June 1, 2024 | Local News, Special Issue
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Josh Hipp hands over the keys to the Ladd family, who were clients of Catholic Charities. COURTESY OF STACEY MENSER

The work isn’t over, but Catholic Charities presses on to serve communities impacted by tornado


It was a Friday night, two weeks before Christmas, when the quad-state tornado ripped through western Kentucky. It hit Fulton first at 9:01 p.m. and began a path of destruction that would stretch across 16 western Kentucky counties. The Dec. 10, 2021, tornado stayed on the ground for more than 200 miles, causing new destruction every 15 minutes in the next small community along its path.

In just a few hours, thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed, and 77 people in Kentucky lost their lives as a result of the tornado that night.

There were communities like Princeton – population 6,200 – where the tornado destroyed 200 homes in seven minutes. And then there were communities like Dawson Springs – population 2,400 – where 750 structures were impacted. The tornado’s path through Dawson Springs went through an area with a high density of Section 8 housing. It wiped out full city blocks of homes and decimated a 50-unit housing authority complex. An estimated 60 percent of housing was destroyed in that small community, and 19 people lost their lives in that small community.

Within weeks of the tornado, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro went to the 16 western Kentucky counties impacted and offered to help. What Catholic Charities was bringing to the table was case management to identify the needs of survivors and donor dollars to help rebuild the lives of people who didn’t have another safety net for recovery.

The downtown square in Dawson Springs, Ky., a week after the Dec. 10, 2021 tornado impacted the region. COURTESY OF JASON JONES

In Dawson Springs, Catholic Charities case managers immediately recognized the greatest need was for housing and new home construction. So Catholic Charities called in Josh Hipp. When Hipp came to the Diocese of Owensboro, he had 12 years’ experience in disaster recovery construction. He started in Joplin, Missouri, and made his way down to Florida where he coordinated rebuilds and repairs as a Catholic Charities contractor. In overseeing projects, Hipp often partnered with other disaster relief organizations like Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), which provides skilled volunteer labor for recovery projects.

When Hipp was called to western Kentucky, the first call he made was to MDS to recruit skilled volunteers to set up camp in Dawson Springs.

Catholic Charities pledged to build 15 homes in the community, and case managers sought out clients who could use a hand-up in the rebuilding process.

Clients selected for new home builds included a family with a 24-year-old special needs daughter, another family with an adult special needs son; a family of five with three school-aged children; a family of seven with five school-aged children; a single father with a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old; another single father who is a Marine Corps veteran; an 86-year-old woman who lost her home of 60+ years, and a widower who lost his wife to Covid the year before the tornado.

By partnering with MDS for volunteer labor and reaching out to multiple funding partners, Catholic Charities was able to build 17 houses in 17 months – 16 new homes in Dawson Springs, and one in Princeton all completed by April 2024.

Catholic Charities’ work is not over. Construction of two more houses is scheduled this summer, and case managers still work daily to meet the needs of people across western Kentucky recovering from the quad state tornado.

Stacey Menser is a case manager for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro.

Katina Hayden of Catholic Charities welcomes client Evelyn Duke to her new home. COURTESY OF STACEY MENSER

Originally printed in the June 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
Layout |  Rachel Hall
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