The floodwaters have long since receded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but local Catholics haven’t forgotten about the disastrous storm and the people it affected. Instead, they’ve responded with compassion to those in need in Louisiana and Mississippi, giving freely of both their time and their financial resources.
Diocesan parishes raised $68,250 for hurricane victims through a special second collection the weekend of Aug. 27-28. That money was sent to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which is estimated to have more than $120 million in uninsured flood damage to buildings, and the Biloxi Diocese, which is estimated to have more than $70 million in damages to church-owned structures.
The Diocese of Rochester initiated a formal, long-term partnership with the archdiocese in the weeks immediately following the hurricane. More than 20 local parishes and several schools have followed suit, forming their own partnerships with individual archdiocesan parishes and schools. Members of these partnerships routinely communicate with and pray for one another, and the local partners often hold fundraisers for their southern counterparts.
The five parishes in the JJJAR Pastoral Planning Group — St. Jerome, East Rochester; St. John of Rochester, Fairport; St. Joseph, Penfield; Church of the Assumption, Fairport; and Church of the Resurrection, Fairport — held a Mardi Gras fundraiser Nov. 3 to raise money for the group’s “sister parish,” New Orleans’ Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord. James Robinson, a member of the event’s planning committee, said nearly 400 people — many of them from the planning group’s parishes — attended the fundraiser, which raised more than $16,500.
Members of each parish helped plan the event, which was held at Pittsford’s Burgundy Basin Inn. Those in attendance enjoyed dinner, dancing, casino games, a silent auction and a raffle. Pictures of the New Orleans parish and school were shown to demonstrate their need.
“To see so many people from the five parishes working together to serve a need of a parish in another part of the country was truly amazing,” said Michelle Castelli, chairwoman of the event and a member of St. Joseph.
Representatives from several archdiocesan parishes and schools also have occasionally visited their New York partners, and vice versa. In October Patty Glaser, president of New Orleans’ Holy Rosary Academy and High School, and Denise Theriot, head theology teacher at neighboring Cabrini High School, visited New York to thank the parishioners and students who had been so supportive of them. They gave short presentations at St. Mary school and parish in Newark, St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Ontario, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick Parish in Savannah, which had all “adopted” the schools shortly after the hurricane hit.
Conversely, several members of the Webster-Penfield Catholic Connection have traveled to St. Clement of Rome Parish in Metairie, La., twice since the hurricane struck. The Webster-Penfield Catholic Connection, which comprises Webster’s Holy Trinity, St. Paul and St. Rita parishes and Penfield’s Church of the Holy Spirit, formed a partnership with the Louisiana parish. So far, two groups of people have been sent to help St. Clement parishioners gut and rebuild their flooded homes, said Larry Winter, a St. Paul parishioner who helped organize both trips.
The Webster-Penfield Catholic Connection hopes to send another group of volunteers to Metairie in 2007, Winter added.
In the months following Hurricane Katrina, members of Auburn’s Holy Family Parish decided they wanted to help a Catholic organization in New Orleans that had a similar name to their parish. They couldn’t find a parish or school named after the Holy Family, so they decided to support St. Mary’s Academy, which is a ministry of the New Orleans-based Sisters of the Holy Family, said Bernie Tomasso, pastoral minister at the Auburn parish.
The school had been located on the congregation’s campus, but was flooded and forced to reopen at a new location. Holy Family parishioners raised money for the school’s music department, which had been home to an award-winning band.
“Their whole band room had been destroyed. They had lost 300 uniforms, all of the sheet music, the music stands and the instruments,” Tomasso said.
The fundraising project eventually grew, and now most of the parishes in Cayuga County are raising money for St. Mary’s Academy, he added.
Deacon Edward Mathis of St. Agnes Parish in Avon has traveled to New Orleans twice since the hurricane, each time accompanied by people from a number of local parishes. Each time he and the volunteers have helped gut houses and apartment buildings, and he plans to do the same work with another group of local volunteers sometime after Easter.
“There aren’t enough contractors to even make a dent in it, so if they don’t get volunteers to go down there it is never going to get done,” Deacon Mathis said.
Although gutting buildings is not fun — Deacon Mathis describes it as “exhausting and filthy work” — the volunteers have nonetheless taken pleasure in their labors, he said.
“You get more out of it than you put into it. The knowledge that you’re doing something to help someone is very rewarding,” he added.
“I really felt like they did more for me than I did for them,” agreed Jessica Grannis, a member of St. Mary Parish in Elmira.
The 19-year-old sophomore at Nazareth College traveled to Pascagoula, Miss., in March as part of an alternative spring-break program. The students helped senior citizens clean up and rebuild their community. The students formed strong bonds with the seniors, some of whom began calling the students their “adopted New York grandchildren.”
“They were so thankful, and they just needed people to talk to and to listen to their stories,” said Grannis, who planned to travel to New Orleans in early January to take part in more hurricane-relief efforts.