St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Friday, March 9, 2012

When the Church Is Hit with Disaster

When I refer to the Church, I'm not just talking about the building. I'm referring to the people of God, and in this case, the people of southern Indiana that were hit with a tornado on Friday evening.

The following are e-mails from the parish priest in Henryville, Fr Steve Schaftlein, to Bishop Christopher Coyne, the Apostolic Administrator of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. Bp Coyne made these e-mails public on Facebook, and I thought it was important to share them with you.

No one deserves this tragedy.  But it can be used an eye-opener that church is more than a building or what we do on Sundays, and that faith in our everyday lives is one of the best things going for us.

Please pray for the people in southern Indiana. I lived there for several years when I attended Saint Meinrad; Henryville was only 90 minutes away. Fr Schaftlein is also a Saint Meinrad alumnus.

As more e-mails are shared, I will add them to this blog post. If you'd like to send help, please visit Catholic Charities Indianapolis, a special webpage has been setup.  Also, I'm sure St Francis Xavier Parish would accept any financial contribution- the parish will struggle to pay its bills in the upcoming months, especially with a deficit in the offertory collection.

The first e-mail below was received Saturday morning at 8am.  Words in italics are Bp Coyne's headings from his Facebook posts.  The public school shown in the picture was only 100 yards from St Francis Xavier Church.

Update on the tornado damage in southern Indiana via a note from Fr. Steve Schaftlein, pastor of St. Francis Xavier, Henryville:

Please ask people to pray for the victims of the Tornado in Henryville, Marysville, Lexington, and other communities.  At Henryville, the church is intact with significant roof damage. It is being used as a shelter etc.,

One of our parishioners was a teacher in the High School at Henryville with about 100 other teachers and students.  All survived without injury. A number of our parishioners were in the basement preparing for the fish fry. They survived without injury.

Fr. Schaftlein

And another email from Fr. Steve Schaftlein at 1:00 AM last night:

I just left the church about an hour ago. There is damage to the roof and ceiling (the chimney collapsed onto the roof). But the building is structurally sound with only minor damage to windows.  We do need to tarp the roof to prevent any future water damage. With the help of generators supplied by volunteers and I think the sheriff’s department, we have lights in the basement.

Fortunately, the water system is fine, so we have a water supply including two working restrooms.The church is literally at ground zero. The high school ½ block away was leveled. This makes the church a good location to offer help. The basement was open and was used as a shelter during and immediately after
the storm. It is one of several places being used as a clearing house for names of missing friends and loved ones. The main center for this is the volunteer fire department on the south end of time. However there isn’t a good means of contacting the fire station with all land lines down and most cell towers in the area being out of commission.

The basement of the church will be open as a “supply depot” for food, blankets, etc.

I plan to have Sunday mass at the usual time of 9:00 am with whomever is able to attend. It may be in a corner of the basement, but I feel it will be important to give a sign of hope for the future.

Please pray for those who have lost family members, been injured, or lost their homes.

Fr. Steve

Email from Fr. Steve, Henryville for 5:00 PM yesterday. Henryville is one of the towns hit hard by Friday's tornadoes.

Many thanks to all who are praying and organizing behind the scenes for the many people and communities affected by this tragedy. Today was an eventful day that reminds us of the goodness that God has placed in people. I will write up a more detailed report later tonight. Suffice it to say that parishioners stabilized the condition of the roof, windows, and doors. We will have the Sunday mass at our normal 9:00 am time in the church. In the course of the day St. Francis has become a organizational point for food, clothes, and a shelter from the cold and wind. This is the result of countless donations by people and businesses in the Henryville Community and the whole Louisville area. The Clark County Sheriff’s department can be commended with their provision of grills, generators, and volunteers. Jane Crady from Catholic Charities stopped by and affirmed the concept of utilizing the basement of St. Francis to reach out to all over the next several months. For now with the help of volunteers we will keep it open on a 24/7 basis....

Again, thanks for keeping all in your thoughts and prayers.

