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Joplin, Missouri: One Year Later View Comments
By Jeannette Cooperman

A wooden altar, cross and statue are all that remain of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Joplin, Mo., after a tornado ripped through the city on May 22, 2011. The church building, rectory, school and parish hall were destroyed.

AT 5:38 P.M. ON MAY 22, 2011, sirens screamed through downtown Joplin, Mo., just minutes ahead of the country’s deadliest tornado in 50 years. Father J. Friedel ushered his new Indian assistant, Father Shoby Mathew Chettiyath, to the rectory basement and tried to explain what a tornado was.

When the winds calmed, Father Friedel crossed over to the beautiful, old white-stone church of St. Peter the Apostle. “The tornado touched down on Rangeline,” he told the handful of parishioners, urging them to check on any family or friends in that part of town. Then he said a quick, fervent Mass.

He didn’t know the extent of the damage until he emerged from the church and heard someone say the hospital was gone.

“What do you mean the hospital’s gone?” Father Friedel asked, unable to imagine the seven floors of St. John’s Regional Medical Center collapsing — let alone Joplin High School, Walmart and thousands of houses and businesses. The tornado had sheared away a wide swath of Joplin, just 12 blocks to the south of St. Peter’s.

Father Friedel worked all night, unlocking the Catholic high school so it could be used as a triage station, wheeling the injured in office chairs, organizing supplies and checking on parishioners and his colleague at Joplin’s other Catholic church, St. Mary’s.

Father Justin Monaghan, 70, had taken shelter in a bathtub in the rectory, and St. Mary’s Catholic Church had fallen to pieces around him. By the time the winds stopped, only the church’s large cross — and its pastor — remained intact.

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Jeannette Cooperman is a staff writer at St. Louis Magazine. She’s won regional and national awards for her features on social issues, health, religion and education.

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Katharine Drexel: If your father is an international banker and you ride in a private railroad car, you are not likely to be drawn into a life of voluntary poverty. But if your mother opens your home to the poor three days each week and your father spends half an hour each evening in prayer, it is not impossible that you will devote your life to the poor and give away millions of dollars. Katharine Drexel did that. 
<p>She was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn. </p><p>She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by what she read in Helen Hunt Jackson’s <i>A Century of Dishonor</i>. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities. </p><p>Back home, Katharine visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions. </p><p>She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” Newspaper headlines screamed “Gives Up Seven Million!” </p><p>After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states. </p><p>Two saints met when Katharine was advised by Mother Cabrini about the “politics” of getting her Order’s Rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans. </p><p>At 77, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But now came almost 20 years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at 96 and was canonized in 2000.</p> American Catholic Blog Our task during these forty days is to examine our lives in light of God’s Word and see where we’ve allowed darkness to creep in, where we’ve taken the bait of the diabolical fisher of men. It’s time to use the sword of the Spirit to cut through his web of deception, to free ourselves from the net that holds us as prey.


 
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