New Orleans Archdiocese establishing satellite office in Baton Rouge

By Peter Finney Jr.
Catholic News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) -- In the wake of the massive destruction of Hurricane Katrina, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has decided to launch a satellite office in Baton Rouge to make key decisions about restoring social services and rebuilding schools and churches, Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes said after a meeting of archdiocesan officials at Our Lady of Mercy Parish.

"This is very important because we need to begin to organize both our immediate short-term response and our more long-term response," Archbishop Hughes said Aug. 31 "Obviously, we face extreme devastation, the likes of which we have not felt in this country apart from the Civil War."

The location of the satellite office had not been determined, although archdiocesan officials were considering space that has been offered at Our Lady of Mercy and at the closed St. Pius X School. The archbishop said he plans to meet daily with a small group of key archdiocesan personnel to determine how best to respond to the crisis and to assess damage reports, which have not yet come in because of sporadic communications.

One of the major dilemmas is setting up a payroll plan for archdiocesan employees who are now scattered over several states. A significant percentage of the estimated 8,000 archdiocesan employees are paid through paper checks, and their locations were unknown.

Internal communication with employees and external communication with the general public also are critical issues, the archbishop said. With people spread out over such a large geographic area, the goal is to regularly update the archdiocesan Web site (www.archdiocese-no.org) with key information on policies and news items. Those plans were being developed Sept. 1.

"I think we need to meet daily to update one another and identify what may be the next steps," Archbishop Hughes said.

There were no solid damage estimates Sept. 1, although archdiocesan officials know they will be incredibly high. The following is a preliminary list:

-- St. Louis Cathedral apparently sustained relatively minor roof-slate damage, but water was reported rising. Oblate Father Frank Montalbano and archdiocesan archivist Chuck Nolan were still in the rectory and did not evacuate. A large tree felled by the winds in St. Anthony's garden behind the cathedral left a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus untouched.

-- A chimney collapsed and left a hole in the roof of the Old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street.

-- Notre Dame Seminary sustained water and roof damage. Bishop Roger P. Morin, auxiliary bishop and vicar general, stayed in New Orleans during the storm and reported seeing looters at a nearby drug store.

-- A Plaquemines Parish official told WWL radio that everything below Diamond, La., located 40 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, was under water.

-- Chateau de Notre Dame, a nursing home and assisted living facility, took on a foot and a half of water. Villa St. Maurice and St. Bernard Manor, elder facilities, had water up to the second floor. Metairie Manor had only minor water damage.

-- The 12-story archdiocesan office building in the central business district had about 15 windows blown in, including three on the fourth-floor offices of the Clarion Herald, the archdiocesan newspaper.

-- Msgr. Clinton Doskey, pastor of St. Pius X Church on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, was rescued by airboat Aug. 30 and reported seeing homes in the leafy Lakeview neighborhood with water up to the top of street signs.

At a morning briefing Sept. 1 in the Baton Rouge Catholic Life Center, archdiocesan officials said their biggest concerns were securing long-term housing for displaced families and bringing in counselors and case managers. They also talked about setting up a national prayer line and grief counseling line.

Catholic Charities USA was expected to take the lead in getting out information to U.S. dioceses about the need for shelter. Already several dioceses had called to offer assistance with housing and other needs. Religious orders and Catholic colleges and universities will be canvassed to see what help they can offer to students and parents.

"It's very important that we take to heart the words that for those who love God everything works together for the good," Archbishop Hughes said. "Our resources are limited, but our people are innumerable. If we can mobilize and partner and enable people to reach out and care for one another, there are all kinds of possibilities that can be reached. I am convinced that God is going to work things in a way that counteracts the terrible suffering people are experiencing."

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

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