Diocese of Biloxi receives $4 million in donations, aid

By Shirley Henderson
Catholic News Service

BILOXI, Miss. (CNS) -- In just a week's time the Diocese of Biloxi received a $1 million donation to help rebuild churches and schools damaged by Hurricane Katrina and a $3 million grant from Catholic Charities USA to help the diocese with humanitarian needs in its long-term recovery efforts.

Within the diocese, 10 churches were destroyed or gutted; 10 others suffered major damage. Six Catholic schools were destroyed and others suffered major damage.

"These are dark days but there are a lot of lights shining brightly," Bishop Thomas J. Rodi said Oct. 7 at a press conference at the diocesan pastoral center after receiving a $1 million donation from philanthropist and businessman Joseph C. Canizaro.

"We have suffered much loss because of the destruction and damage inflicted by the fury of Hurricane Katrina," the bishop said. "Despite our losses, there is a strong spirit of determination to rebuild our communities so that they are even better than before."

Bishop Rodi said he was "overwhelmed by the generosity" of Canizaro and his wife, Sue Ellen, and noted that their gift would be used to rebuild "what has been lost."

Canizaro, a New Orleans commercial real estate developer, has also promised the Biloxi Diocese 10 percent of profits from the Village at Traditions, the first phase of his master-planned community in Mississippi's Gulf Coast region. In January of this year, the Canizaros donated 50 acres of his development for a new Catholic high school.

Canizaro, a native of Vicksburg, grew up in Biloxi and is a graduate of Notre Dame High School. His wife is a Biloxi native. In addition to his work in Mississippi, Canizaro has been active in the New Orleans recovery effort, spearheading rebuilding of area businesses.

Canizaro is chairman of First Bank & Trust of Mississippi & Louisiana, developer of Tradition Properties and founder of the philanthropic group Donum Dei Foundation.

"Schools and churches are the social fabric of a community," Canizaro said during the Oct. 7 press conference. "These are the entities that will bring residents and families back to our cities and towns, and begin the process of rebuilding an even brighter Gulf Coast region," he added.

Canizaro also issued a challenge to private businesses in south Mississippi to help lead the charge in rebuilding the Gulf Coast's "social infrastructure."

"The people of the Diocese of Biloxi are concerned not only with rebuilding churches and schools," Bishop Rodi said, "but also with helping neighbors to rebuild homes and lives. I am proud of the efforts of so many Catholic parishes to help the people in their area."

Bishop Rodi said $750,000 is currently being distributed through the diocese's Catholic Social and Community Services in the form of $200 checks per household regardless of the occupants' religious denomination.

"This is a sign of our commitment to help individuals and in the process to help our entire community," he said. "In recognition of this, Catholic Charities USA has given the diocese a $3 million grant to help our long-term recovery efforts."

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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