GATES — Hurricane Katrina dealt the Archdiocese of New Orleans a crippling blow when it struck the Gulf Coast region in late August, and many archdiocesan parishes and schools still remain closed or seriously damaged. By early November parishes within the Diocese of Rochester had contributed approximately $500,000 to hurricane-relief efforts, but many Catholics still felt called to do more.
Consequently, the Rochester Diocese recently formed a formal, long-term partnership with the archdiocese, said Deacon John McDermott, temporary coordinator of diocesan hurricane-relief efforts. Although a number of individual parishes and dioceses throughout the country have partnered with parishes in New Orleans and dioceses in Mississippi, this initiative is unique, he noted.
“We are still to date the only diocese to come forward and partner with the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which to me is an amazing statement,” Deacon McDermott said during a Nov. 7 meeting at the diocesan Pastoral Center to educate parish representatives about the partnership.
Through this effort, local Catholic parishes, schools and organizations will be able to form direct partnerships with archdiocesan parishes, schools and groups. Six parishes in Avon, Webster, Mendon, Pittsford, Brockport and Gates have already formed such partnerships with archdiocesan parishes, and at least 20 more parishes, including one in Auburn and one in Elmira, have expressed interest in “twinning” in this way with an archdiocesan parish, Deacon McDermott said.
There are about 150 faith communities in the Rochester Diocese, which is similar in size to the 142-parish New Orleans Archdiocese. Sixty of these parishes and many archdiocesan schools were seriously damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, said Deacon McDermott, who visited the New Orleans area Oct. 17-30 to help cement the partnership.
During his visit Deacon McDermott toured once-flooded schools and churches that now house mold-covered desks and splintered pews caked with mud. The difficulties of rebuilding are compounded by the fact that many archdiocesan parishioners have relocated or have lost their own homes, jobs, material possessions and sometimes even family members, Deacon McDermott said. Severely damaged parishes aren’t able to hold Mass and therefore aren’t able to bring in any income from weekly collections, further slowing the rebuilding process.
Only 20 of the 25,000 homes in the civil parish of St. Bernard did not take on water, said Deacon McDermott, who belongs to St. Rita Parish in Webster. St. Rita recently partnered with St. Clement of Rome Parish in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb where nearly 90 percent of the homes suffered water damage.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity for us as members of the church to stand up with those who have been hit and have been hurt,” he said.
Interested parishes are encouraged to apply for an archdiocesan partner through diocesan Catholic Charities. They will then be matched with partner parishes based on what they can realistically provide and the needs of the partner parishes. Although Catholic Charities will facilitate the partnerships, 98 percent of the interaction will be determined by the partners themselves, Deacon McDermott said during a Nov. 4 press conference at the Pastoral Center.
After being matched, partner parishes will create a written, mutual agreement of realistic expectations. Each partnership will take on a life of its own, but most will start with prayer and phone calls and grow to include financial support and material donations and eventually visits. The partnerships in essence are about giving, receiving and friendship, Deacon McDermott said.
There are other forms of involvement for parishes that want to help out but don’t think they have the resources to commit to a long-term partnership, he added.
For more information about the partnership, contact Deacon McDermott at 585/328-3228, ext. 1303, or:
* In Monroe County: Marv Mich at 585/262-7021 or Brigit Hurley at 585/262-7099.
* In the Finger Lakes and Livingston County: Ruth Putnam at 585/328-3210, ext. 1366.
* In Tompkins County: Edie Reagan at 607/272-5062, ext. 12.
* In Chemung County: Kathy Dubel at 607/734-9784, ext. 135.
Contains reporting by Rob Cullivan.