March 14, 2022 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro, Ky., gestures during an interview at his office in Owensboro. More than 30 tornadoes were reported across six states late Dec. 10, 2021, and early Dec. 11, killing dozens of people and leaving a trail of devastation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Thankful for financial donations, ‘now our efforts are to help recover, rebuild’ from tornadoes, says Bishop Medley

BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC

Shortly after he was ordained the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, Bishop William F. Medley learned that his rural diocese had managed to gather more than $240,000 in a special collection for the survivors of the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Bishop Medley has long considered that special collection to be one of the most powerful examples of Catholics in western Kentucky reaching out to help others.

He never imagined his own diocese would one day be the recipient of a similar kindness.

A U.S. flag is pictured in a destroyed tree after a tornado ripped through the town of Bremen, Ky. More than 30 tornadoes were reported across six states late Dec. 10, 2021, and early Dec. 11, killing dozens of people and leaving a trail of devastation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Eleven years later, a series of tornadoes raged across Kentucky and surrounding regions during the night of Dec. 10. Western Kentucky alone suffered the loss of 80 lives from the tornadoes, which traveled approximately 200 miles in what has been declared the worst tornado event in state history.

Two Catholic churches within the Diocese of Owensboro were impacted: St. Joseph Parish in Mayfield lost its bell tower in the storms, and the church building of Resurrection Parish in Dawson Springs was severely damaged and expected to be a total loss.

That’s not to mention the many people of western Kentucky who lost homes entirely or whose houses and apartments were damaged enough to render them uninhabitable.

Bishop Medley said that “having never been in this situation before,” he was unsure what was going to happen or how his people would ever recover from the disaster.

On Saturday morning, the day after the storms, the bishop released a message to the diocese requesting prayers and a special collection that weekend for those impacted.

“The Diocese of Owensboro, through our Catholic Charities office, would like to offer immediate help and services for those who are displaced or who have immediate emergency financial aid,” wrote the Bishop in his Dec. 11 letter.

Parishes quickly took up the collection for their neighbors, but then donations began flooding in from outside the diocese as well. The City of Owensboro itself was unscathed by the storms, and the McRaith Catholic Center in Owensboro, (home of the diocese’s central offices), began receiving phone calls and online donations around the clock.

Over the next few weeks the diocese’s finance office was “just overwhelmed” by the sheer magnitude of donations coming in, Bishop Medley told The Western Kentucky Catholic.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro, led by director Susan Montalvo-Gesser, traveled out to the impacted communities to assist with immediate relief efforts.

Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro, Ky., gestures during an interview at his office in Owensboro. More than 30 tornadoes were reported across six states late Dec. 10, 2021, and early Dec. 11, killing dozens of people and leaving a trail of devastation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Catholic Charities was able to use the donated funds to purchase quantities of gift cards which they in turn distributed to the parishes in affected areas. From there, pastors and parish volunteers could provide direct assistance to those who needed help purchasing basic necessities.

Five days after the storms, coincidentally on Bishop Medley’s 12th anniversary of his appointment as Bishop of Owensboro, he drove 400 miles to visit the various impacted communities within his region.

Several days after that, he rode in a small plane across the paths of the tornadoes, carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance and blessing all below.

Three months have now passed since the storms.

As of March 15, more than $8 million has been received in donations from more than 6,100 donors. This includes $1,755,616 contributed by 24 dioceses and archdioceses around the United States; $394,000 contributed from within the Diocese of Owensboro itself; $1,892,395 contributed by Catholic Charities USA; and approximately $4 million contributed by donors outside the diocese – including but not limited to individuals, businesses, foundations, religious communities, organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Extension, and parishes and schools outside the diocese.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro needed to hire several more staff members as it became the operations base for tornado relief in western Kentucky. Working with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, it has also expanded its efforts beyond diocesan boundaries to help four counties within the Archdiocese of Louisville that were impacted by the tornadoes.

“Since December, Catholic Charities has embraced the recovery,” said Bishop Medley.

To date, they have spent more than $280,000 in helping with immediate needs, housing and rental assistance, food and gift cards.

“Now our efforts are to help people recover and rebuild,” said the bishop, and said Montalvo-Gesser has a goal to rebuild 350 homes in the next two-to-four years.

Bishop Medley said that because “there is a new humanitarian crisis – the crisis in Ukraine,” he is asking the people of western Kentucky to remember those suffering amid the Eastern European turmoil.

Specifically, he has asked pastors to hold special collections for humanitarian assistance in Ukraine over the next few weeks.

“We have received; now let us respond to others in need,” he said.

Crosses are displayed on the grounds of a destroyed home March 2, 2022, after a tornado ripped through Dawson Springs, Ky. Siblings Carole Grishan and Marsha Hall were killed when a tornado ripped through the town in December 2021. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)Grishan

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.

Current Issue

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