Fr. Steve

Email from Fr. Steve, Henryville from 10:00 PM yesterday. Henryville is one of the towns hit hard by Friday's tornados.

During my time celebrating the mass at St. Michael, the quantity of goods brought to St. Francis more than doubled. We are clearly in a position now to distribute a substantial amount of needed items to the families. Again the Clark County Sheriff’s department has made improvements in the lighting and cooking arrangements and have provided key leadership to help us. They ready to provide a hot breakfast in the morning. State Troopers and the Sheriff’s Department will have personnel throughout the area day and night for the foreseeable future. In addition the national guard were there from mid-morning on. I also observed substantial “hard hat” crews being transported to various areas to begin the clean up. With the visitation of the governor in the late afternoon all of the organizational components of the response effort seem to be following in place. Several of the news stations will be there to broadcast part of the 9.00 mass.

Although we know of 4 parishioners (3 St. Francis – 1 St. Michael) that lost or had severe damage to their homes, we know of no parishioners who suffered serious physical injuries.

Finally, I want to affirm that Henryville is the birthplace of Colonel Sanders the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Numerous buckets of chicken will be delivered to the church for the meal that is planned for after the mass. Many of our parishioners remember the “Colonel” from his younger days in the community.

Another email from Fr. Schaftlein, dated late last night :Sunday 10:00 pm

When I arrived at St. Francis before 7AM, volunteers already had breakfast items on the grills. These early morning volunteers from the sheriff’s office, parish, and community worked most of the day and were joined by countless others for part of the day.

The early morning was highlighted by a large number of TV stations doing live and taped interviews of many individuals. The morning culminated with our mass at 9:00 am. We had our normal crowd of regular parishioners with a number catholic volunteers from other communities also in attendance. The media, of course, were also there. The Liturgy was a moving experience that help keep our spiritual focus in the midst of the business of the day.

Throughout the day the organization of the relief effort expanded and improved.

At St. Michael we were being overwhelmed with phone inquiries and offers for help. So, we organized a group of volunteers to begin answering the phone at St. Michael and responding to the calls.

Back at St. Francis, by the end of the day the church and parking lot were overflowing with supplies. Many individuals were beginning to come in to get items for their families. The generosity of people continues to be inspiring.

While we have identified a 5th parishioner whose home was severely damaged, we still do not know of any of our parishioners who suffered severe physical injury.

Fr. Steve

Email update #1 from Fr. Schaftlein in Henrysville:

After two days of stabilization. Today we saw signs of recovery on every front.

Roads are open and slowly but surely power and water is being restored to sections of town. All water must be boiled.

At the public meeting in the afternoon, we heard that the school corporation hopes by the end of the week to announce alternate locations for class rooms.

Broken hearts are also a part of the recovery effort. A meeting on Tuesday morning is planned for organizing counseling and healing.

At St. Francis

We continue to be flooded with help and volunteers.

Until phones are restored at Henryville. We’re accepting calls at St. Michael – 812-256-3200

Our archdiocesan officials (Insurance and building) looked over the building thoroughly and affirmed us that the damage can and will be repaired.

Volunteers from St. Michael and St. Francis worked well into the evening connecting generators to our electrical system. By 9:00 pm we had heat and lights restored to critical areas of the building. When we powered up the computer we were please to find that our internet connection was working. Although the land lines do not work and only some cell phone can work, we now have the ability to access e-mail and are attempting to get our phones working through the internet.

We now have posted a “Recovery Wish List” and Photos on our Web Page

Also there are directions on how to send financial support Scripture tells us that “Man does not live by bread alone”.

We continue to ask you for prayers.

Pray for all who have suffered in this tragedy especially for those who have died and for their families

We will continue to insure that St. Francis is a place of prayer.

We will have our regular Thursday evening mass in St. Francis at 7:00 pm And Our Sunday Service At 9:00 am

Earlier email update from Fr. Schaftlein in Henryville: Monday 6:15 am

Since Friday we’ve concentrated our effort on working with others to address the needs of both the victims and the volunteers.

The sheriff’s department has been the key player with the local resources to set up generators, lighting, and other equipment.

