December 15, 2022 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

During the Dec. 10, 2022 dedication of Jerry Vandiver’s new home, Bishop William F. Medley speaks about the resiliency of the Dawson Springs community and how Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro, as well as several other organizations, have made a difference in the lives of the residents who were devastated by the Dec. 10, 2021, tornado. COURTESY OF JAMES KENNEY

‘We did what we were supposed to do’ – Bishop Medley on one-year anniversary of Kentucky tornadoes

BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC

Visitors and residents of Dawson Springs, Ky., crowded under a tent on Dec. 10, 2022 to escape the steady rains during the dedication of a local man’s rebuilt home – a home that one year ago had been destroyed by the historic western Kentucky tornadoes.

Jerry Vandiver, sporting a gray hoodie and a Catholic Charities baseball cap, told those gathered that “I wish I could say how grateful I am to everyone.”

Earlier that morning, Vandiver had led visitors on a tour of his new house – visitors including Kentucky governor Andy Beshear, and Bishop William F. Medley of the Diocese of Owensboro, whose diocese and Catholic Charities office have been leaders in local tornado recovery efforts.

From Vandiver’s driveway, multiple new houses could be seen in the process of being completed.  

Vandiver later told The Western Kentucky Catholic that “there are a lot of good people out there” who have stepped up to help survivors.

Vandiver has been a client of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro’s disaster case management program as Habitat for Humanity worked on rebuilding his home. He said he is most grateful for “organizations coming together – they haven’t forgotten us.”

He said this gives him the greatest hope for the future.

Speaking at the dedication ceremony – during which Vandiver was formally presented with a bible and keys to his new house – Bishop Medley said he is proud to see the community organizations who have collaborated to accompany survivors.

“We did what we were supposed to do – we became partners,” said the bishop, recalling that within the first week after the tornadoes, Catholic Charities USA sent $1 million to the diocese for relief and recovery.

To date, Catholic Charities USA has provided approximately $2.9 million in gifts and about $40,600 in grants – both of which are to be used for tornado recovery efforts – to the Diocese of Owensboro.

The bishop said the diocese’s pastoral center was flooded with calls immediately after the tornadoes, as others sought ways to donate and assist.

Parishes across western Kentucky took up a special collection for their storm-impacted neighbors; the amount ultimately totaled to $409,419. And dioceses from around the United States gave a total of $2,117,880 – with $1,120,805 of that being sent by the Kentucky dioceses of Louisville, Covington and Lexington.

Kristan Schlichte, senior director of membership for Catholic Charities USA, traveled from the national office in Virginia to attend the dedication and speak at Vandiver’s home dedication.

“Being here for Dawson Springs is ‘coming home’ for anyone coming from Catholic Charities,” she told the crowd.

She told the WKC that she appreciates witnessing how people in diverse communities like western Kentucky – home to many Catholics and non-Catholics alike – “come together to work together.”

Several members of Resurrection Parish in Dawson Springs attended the home dedication. The day was bittersweet for them, since Resurrection’s church was destroyed in the tornadoes, but they hope to break ground for the new building in the new year.   

Currently, the parish continues to worship in a metal outbuilding on the property of parishioners Donnie and Rhonda Mills.

“I feel hopeful; I am glad to see the houses going up,” said Ashley Marsili, who in addition to being a parishioner of Resurrection is also a Catholic Charities volunteer case manager.

Her husband, Deacon Mike Marsili, said they recently watched a TV special about the tornado recovery.

“The whole idea was how we were moving on,” he said. At the same time, he added, “in some ways we’re still in it. In some ways we’re forever changed.”

Deacon Marsili said he is grateful his bishop has continued to speak about the tornadoes so that people do not forget. This included Bishop Medley reflecting on the storms during the diocese’s Dec. 6 Eucharistic Revival convocation – hearkening back to a week after the tornadoes, when the bishop flew in a plane across the path of destruction, blessing all below with the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance.

At Vandiver’s home dedication, Beshear spoke of the 81 lives lost to the tornadoes in Kentucky, including 10 of those being in Dawson Springs.

“Today, one year after the deadliest tornado event in our state history, we are making progress,” he said, “but I know those families continue to carry that grief.”

He said his administration plans to mail 10,000 checks with a $1,000 balance to those who filed an insurance claim or received FEMA aid.

“There’s still a lot of work,” he said.

Chris Smiley, the mayor of Dawson Springs, reflected on the progress that has been made in a year – including nine other homes Habitat for Humanity is currently building in collaboration with other community partners.

“It was unbelievable what we saw” of last year’s storms, he said, “and now this is unbelievable.”

“Thank you, Jesus, for getting us where we are now,” he prayed aloud.

Before his home dedication begins, Jerry Vandiver, left, gives Kentucky governor Andy Beshear the grand tour of his new home. Vandiver, who was in his home when the Dec. 10, 2021, tornado destroyed it, said he has been staying with family and friends while waiting for his house to be rebuilt. “It means the world to me,” Vandiver said of the outpouring of support he has received. “From the bottom of my heart, I’d like to thank everyone who had a part in this.” COURTESY OF JAMES KENNEY

Kristan Schlichte, Senior Director of Membership for Catholic Charities USA, speaks at the home dedication of Jerry Vandiver, one year after the Dec. 10, 2021, tornado devastated his home and the surrounding community in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Catholic Charities USA is working closely with several other organizations to help rebuild Dawson Springs and the surrounding regions. COURTESY OF JAMES KENNEY

Dawson Springs, Kentucky, Mayor Chris Smiley says a prayer after speaking about the rebuilding efforts in his city during the home dedication for Jerry Vandiver (far right). Kara McKnight, 11, middle, who lost her brother in a car accident just two weeks before the tornado destroyed her family’s home, was a special guest of the Beshear’s, who have befriended McKnight since the tornado. “The love and support,” McKnight said of everything that has been done for her family. “ It’s just amazing to see everything come together like this.” COURTESY OF JAMES KENNEY

After the Dec. 10, 2022 dedication ceremony for the home of Jerry Vandiver in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, Bishop William F. Medley speaks with Deacon Mike Marsili of Resurrection Parish in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, whose church was destroyed in the Dec. 10, 2021, tornado. COURTESY OF JAMES KENNEY

Bishop William F. Medley greets Governor Andy Beshear as they arrive at the home dedication for Jerry Vandiver, who lost his Dawson Springs, Kentucky, home when a tornado ripped through the community on December 10, 2021. Bishop Medley represented Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro, one of the organizations helping to rebuild several homes in one of the hardest hit areas in Dawson Springs and across western Kentucky. COURTESY OF JAMES KENNEY

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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