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Catholics respond to help victims of tornado

Churches assess damage and assist people in St. Mary, Coffman communities

An EF-3 tornado that tore through the southern part of the archdiocese Oct. 24 left a path of destruction and a response from Catholics helping people who were affected. No loss of lives or serious injuries were reported.

The tornado left extensive damage in St. Mary, a small community in Ste. Genevieve County near the Mississippi River. The day following the tornado, the Society of St. Vincent DePaul at Ste. Genevieve Parish in Ste. Genevieve began looking into how it could assist tornado victims. Stephen Bleckler, president of the conference, said the conference is offering help with food, clothing, utilities and temporary lodging.

He told of the possibility of helping with lodging for one man who had lost electric service which he needed for oxygen therapy. The community has responded in various ways, Bleckler said: “That’s the great thing about our community. We help one another.”

JoAnn Donze lives in St. Mary and headed for shelter when she learned of the threat. Her home was undamaged, though she lost electric service and her husband lost items he had for sale at a booth at an antiques mall that was struck by the tornado. “It’s his hobby,” she said, adding that despite his disappointment, “he knows how lucky we are that nothing happened to our home, and that we all are safe.”

At least seven homes nearby were destroyed and others damaged, said Donze, a parishioner of Ste. Genevieve in Ste. Genevieve. She doesn’t recall a tornado hitting the area in the past 50 years, though flooding has caused damage in the past.

Immaculate Conception Chapel in St. Mary is maintained by the St. Mary Immaculate Conception Church Preservation Society, which works to preserve the landmark while continuing to share the Catholic faith. The church, which was part of a parish closed in 2018, was spared by the tornado, except for a window.

Chapel volunteers partnered with Trinity Baptist Church in St. Mary to offer meals and water at the Baptist church, which was powered by a generator, to people affected by the tornado and those helping them.

Lisa Cartee, business manager at St. Joseph Parish in Farmington, lives about a mile from St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Coffman, which is administered by the Farmington parish. Cartee reported that at St. Catherine of Alexandria Church, a stained-glass window had three panes blown out, two protective windows damaged and several cracks in the walls caused by the tornado. At the rectory, some shingles were taken off the roof and some finishing material covering the underside of the roof overhang was ruined.

“We lucked out though,” she said. “The Baptist church a block away from us did not luck out. Their hall and pavilion were flattened, and half of their church was taken down.”

The home of a family who are parishioners of St. Catherine was destroyed and other parishioners had some damage to their homes and lost power temporarily. Cartee checked on the family who lost their home and was assured they’re staying with relatives.

Cartee cited severe damage nearby, including a business and some homes, including one that was flattened and another left with one wall standing. The tornado’s path was visible, and “it lifted right at St. Catherine’s, leaving debris and wind damage,” she said. “Just pray for everyone who needs to rebuild.”

Catholic Charities of St. Louis has a disaster recovery component that partners with other local disaster assistance organizations and generally provides longer-term help.

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