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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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John Vianney: A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible. John Vianney was a man with vision: He wanted to become a priest. But he had to overcome his meager formal schooling, which inadequately prepared him for seminary studies. 
<p>His failure to comprehend Latin lectures forced him to discontinue. But his vision of being a priest urged him to seek private tutoring. After a lengthy battle with the books, John was ordained. </p><p>Situations calling for “impossible” deeds followed him everywhere. As pastor of the parish at Ars, John encountered people who were indifferent and quite comfortable with their style of living. His vision led him through severe fasts and short nights of sleep. (Some devils can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.) </p><p>With Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lardet, he established La Providence, a home for girls. Only a man of vision could have such trust that God would provide for the spiritual and material needs of all those who came to make La Providence their home. </p><p>His work as a confessor is John Vianney’s most remarkable accomplishment. In the winter months he was to spend 11 to 12 hours daily reconciling people with God. In the summer months this time was increased to 16 hours. Unless a man was dedicated to his vision of a priestly vocation, he could not have endured this giving of self day after day. </p><p>Many people look forward to retirement and taking it easy, doing the things they always wanted to do but never had the time. But John Vianney had no thoughts of retirement. As his fame spread, more hours were consumed in serving God’s people. Even the few hours he would allow himself for sleep were disturbed frequently by the devil. </p><p>Who, but a man with vision, could keep going with ever-increasing strength? In 1929, Pope Pius XI named him the patron of parish priests worldwide.</p> American Catholic Blog The most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold on to. –Pope Francis

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