WASHINGTON (September 1, 2005)--Catholic Church facilities nationwide, and especially in Louisiana, Mississippi and East Texas, are responding to emergency and long-term needs by providing shelters, food, medicine and schooling for Hurricane Katrina refugees.
Virtually all dioceses nationwide planned parish collections the first weekends of September. In addition, further immediate assistance is coming through everything from Catholic Charities agencies, St. Vincent DePaul Societies, Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, parishes, retreat centers and families.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas, where well over 30,000 storm refugees relocated from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast dioceses, is providing immediate monetary aid and housing. The local Catholic hospital, Christus St. Joseph, mobilized its mobile health unit to assist at shelters. Catholic schools in the archdiocese are accepting displaced students and allowing them to register without transcripts or other transfer papers. The St. Vincent DePaul Society has appealed locally for supplies such as new children's sleeping bags, pillows, slippers, pajamas, crayons, coloring books, backpacks, and school supplies. In addition, St. Peter Claver church in Northeast Houston has been opened by the American Red Cross as a shelter and other churches will open as shelters as soon as the Red Cross needs them.
The Diocese of Tyler, Texas, which was about to launch a Catholic Charities office for the diocese, was prompted by the storm to begin its operations immediately. Tyler diocesan
parishes began reaching out to refugees who moved into the diocese the weekend before the
storm as reports of the in-coming hurricane were received. At. St. Joseph Parish in Marshall, Texas, a former convent was made available to those wanting showers, and parishioners opened their homes, provided food, fuel, phone and gift cards for storm refugees. The parish made up tee-shirts for their guests – with St. Joseph's Church in small print and a large print message: "Jesus loves you and so do we."
In the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas to which thousands of refugees were evacuated, parishes are preparing meals, collecting gift cards to Wall-mart, and hosting people. A diocesan retreat center has been housing 35 people since before the hurricane hit. The Hospitality Center, a diocesan soup kitchen, was preparing to provide meals for people as their money runs out.
The Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, donated Catholic Extension Society bibles, toiletries and bedding to storm refugees at the local Coliseum, home to 1,100 refugees. It was also developing a plan for educating students stranded in the diocese.
The Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, was accepting patients into its Catholic hospital system and Catholic Charities there was working to provide temporary housing. In early September the diocese also will send a team of people to the ravaged area to assess what kind of physical, as well as financial, assistance they can provide.
Dioceses as far away as the Diocese of Albany, New York, were prepared to send volunteers to assist in the affected dioceses and said it would help in relocating people if necessary. Catholic Charities staff noted that offers of help from people in the diocese included everything from a band offering to perform a benefit concert to a child offering to send toys.
In the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, staff at Catholic Charities were gathering non-perishables for distribution in the afflicted areas, helping families locate missing relatives and helping to settle storm refugees with housing and other items.
The Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana, 190 miles north of New Orleans, had several of its facilities designated as evacuation sites. The diocesan high school was housing people evacuated from Our Lady of Wisdom House, a retirement facility in New Orleans, which initially evacuated 103 residents to a stadium in Alexandria. The Alexandria diocesan retreat
center was housing a group of retired Sisters of the Holy Family and Red Cross relief workers. St. Mary's Residential Treatment Center for the Developmentally Disabled has provided shelter to 26 patients with feeding tubes and many developmentally disabled adults. (The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, which operates the Our Lady of Wisdom retirement facility in New Orleans, evacuated another 25 residents to other facilities of the order in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Others were relocated to facilities in Texas and St. Louis.)
The Diocese of Shreveport, Louisiana, where a number or refugees have been resettled, announced it would accept any children affected by Hurricane Katrina in Shreveport diocesan schools at no cost. The schools will keep a transcript of grades to send back to the schools in southern Louisiana when they reopen.
The Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky began a fund to help storm refugees in the Diocese of Shreveport to provide school supplies for the students. Students in Owensboro will "adopt" students in Shreveport and send money and letters of support.
Throughout the country, dioceses are planning additional responses as specific needs become clearer.