In addition they’ve brought in some experienced volunteers who’ve been instrumental in organizing the volunteers. They’re also organizing the efforts at Marysville and New Washington . Also they’ve parked at least one semi out in the country with supplies.

The State Police, National Guard, Public Service, are providing security and working at getting the infrastructure back in shape not only in Henryville but elsewhere.

As of last night our basement and parking lot is full of food, water, etc.,
The church interior has been taken over by clothing (the sacristies have 4 feet of clothing in them).

Although we had mass there in the morning, I reluctantly removed the Blessed Sacrament last night. I hope that we can reclaim the church interior by the weekend. There was some structural damage done to two of the ceiling joists that probably needs to be address relatively soon.

“Man does not live by bread alone” We need to continue to witness to the need of prayer.

I sense that local volunteers will probably be able to carry things through this week. Some have been smart enough to “pace” themselves.

To have fresh help by the weekend would make a big difference.

A key to the long term outreach will be infrastructure. I don’t know of any other building in town that can do what we’re doing.

The government – state or federal probably needs to bring in this week a double wide trailer to serve as distribution point for clothes.

It would probably be prudent for there to be a similar building by the end of the month or by Easter for the distribution of food etc.,

I don’t think we should totally abandon faith formation-religious ed for the year. 1st reconciliation & 1st Eucharist are coming up

Also, it is important for AA which meets two nights of each week at St. Francis to have a place to meet relatively soon.

Long term (over the rest of the year) St. Francis will probably be best utilized for meetings, counseling, etc.,

Also, some barn, warehouse, or tent will be needed as a distribution point for furniture before the end of the month.

I intend to begin to raise these questions.

Keep up the good work! And God bless you!

Fr. Steve

Tornado Recovery Updates from Fr. Steve Schaftlein, Henryville: Wednesday 7:13 pm – As The Recovery Continues – A Sense of Direction

Upon arriving at St. Francis I met a volunteer from New York who had flown in to spend the day. He spent the day cooking. As I type this he’s working with others to clean up the grills. At 5:00 am in the morning he will fly back to New York. He is but one of many who have made similar sacrifices to help out.

Various organizations and groups stopped by to offer their help to work with us over the long haul. This includes people of every religious denomination and type of civic organization. We met with a group of Catholic who are organizing shifts of volunteers from the parishes of the New Albany Deanery. The first group will arrive tomorrow.

Today I walked down to the funeral home to visit the family and friends of William Wayne Hunter who died in the tornado. A member of St. Francis is a close friend. This was a sober reminder of all who have died in the tornado. In the days ahead we will erect a “memorial” in the sanctuary as a place of prayer for all those who died in the tornado.

Around 6:00 pm I went into the church to check on things there and found a lady in the front pew kneeling in prayer. This affirmed a decision we made early in the day to move the clothes out of the church to another site.  The critical need for clothing has passed. At the same time, the need for the healing of hearts and souls is increasing. Tomorrow with the help of Catholic Charities we will set up an office in the Cry Room. From there we will be able to begin the process of case management. Case management means walking along the side of families as they begin to apply for aid and rebuild their homes.

The need to coordinate people and information was exemplified by a lady with 2 children who stopped by to get some food. The hail knocked the windows out of her car. Tomorrow an auto glass business has offered to fix car windows free of charge. She also expressed a need for one of her children to see a dentist. A couple days ago a dentist stopped by to offer free service to people in need. We were able to share this info with the lady.

In the days ahead I hope to connect with other priests and ministers who have offered their help for spiritual counseling.

The evening was topped off by a visit by the choir of Bishop Luers Catholic High School of Fort Wayne. They stopped by on their way to a choir competition in Florida. They brought water, donations, and other items. May God bless their singing!

As I end these notes parishioners are looking forward to having our regular Thursday evening 7:00 pm mass. The presence of a case management office in th cry room will only enrich the our prayer.

