home of a local Burmese community leader has been destroyed and other local Burmese families are overwhelmed by the shock of what they have been through.
And yet, “you see the best of people come out when something like this happens,” said Father Howard, affirming the community spirit of Bowling Green.
Father Ryan Harpole, parish priest of Saint-Joseph, agreed.
“It looks like because of COVID people have been locked up and want to do something meaningful,” he said.
After his visit to Bowling Green, Bishop Medley told the Western Kentucky Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, that the importance was not lost to him that December 15 was also the 12th anniversary of his appointment as Bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro. .
He said he couldn’t imagine what he would have thought if someone had told him that more than a decade later, he would be driving West Kentucky to visit his diocese ravaged by historic tornadoes.
That being said, the bishop was “deeply moved” by his conversations with the clergy and the people of the parishes he visited that day, “people who instinctively know what the Gospel message means, what it means. to be a shepherd at this time “.
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Barnstead is editor of the Western Kentucky Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Owensboro.