A Hopeful Update on Joplin’s FutureBy: Bishop James V. Johnston Joplin
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you says the Lord … plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope.” —Jer 29:11
The days since the devastating EF-5 tornado struck Joplin have been very eventful. There is still much to be done; still great suffering and uncertainty in the lives of many citizens. Yet, there are also many signs of God’s grace at work, pointing to a future full of hope. I want to give all of you an update on what has taken place and what still remains to be done for the Church and community in Joplin and our Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
The Catholic faithful throughout the diocese continue to express their concerns, good will, and thoughts for the Joplin community, specifically for parishioners in the area affected in any way by the tornado. The ongoing heartfelt responses include financial support, volunteer assistance, the offerings of expertise, and most importantly, prayers. It is inspiring and gratifying to witness such a generous and unselfish reaction and outpouring to this tragedy. Many others from across the US — dioceses, parishes, schools, and individuals — have also jumped to our aid. I am especially grateful for each of them and for the generous support from our Catholic brothers and sisters in the state of Missouri.
The diocese and the neighboring parishes in the Joplin area have been very busy reacting to the immediate and short-term needs of parishioners. The initial emphasis was on implimenting discussions about how and where to serve students from St. Mary Elementary School, as the beginning of another school year was rapidly approaching. The school board and diocesan personnel worked tirelessly in choosing the best option for the students attending St. Mary. The extensive research and discussions resulted in the decision to remodel the Simpson Building, located on the campus of McAuley Catholic High School. Renovation will soon be completed and the school year is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 6. Stephen Jones, St. Mary School principal, and his dedicated staff are to be commended for the many hours of toil they have given to prepare for the successful continuance of St. Mary School this year.
The attention quickly turned to other important tasks, including: development of a plan for worship and sacraments for parishes of St. Mary and St. Peter the Apostle; the immediate and essential pastoral response by pastors to the many parishioners experiencing crises; conversations and negotiations with the insurance company, Catholic Mutual; abatement of asbestos in the destroyed buildings; contracting with Crossland Construction Company for the demolition and removal of the debris; applying for FEMA and SEMA assistance; securing new office spaces and a residence for Fr. Justin Monaghan, the pastor of St. Mary Parish; and assisting parishioners who desperately needed immediate financial help. Solutions and significant progress have been made in all these areas. Fr. J. Friedel and the parishioners of St. Peter the Apostle Church deserve great thanks for their generous spirit in welcoming any displaced parish neighbors.
Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri
Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri (CCSM) also swiftly mobilized to react to this tragedy. CCSM recently opened a case management office and a warehouse distribution center in downtown Joplin. This will allow for long-term case management as well as immediate and ongoing assistance to those affected by the disaster.
As of the end of July, our local Catholic Charities distributed well over 2,100 gift cards worth more than $67,000 in assistance. CCSM has touched more than 1,600 unduplicated households, with close to 976 households receiving an initial case management session and nearly 400 households returning for additional visits. CCSM has also provided clothing to 525 families; infant items to 116 households; various goods to 490 families; groceries to 675 households; household supplies to 824 families; hygiene products to 677 families; air conditioners to 15 families; and six mattresses. In other words, Catholic Charities is positioned to help families in Joplin now and long term.
Additionally, assistance of the Catholic Charities agencies from Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph as well as Catholic Charities USA was crucial to our response.
There have been so many other organizations and individuals who have provided aid in Joplin that I cannot name all of these donors, volunteers, and benefactors. We will always grateful to all those who were a part of the relief and recovery efforts and for how these individuals and organizations unselfishly shared their time, talent, and treasure to help members of our diocesan family and the community at large who were hurting. This outpouring of generosity enables the diocese and Catholic Charities to continue to carry out the important work of recovery and restoration.
Looking to the future
We are making plans for the future of our Catholic community in the Joplin area. The Joplin Area Catholic Strategic Planning Committee met on Aug. 6 to begin research and study, in order to provide me with suggestions and counsel on important decisions affecting St. Mary Parish and the greater Joplin Catholic community. This 14-member advisory committee will meet regularly for the next several months and will then report to me their recommendations. Please pray for them and their work as we make plans to serve the Catholic community in Joplin. I will keep you posted as to how these plans take shape.
I will soon personally communicate to parishioners who have been identified as residing in homes that were directly in the path of the tornado and those parishioners who have been identified as being in dire financial difficulties, to determine what I and the diocese can do to help these individual families.
In the months and years ahead, we must continue to serve our friends in need with the heart of Jesus, facing the mystery of suffering with both faith and hope. Please join me in ongoing prayer and support for the Joplin community as recovery continues and as we plan, with God’s grace and help, for a future full of hope.