Another update from Fr. Steve Schaftlein, Henryville: Thursday 8:54 pm – As the Recovery Continues – Renewal In The Bosom of Abraham

As I walked across the parking lot at 6:30 this morning, I smelled fresh cooked sausage and eggs. One of the volunteers from the community had been at for an hour getting ready for the crowd to come. I was his first satisfied customer. It was a good start to a cold wet day.

Overnight a young fellow had put up a second, third and 4th tent with walls to provide shelter for cooks and diners. Smoking Jim and his crew were soon joined by Little Caesar’s who together with our operation served thousands of meals throughout the day. (Little Caesar’s alone baked 8,000 piece of pizza).

Parishioners continued to peck away at restoring full electrical power to the Church. Our electrician “Paul” prepped to electrical service so that by the end of the day the power was connected by Public Service. After an hour or so of slowly testing things we were fully reconnected with the exception of the elevatorwhich will be checked out in the morning. Friday, we will power up the electric fryers to have an all day Lenten Fish Fry. We will advertize this as the “Catholic Menu”.

The Ecumenical Spirit of the volunteers continues to grow as we share the challenge and the accomplishments of the day.

Today the organizational efforts of the New Albany Deanery in conjunction with Catholic Charities kicked into action. By about 7:00 the first shift of organized volunteers from other parishes arrived. With the instructions and training the underwent at meetings they jumped in and gave a boost to our volunteers who have worked every daysince the Tornado.

In the morning I completed the preparation of the sanctuary to be a place of remembrance for those who died. We listed the names of all who died in a frame and placed it before the altar with candles around it. Tomorrow, the first week since the tornadoes, we will encourage all to pause at 3:00 pm for a moment of silent prayer. We will ring our church bell and have a memorial service of readings, prayers, and song.

Another step forward was the organization of an information table as we take on the role as an information provider. We’ve created an entire page for the website and have added links to various resources. There is a link to the Catholic Charities website which provides a form to sign up as a volunteer.

The day was filled with supplies shipped into the basement and people carrying out what they needed for their families. Our wish list on our website ( was updated several times during the day as needs evolved throughout the day.

One individual came in to offer the use of a trailer to be used as office space. In the next few days we will probably find room for this and get it set up to serve as a headquarters for case management for Catholic Charities. We’ve made connections with several groups to provide counseling and some medical professionals. I passed out one “voucher” for a family to get free dental care for one of their children. In the week ahead I hope to communicate with the many priests and ministers who have volunteered to offer spiritual counseling. To fully heal sufferers need to spiritually heal.

I share one confession because all involved in a situation such as this eventually faces a moment of frustration that test their spirit and resolve. I passed through such a moment when a computer glitch trashed more than 20 acknowledgements I was attempting to send to donors. I had worked really hard to send these generous people a personal acknowledgement. Then this xxxxx computer trashed it all. Then, after driving through the dense rain, a group of us discovered that we had gone to the wrong location for the organizational meeting of the committee to guide the recovery plan. Late for the meeting, I was humbled by the spirit and generosity of the people gathered in the room. I realized that no computer glitch or error in direction could prevent this group from accomplishing its goal. Little things may aggravate us, but they can’t control us. We are the captains of what we think and do. When little things frustrate us, we need to let others uphold us.

In the evening Fr. Jaun, who subbed for me while I went to Mexico to study Spanish, arrived and shared with regular parishioners and volunteers from other parishes in the celebration of our regular Thursday evening mass.
The readings of the day – the tree planted near running water and Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham - summed up the day. After the mass a group of us sat around one of the fires staying warm and conversing about the experience of the day. As I sat there I realized that these readings had come alive in the countless people participating in this recovery. These people, Catholics, Protestants, and searchers of many kinds were experiencing the goodness of God in others. By gathering around that fire we had planted ourselves near to God. Around that fire we found ourselves resting in the bosom of Abraham.

For a more recent update on what's happening in Henryville, IN, visit Bishop Coyne's blog:


1 comment:

  1. God Bless You Fr. Steve,

    From parishes and dioceses all over the state and country, we are Praying for the entire community, and for the repose of all Souls that went on to eternal life. May the Lord's Peace and Comfort be with You All.

    Pax Christi


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