While in flight on Dec. 21, 2021, Bishop William F. Medley lifts a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament to bless the communities of his diocese which were affected by the tornadoes that struck during the night of Dec. 10, 2021. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC
Praying, healing, and rebuilding a year after the tornadoes
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
On the night of Dec. 10, 2021, I was not watching television and was not aware of the reports of tornado warnings across western Kentucky. Storms were never severe in Owensboro where I was that night, so I slept well. When I awoke on the morning of the 11th I checked into my regular news apps, and I began to learn of the devastation across our diocese.
Information was limited as my cable television was out, as was my cellular phone service, but as I pieced together the scope of the tragedy, the widespread destruction limited even news sources from detailed reporting.
When finally I gained limited cell service I sought to reach the pastors of St. Joseph Parish in Mayfield and Resurrection Parish in Dawson Springs. I left them messages, but it was late in the day before their own cellphones delivered the messages. It was great relief to learn that they were safe. In the meantime, I did reach some other pastors in these areas, but often they did not have accurate updates and naturally were blocked from venturing into affected areas. Repeatedly, however, they said what they were hearing: “It’s really bad, many people are dead or missing.”
On Sunday, Dec. 12 I traveled to St. Jerome Parish in Fancy Farm in Graves County, only a few miles from Mayfield. I joined Fr. Eric Riley, pastor of St. Joseph in Mayfield, in celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe for a mostly Hispanic gathering. Driving along Interstate 69 (formerly the Pennyrile and Western Kentucky Parkways) I observed the wide swaths of the storms. Only first responders could enter Mayfield or Dawson Springs at that time.
But that day I began to hear firsthand accounts of the devastation and the trauma thousands had experienced.
Even on that Sunday I began to get calls from bishops and pastors from around the country assuring help: we’re sending supplies, we’ll take up a special collection. I was so very grateful and moved by these expressions of support. But, I wondered, where do we begin?
On Monday morning, Dec. 13, our Catholic Charities director, Susan Montalvo-Gesser, told me that she had heard from Catholic Charities USA and that they were immediately sending us $10,000 for recovery efforts. An hour later she told me they had called again – and they were sending $1 million. And yet another hour later they called to say that they would be sending a disaster relief specialist to help us begin to organize.
So, one step at a time, with support from all over the country (which you will read about in this issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic), we could begin to bring the kindness and mercy of God to people in a very precarious periphery. I know that all major Christian denominations and innumerable other charities have also brought compassion and been healers to victims of the storms. I thank all of them.
In this time of trial and loss I am very proud to be a part of the Catholic Church that can respond so generously and effectively. I would note, too, that last summer when our neighbors in southeastern Kentucky in the Diocese of Lexington experienced the devastation of floods that our parishes of the Diocese of Owensboro took up a special collection – totaling approximately $190,000 – to assist them. Who knows better how to offer charity than those who have received charity?
Full recovery remains years away as we rebuild and heal from what happened in our diocese a year ago this month. I ask for your continued prayers, and, if you feel so called, consider volunteering your time to help in recovery efforts. You can learn more about that by contacting Catholic Charities at (270) 852-8328.
Let us keep each other in prayer.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Originally printed in the December 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.