Diocese Finds Hope After Devastating Tornadoes

Debbie Cansler stands in what remains of the upstairs portion of her home in downtown Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Source: Catholic News Service

Recovery efforts have gotten underway in parts of Kentucky falling the devastating effects of tornadoes that touched down early in the morning December 11.

The record breaking tornadoes were among the largest to touch down in the recorded history of the United States, with one tornado in particular staying on the ground for 200 miles. The twister carved a path of destruction through many communities and destroyed schools, businesses, and many houses of worship.

One of the affected areas was Daviess County, Kentucky where several parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Owensboro were destroyed.

Watching Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear talking about the tragedies so close to home really struck a chord with diocesan bishop the Rt. Rev. William F. Medley, who lost communication during the storms while cell phone and internet towers were down.

“I was doing a lot of texting,” Bishop Medley said after he was able to get service again to check on parishioners and communities.

Upon learning about the destruction of multiple parishes Bishop Medley said, “Saturday was very emotional.”

One of the parishes hardest hit by the tornados was Resurrection Church in Dawson Spring where the roof was entirely gone and the windows were shattered making it a total loss. 

However, in a miracle that some are seeing as a sign of hope, the parish’s Deacon, Mike Marsili was able to rescue the Blessed Sacrament unscathed in the tabernacle amid the rubble of the church.

Susan Montalvo-Gesser, the diocese’s director of Catholic Charities said her organization has already begun the process of partnering with congregations to provide material assistance and bereavement resources for the families hardest hit.

Montalvo-Gesser encountered a woman and her children who were present at the Mass and who had lost their home. The woman fell into Montalvo-Gesser’s arms, weeping. Handing her a small statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Montalvo-Gesser said, “You will put this in your new house, which we will help you with.”

Besides supporting the community as a whole, Montalvo-Gesser has instructed her staff to follow-up with many families who were already receiving support from the diocese to make sure they were properly resourced going into the winter month as the weather gets colder.

Bishop Medley has requested that parishes throughout the diocese support Catholic Charities’ efforts with both financial and material donations. Additionally, the diocese has set up a specific fund for Catholic Charities Tornado Relief, accessible at https://owensborodiocese.org/give.

According to Governor Beshear, the confirmed death toll currently stands at 74 as of December 18. Further, it is believed that 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 18 counties sustained significant damage and that lives were lost in eight counties.

The responses and outpourings of love have been powerful. The diocese has reported receiving support and condolences not only from within its own Archdiocese, but also dioceses and parishes throughout Latin America and around the globe.

During a mass in the aftermath of the devastation, Bishop Medley said, “The wood of the manger gives way to the wood of the cross. And the cross is in our churches year-round. We can make our sufferings one in communion with Christ on the cross.”

Pointing the parish toward the hope of new life he added,“The theme of the Resurrection will be core to our thoughts during this very difficult process.” he said.

Montalvo-Gesser agreed saying, “God is not in the disaster. But God is in the response.”

Source: Catholic News Service