New Orleans archbishop visits displaced families at Catholic school

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In New Orleans, they had never met their archbishop. Now, nearly 1,100 miles to the north, they had their chance.

Like Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans, these families had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Archbishop Hughes has found temporary quarters 80 miles north, in Baton Rouge, La. The Curran and Beaudet families fled the Gulf Coast before Hurricane Katrina struck and eventually made it to the Washington area, where the wives in both families had grown up.

The archbishop met the families, and other young evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, Sept. 16 at Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, which the women had attended as children -- and where their own children were now being enrolled.

Archbishop Hughes, still dressed in vestments from a prayer service to remember the hurricane's victims that had ended less than an hour before at the Washington National Cathedral, visited classrooms and addressed students.

"I come from New Orleans. At least, I used to come from New Orleans," he said in one classroom.

To one second-grade class, Archbishop Hughes gave an impromptu talk about the importance of the students' readiness for first confession and first Communion. To another second-grade class, which was making books for Vocation Awareness Week, he exhorted them to consider a vocation to priesthood or religious life.

In a fifth-grade classroom, he told the students stories of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton -- a video on the saint's life had been playing before he walked into the room -- and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, whose sainthood cause is being promoted by New Orleans Catholics.

One kindergarten class serenaded the archbishop with two verses of "I Heard the Lord Call My Name." In another kindergarten class, the children huddled close to Archbishop Hughes, piping up with all sorts of talk about their lives, including Ryan Hashim proudly telling the archbishop, "I got a wiggly tooth!"

To each of the six Gulf Coast children now attending Blessed Sacrament School, Archbishop Hughes gave a rosary blessed by Pope Benedict XVI, before he blessed both the youngster and the entire class. The six children are from four families.

Anita Curran, who went to Blessed Sacrament as a child, met her husband as a junior at Tulane University in New Orleans. They'll celebrate 10 years of marriage in October, but not in their home in the Mid-City district of New Orleans.

For the time being, Curran said, her family's "just helping my mom and dad around the house, and getting our minds wrapped around this and plan for the future."

Like the Currans, Maura Beaudet has two sons, a 7-year-old in second grade and a 5-year-old in kindergarten, at Blessed Sacrament. She also has a 4-year-old daughter at St. Ann School in Washington, because Blessed Sacrament has no pre-school.

"I'm still in shock," Beaudet said. "Our house is gone. Our parish is destroyed. Everything we knew down there is gone." The Beaudets had moved to Bay St. Louis, Miss., less than three years ago when Beaudet's husband, Stephen, was reassigned to the area by his employer. Even though Stephen Beaudet remains in Mississippi for his job, life for his displaced family "is so far beyond normal I can't begin to describe" it, his wife said.

"I wish I could say we'd be back in a year," she added, "but our town was wiped out. ... We left the day before the hurricane, and we went back to the house the day after. Everything was gone."

For Beaudet, the role her faith has played in the wake of Katrina has been a source of solace. "I have never been so relieved to have been brought up in a faith that teaches that God will provide the way," she said. After some private words with Archbishop Hughes, Beaudet walked from a school vestibule into a hall, turned her face to the wall and wept softly.

For Curran -- whose older sister was classmates with Beaudet at Blessed Sacrament during their grade-school days -- faith has played "the premier role" in getting her and her family through the storm and its aftermath. Curran and her husband, Lee, said they looked forward to returning as soon as possible to Holy Name of Jesus Parish, whose church sits behind Loyola University of New Orleans.

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

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