Florida Hurricanes

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

October 22, 2004



            Poor Florida has been taking a beating.

First hurricane Charley hit the West Coast. Then hurricane Frances came up the East Coast. Then Ivan the terrible hit the panhandle of Florida. There is hardly a town in the Sunshine State that has not been touched by horrific storms.

            My parishioners, like people all around the country, wanted to help those struggling with the aftermath.

The weekend after Hurricane Charley smacked dead on into Punta Gorga, Florida, the chairman of our social concerns committee suggested that we take up a collection for the parish there. We looked it up in the Catholic directory. The parish was named Sacred Heart.

So, the next Sunday, we devoted out poor box collection to the people of Sacred Heart in Punta Gorda. People gave $899, which we rounded up to $1,000 and sent it off in the mail.

            A few days later I got a phone call from Florida. It was the new pastor of Sacred Heart, Fr. Jerry Kaywell. He has a young and enthusiastic voice. He was calling to thank me for our donation.

            “We just started getting mail delivery again,” he said. “We were delighted to open the envelope and to get the promise of your prayers and your check.”

            There are times when you are proud to be Catholic. At times like these we are at our best when we live up to our name “Catholic”, which means “universal.”

            Fr. Kaywell said that it has been reassuring and overwhelming to the people of his parish that Catholic churches from all over the U.S. had been writing to them and sending help. “This is a time when we really understand what it means to be connected to the Catholic church,” he said.

            He sent me a bulletin, which had letters from parishes all over the U.S.

Two little girls in New York had sent their piggy bank contents of $100. A parish in California sent $4,800. A parish in New York sent $15,500. Parishes from Georgia, Pennsylvania and other parts of Florida had contributed to Sacred Heart’s rebuilding.

            Fr. Kaywell and his parishioners really need the help. Nearly every house in the parish was damaged. All the businesses in the town are closed, at least temporarily. Both area high schools have been condemned as unsafe. Many elderly people in the parish lived in mobile homes, which have been totally destroyed.

            The parish plant really took a direct hit. The church was completely destroyed. The roof fell in from the wind and everything was drenched with rain.

            Yet the Lord did not abandon His people. Miracle of miracles, the tabernacle survived unscathed and the vigil light never went out, despite 140 mile per hour winds.

            Parish worship has continued uninterrupted. Tabernacle and vigil light were carried over to the parish hall, where mass is now being held. Fr. Kaywell reports that the crowds at mass are smaller but the quality of worship is wonderful. The prayer is heartfelt. Strangers and newcomers have become neighbors and friends.

            Moreover, the parish has continued to reach out to the community. Their parking lot served as a staging area for the Red Cross. Their parish hall has served 3,000 meals per day to area residents who are still without utilities and many without homes. They even have port-a-potties in their parking lot to offer needed relief to people without plumbing.

            I have always contended that people are better in hurricanes. No one wants loss of life or personal injuries, of course. But the loss of material things and damage to buildings give us a new appreciation for what it truly important. People are important, not things.

            The people of Punta Gorda, like the people in many other damaged towns from Dominican Republic and Haiti to Mobile, Alabama, have discovered something wonderful. They have discovered what they mean to each other.

Catholics have also discovered what it means to belong a  Catholic” community of faith.  It means that we are not alone on this world.

            Those are things worth discovering, once the storms of life pass by.