The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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May 19, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Faith, spirit aren't blown away

May 12 windstorm brought out people's faith and resilience


By Bishop Robert Banks

The schedule called for me to be at St. Mary's Parish, Appleton, last Saturday afternoon for Mass and Anointing of the Sick. Friday's windstorm changed that. Instead, I went to St. Nazianz to be with the pastor, Fr. Gerald Sirois, SDS, and his people.

As Msgr. Schuh and I approached St. Nazianz, we began to see signs of the damage caused by the strong winds - windows covered with plywood, uprooted trees and the house sidings pockmarked by the hailstones. The closer we got, the worse the damage. Seeing the crumpled lengths of sheet metal strewn across the fields, we realized how fortunate it was that more people were not severely injured.

Then we came to St. Nazianz itself. It looked like a tornado had ripped through it. Houses destroyed, roofs ripped off, trees lying all over the place.

Our first stop was the rectory and St. Gregory Nazianz Church, where we were greeted in the parking lot by Mary Chizek, the secretary, who had been organizing things since noon the day before. Inside the rectory, we met the pastor, Fr. Gerry Sirois, SDS, who was trying to get out word that the Saturday afternoon Mass would be at Holy Trinity Parish, School Hill.

As we talked, the telephone rang. One of our diocesan staff was calling - on her own - to offer a place to stay if someone was in need.

Apart from the windows being blown out, there was not too much damage to the rectory. The church is another story. Even as we approached the town, we could see that the steeple and roof had been severely damaged. What amazed me was the fact that two cranes were already at work and a number of new roof beams had been put in place. Fortunately, there seemed to be relatively little damage inside the church.

The Red Cross had quickly set up one of its headquarters at the parish school, and food was available for those who had lost homes or were unable to prepare their own meals.

Next, we went over to see how the Salvatorian Sisters at St. Mary's Convent were doing. Their convent had been severely damaged. A large part of the roof had blown off and rain had soaked just about everything on the top two floors. No one was hurt, but the Sisters had to go to one of their other convents for the night.

Sr. Rita Faust, SDS, greeted us at the door and very graciously gave us a guided tour of the damaged sections of the convent. A photographer from one of the local papers had been talking with us while we were waiting for someone to answer the door. So he joined us for the tour. I was under the impression that he had permission from the Sisters, and they were under the impression that we had brought him with us. That's the kind of day it was.

As we drove away from the convent, a woman stopped us about a block over to give us some photographs she had found in her back yard. They were of the Sisters and had apparently been blown out of the convent during the storm.

As bad as the damage was at the church and convent, it could not compare to that suffered by those who saw their whole home or trailer blown apart.

By now it was time to go to School Hill where the 4p.m. Mass usually celebrated at St. Nazianz had been transferred. Only a handful of people were able to make it. Others were still trying to restore some kind of order to their homes and some simply didn't get the word. But we had a good Mass with some extra-sincere prayers.

I mentioned in my homily that, in my nine years here, I had been present at the scenes of four disasters - the Wautoma tornado, the fire at Weyauwega, the Egg Harbor tornado, and now the windstorm.

Two things struck me all four times. First is the tremendous resiliency of the people. Almost immediately, as we were seeing at St. Nazianz, the people and work crews were cleaning up the damage and repairing what can be repaired. The cooperation, good will, and upbeat spirit in the midst of terrible destruction is amazing. People can even find things to laugh at when it would be so much easier to cry. One man told how he put his car in the garage to protect it from the hail, and then the wind collapsed the garage on top of the car. He still found it possible to smile, for a while.

Second is the felt nearness of God. Almost the first words out of anyone's mouth at these times are thanks that no one lost their life and then prayers for those who suffered loss and damage. When things go well, as they do for most people in these very prosperous times, there seems to be less need to think or talk about God. But when disaster strikes, we become very conscious of how fragile our lives are and how much we depend on God's goodness. We also become so aware of how precious are the people we love. No damage to property can compare with the loss of a loved one.

The Mass went well, but afterwards some of the people remembered that no one took up the collection. Somehow, it didn't seem to matter.



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