By Sister Priscilla M.
Recently, I traveled back to Joplin, MO to visit the sisters there. After returning home, I had some time to reflect back on the past 16 months after the devastating May 22, 2011, EF-5 tornado that hit that city in southwestern Missouri.
I recall arriving in Joplin the day after the tornado, bringing needed supplies for the sisters and working the next day to clear out the convent in a day and a half – the contents, the personal items and the furniture.
I went over to St. Mary’s Elementary School with Sister Joan Schwager, RSM, who teaches art classes there. Being an elementary teacher by profession, my heart sank to see the destruction up close. As I looked around, I stopped and watched the teachers carrying whatever they could salvage from what used to be their classrooms. I saw Sister Joan and the teachers hugging and trying to be of support to one another. I started taking photos of everything I could. I wanted to capture some significant object or moment. This was all I could do for now.
School was to start in two and a half months, but where? St. Mary’s Elementary School was moved to an old warehouse building located next to McAuley High School. Teachers, family, friends and parishioners worked together to get it ready for the first day of school.
I made another visit to Joplin soon after school opened. Sister Joan shared with me that seven teachers who taught at St. Mary’s and McAuley had suffered severe damage to their homes or their homes had been totally destroyed. As I spoke to a couple of the teachers who lost their homes, I remember one of them saying to me, “I feel like we have been forgotten.” I realized that she was talking about how hard it was to have to deal with the loss of home, school and parish while at the same time having to keep it together in order to teach her students and deal with their issues. I could not shake this off and I realized that I needed to do something to reach out to them, but what?
It came to me one afternoon as I was coming home from work. I had the photos that I had taken. I realized I could put them together to music and raise money for the teachers who lost their homes. I worked throughout the night and finally came up with something. Mercy Health System in St. Louis helped to get these DVDs professionally produced. A total of $3,700 was raised through the sale of these DVDs, which in turn was divided among seven teachers to help with their recovery efforts.
Shortly after Catherine McAuley was professed and back home, she faced a dying sister, trying to raise money for her ministries and then a cholera outbreak. I wondered how she did it, and soon came to the realization that like those who lost much in the tornado, you sometimes have no choice. You have to do what needs to be done.
Through their letters of thanks for the DVD, I came to realize that Mercy helps but in giving, one is given so much more.
Click here to view a few of the photos Sister Priscilla took in Joplin of St. Mary’s Elementary School.