Left to right, Resurrection’s Dcn. Mike Marsili, Bishop William F. Medley, Resurrection’s former pastor, Fr. Frank Roof, and current Resurrection pastor, Fr. David Kennedy, celebrate Resurrection’s Christmas Eve Mass. COURTESY OF JAMES KENNEY
Opening their home to tornado-displaced Resurrection Parish, couple hosts Christmas Eve Mass with bishop
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Celebrating Mass in a 20-by-25-foot metal outbuilding on Dec. 24, 2021 for the displaced community of Resurrection Parish in Dawson Springs, the image that came to Bishop William F. Medley’s mind was “‘there was no room at the inn’ – except that a couple had opened their homes that Christmas Eve night.”
“I felt the gratitude that the congregation could be together again – but that they were still stunned,” Bishop Medley later told The Western Kentucky Catholic.
The bishop had driven the hour-and-a-half to Dawson Springs from Owensboro that day, wanting to open the Christmas season with the Resurrection community.
Resurrection had been among the buildings lost to the historic tornadoes that hit western Kentucky during the night of Dec. 10, 2021. The strong winds had torn out windows and ripped off parts of the roof, exposing the interior of the little church to the elements.
In the following days, parishioners Donnie and Rhonda Mills offered the use of their outbuilding, which is used primarily as an exercise room, as a substitute church for the time being.
The parish gathered for Mass for the first time since the tornadoes on Sunday, Dec. 19. Their second gathering was that Christmas Eve.
“Their doors have always been open to everybody,” said Dcn. Mike Marsili, who with pastor, Fr. David Kennedy, serves Resurrection and also its sister parishes of Holy Cross in Providence and Immaculate Conception in Earlington.
Dcn. Marsili told The Western Kentucky Catholic that over the years, the metal building has seen poker games, barbecues, post-volleyball dinners and weight lifting. Now, it would see the celebration of the Eucharist.
The deacon, whose children grew up alongside the Mills’ children, said it is a Mills family tradition to welcome everyone, Catholics and Protestants alike, for community.
“Donnie’s dad always barbecued or did fish fries on the weekends and Donnie has continued that,” said Dcn. Marsili.
So it was nothing unusual to host Mass for their parish. In fact, it is something of a family tradition.
“His mom and dad hosted Mass in their basement until they built the church in Marion,” said Dcn. Marsili of St. William of Vercelli Parish in Marion.
And so, on the night of Christmas Eve 2021, the people of Resurrection Parish came together to celebrate their resilient community, and the gift of God come to earth.
Approximately 45 people filled the space snugly, but the weather was mild and several people stood outside the doorway. Bishop Medley presided, and was joined by Dcn. Marsili, Fr. Kennedy, and Resurrection’s former pastor Fr. Frank Roof. The “sacristy” was an extra bedroom in the Mills’ house.
The bishop became “really choked up when he talked about seeing the damages,” said Dcn. Marsili.
Two weeks prior, Bishop Medley spent a day driving 400 miles across western Kentucky to visit the impacted communities. And just one week earlier, he had flown in an airplane over the tornadoes’ paths with a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, blessing all those below.
“I’ve had several parishioners come up to me and say they had never seen the bishop like that before, and that it meant a lot to them,” said Dcn. Marsili. He added that “it was more than the fact that he got emotional; it was that he was really, really compassionate.”
Dcn. Marsili said that besides his ordination to the permanent diaconate in 2017, this was the most meaningful liturgy he has ever participated in.
Per tradition, Fr. Kennedy gave the homily, which included retelling the Christmas story to the children in the congregation. But the bishop did offer a few words at the end of Mass.
“He told us that the cross is not the end of the story – the Resurrection is,” recalled Dcn. Marsili. “He said ‘Your church is named for that – and your church will rise again.’”
Dcn. Marsili admitted that he had wondered if they would rebuild the church, considering that it was small and in a more outlying area: “But when the bishop said that, it sealed the deal. It meant a lot to the parishioners to hear that.”
Since then, the makeshift “church” has hosted Mass every weekend as well as every Thursday morning.
“That was our tradition so we are continuing that,” said Dcn. Marsili.
How to help
Monetary donations may be given digitally via https://owensborodiocese.org/give/. Checks may be mailed, with “Tornado Disaster Relief” written in the memo, to Catholic Charities, 600 Locust St., Owensboro, KY, 42301. To learn more about ways to help, call the McRaith Catholic Center at (270) 683-1545.