Knowing that his weekend Masses would be packed with parishioners from the destroyed St. Mary’s Parish who had lost family and everything they owned, Father Friedel wanted to serve hot meals after each of the four weekend Masses to anyone who wanted one and asked the Kansas City response team to organize it.
“He wanted everything up and running by 5 o’clock Mass on Saturday. We had it ready that morning,” Halterman said.
“God bless the Knights of Columbus,” Conwell said. “They set up a mobile kitchen right away.”
The Kansas City team worked long and hard in Joplin. But Halterman and Conwell said they got far more in return.
The parishioners of the leveled St. Mary’s began salvaging whatever items they could on the day after the tornado. They found their Nativity set, but also unconsecrated communion bread and wine.
Father Friedel said the St. Mary’s bread and wine would be the bread and wine for the weekend Masses at St. Peter the Apostle, which he would concelebrate with St. Mary pastor Father Justin Monaghan, and Springfield-Cape Girardeau Bishop James V. Johnston.
The Kansas City team attended all four Masses.
“It was an experience I will never forget,” Halterman said. “In all my forty-plus years of my career, I have never been impacted like that. We were serving people in need at the worst time of their lives.”
At one Mass, Edie Howard came surrounded by surviving family and friends. Edie had taken off work to meet her husband, Rusty, and two children, daughter Harli Jayce, 5, and son Hayze Cole, for dinner. They had just said their goodbyes, and Edie was driving back to work when the tornado struck.
Edie immediately called Rusty who assured her that he and the children would seek refuge in the Home Depot on Range Line Drive. Their bodies were found under the rubble of a collapsed wall, the children clutched in their father’s arms.
In his homilies at each Mass, Father Friedel told the church packed with broken hearts that the world was looking to Joplin to be a sign of triumph over tragedy.
“Despite the fact that this tornado has ripped through our community and tattered our hearts, we still come here today to be reminded of the Word and to celebrate the Eucharist,” he said.
“Without those things in our lives, we cannot be who the Lord calls us to be in this time and in this place,” Father Friedel said.
He also assured the people of St. Mary’s that “however long it is that you are going to be with us, please know that we do not see you as guests. We see you as part of our larger Catholic family here in Joplin. You have a home here in St. Peter’s as long as you want it or need it.”
“The world is looking to us,” Father Friedel said. “Even though we are hurt, we still have to proclaim a message of hope. We proclaim that Christ is living among us, and that is why we are here today.
“Christ is our reason for hope,” he said.
“‘I will come to you,’ he promised, and the Lord does come to us today, in his Word and at this table, and because he lives, we live,” Father Friedel said.
“Scarred though we are, tears continuing to flow down our faces, as people of faith we need to continue to proclaim that our Lord lives, and because he lives, we live.”
Though the debris has been cleared, Joplin will need the help of people who care for years, said Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri director Maura Taylor.
But she said the money that has come in from around the nation, including all four Catholic dioceses in Missouri, has already made a tremendous difference.
Kristie lost her home and sent her two teen daughters to live with an uncle in Texas. She recently obtained a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but did not have the money to bring her daughters home. Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri was able to buy the girls bus tickets and food for the trip home.
Rebecca lost her job when the nursing home she worked at was destroyed in the tornado. She protected her patients during the storm, then worked 24 hours without rest while they were relocated. With no job, her landlord threatened her with eviction. Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri paid her back-rent and bought her more time to find a job.
Regina and her family lost their home. After weeks of searching, they finally found a decent rental home, but couldn’t afford the security deposit and first month’s rent. Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri paid it.
Taylor said that since the tornado, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri has served 4,632 people in 1,562 households. Of those households, nearly 60 percent are receiving ongoing, long-term case management services.
Taylor said Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri still needs cash donations for rent and utility assistance, temporary housing, and prescription medications.
“The needs of so many of the survivors are almost overwhelming,” she said.
“With so little affordable housing available, many are living in tent cities or their cars,” Taylor said. “The extreme heat in Joplin is making life even more difficult.”
Halterman said that Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph will continue to help, as will the people of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“This is what our people are all about, reaching into their wallets out of the goodness of their hearts and giving to people in need,” he said.
“It makes me proud of our staff, proud of our people, and proud to be Catholic,” Halterman said.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Key, newspaper for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph, Missouri.