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August 29, 2007 / USS
Reflection on the second anniversary
of Hurricane Katrina.

We here in Bay Saint Louis, MS remember a storm that changed not only the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans physically but affected the hearts and minds of uncounted men and women. I do not have the literary prowess of a Jerome LeDoux yet I feel compelled to share with you reflections on this day.

Its been a long time since we shared with you our experiences in 2005. We reported to you the events of that horrible morning and its immediate aftermath. We report to you today that the effects of the storm are still very much with us. Like our brothers and sisters who a few months earlier were struck by tsunamis in Indonesia and India we are still very much in a rebuilding mode.

Here at St. Augustine’s in Bay Saint Louis our buildings and grounds are in good shape. A visitor would think that nothing happened on these grounds two years ago. One would not believe that two years ago at the very time of the day I write waters began to spread and get higher and higher. However, one still sees the effects of that horrendous day not only to our SVD community but the entire area affected by the storm.

For we Divine Word Missionaries our community has shrunk considerably. There are only 10 of us here at the present time. With summer upon us and people traveling there are at this moment only 6 of us here. Four people assigned to the House are in Techny and one in Texas. Yet our spirits are high and we have a wonderful community togetherness.

We are so fortunate because around us people are still hurting. Many are still rebuilding their homes. Medical resources are inadequate. Emotional problems are becoming a real concern. The mental health of people has risen to unheard levels. Suicide rate is up, family problems, abuse, crime, etc. are becoming all too common.

However, if it were not for the Church and religious faith of the people I dare say the problems would be even greater. At Masses I celebrated in Bay Saint Louis and New Orleans this past Sunday the people came and prayed. They cried in New Orleans as the thousand or so people who attend that 11 am mass remembered the long ordeal that they survived and are still experiencing. Yet they come to Church despite the devastation because Church has become a refuge and source of hope. In the churches there are tears but also embraces and joy in the hope that God will not leave us disappointed.

Yes, the Church has played a major role in bringing a sense of normalcy to the people. Not only here in the ravaged areas but in Churches throughout Southwest Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Georgia. Many of our parishes have had to take in so many people who had to leave. This vast migration of 2005 after the worst natural disaster in USA history will leave a lasting imprint on this area. It has literally affected the entire Southern Province and greater USA not just Bay Saint Louis.

I suppose the greatest gift we have received as SVDs who encountered Katrina is the generosity and volunteer efforts from literally thousands of people. So many volunteers came and helped us out here at the Bay. We could never had cleaned up things without their assistance. To them we will be eternally grateful.

Another gift is from our own Divine Word Missionaries from throughout the world. So much generosity came from SVD throughout the world. Not only monetary but letters of support and encouragement.

The Generalate for instance has been most supportive. One concrete example is their asking about our condition in just about every letter we receive. They ask about the Retreat Center and its status for they know that this place can be a real beacon of hope to the many who are suffering spiritually and emotionally. To Father Pernia and the others on the Generalate staff we say thanks. We want you to know the Retreat Center has been a source of refuge to countless volunteers from throughout the USA this past year. Next year we hope to reopen the Retreat Center.

Many things have happened since that storm. We lost good men like Robert Pung and Joe Simon. Yet our Province moves on and with young men coming into our Province and new horizons opening up the future looks bright. Every storm has an end and like our brothers and sisters in Indonesia we will come back.

To all of you who care about us we say thank you. To the many friends of the SVD we appreciate your kindness and prayers. To belong to the SVD is both a privilege and an honor.

Hard to believe that the very hour I write these words we were on the second floor of Christman hall wondering if we would have to up on the roof. Yes, as the song says “Lord we’ve come a mighty long way”.

jim pawlicki, svd