By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

Parishes, organizations and schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge quickly mobilized to provide relief for victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.  

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Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge Executive Director David Aguillard, left, is pictured with Sister Marjorie Hebert of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Sister Mariam McClean of Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana. They were touring the warehouse of Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana where donations have been arriving to assist victims of Hurricane Laura. The Diocese of Baton Rouge, along with several parishes and CCDBR, are coordinating relief efforts. Photo provided by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge 

 

Laura made landfall Aug. 27 packing winds of 150 miles-per-hour, tying it with an 1856 storm as the strongest to make landfall in Louisiana and also tying it as the fifth strongest to make landfall in the U.S.  

It is believed every church in the Diocese of Lake Charles sustained some form of damage, with several potentially being a total loss.  

Hours after the storm made landfall, Bishop Michael G. Duca outlined three steps the diocese was taking to assist, including an online portal to make financial contributions, special collections at Masses the weekends of Aug. 29-30 and Sept. 5-6 and instructions on how people can help through Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

In a separate communication to priests and deacons, the bishop said he wanted to begin this effort “quickly as a first step in creating a system of support that will allow us to accompany those affected on the long road of recovery. As the needs and challenges develop, we will be looking for creative ways to help our brothers and sisters in need.”     

The Catholic Schools Office issued a statement Aug. 30 saying that schools in the diocese are opening their doors to welcome students from areas impacted by Laura. The statement said students enrolled in one of the 17 Catholic elementary and high schools located in the Dioceses of Alexandria and Lake Charles may apply by contacting the Baton Rouge Catholic School Office directly.   

General information about Catholic schools in the diocese can be found at csobr.org, and a list of Catholic schools can be found through the School Finder Page at csobr.org/schoolfinder.  

According to the statement, each school’s capacity to accept displaced students is different, especially because of reduced numbers in classrooms due to the pandemic, some schools have room for displaced students while still maintaining social distancing guidelines.  Some schools may require a two-week quarantine with virtual learning before the student can attend on-campus classes. Interested parents should contact the school directly to find out the process for applying.   

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This photo is taken from the chancery in the diocese of Lake Charles looking toward the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. A building sitting between the chancery and the cathedral was leveled during Hurricane Laura.  Photo submitted by Father Jamin David 

 

Displaced families will receive a reduced cost to attend those schools and in place of a registration fee, a small application processing fee may be required.  

The cost of annual tuition will not be applied, with monthly tuition cost to be set at each school.  

Government tuition funding may also be available.  

The schools office also followed the lead of many parishes and CCDBR by establishing a drive for gift cards. Cards will  be distributed through CCDBR to displaced families currently living in hotels or other sites in the diocese.  

Many of the parishes are also chipping in. Father Jamin David, pastor of St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany told parishioners via the weekly bulletin that their help is needed “to return the favor to friends, neighbors and relatives in the Diocese of Lake Charles. 

The parish is planning to send gift cards to sister churches in southwest Louisiana to assist their parishioners.  

Father David suggested parishioners purchase gift cards from places such as Walmart, Target, Shell or Exxon for gas; or consider buying cards from home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot.  

“Imagine the help we could give if each family were able to contribute something,” Father David wrote.  

Cash donations will also be accepted and all donations will be forwarded to hurricane victims. 

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Flood waters created by Hurricane Laura caused coffins to come out of the grave site in at least one Catholic cemetery. The scene was eerily reminiscent of similar conditions following the flood of 2016 in the Baton Rouge area. Photo provided by Father Jamin David.

 

He said an announcement about a second collection will be forthcoming in the coming weeks. A “Helping Hands” donation can be made at stmargaretstthomas.com/give.  

St. Jean Vianney Church in Baton Rouge partnered with other parishes by collecting gift cards at the previously mentioned retail outlets. The cards will be given to CCDBR officials for distribution to evacuees temporarily living in Baton Rouge.  

Also, the parish is collecting cleaning supplies, bleach, long-handled brooms, rakes, tarps and shovels in the trailer in the church parking lot. Those supplies will be brought to staging areas for transportation to the Lake Charles area.  St. George and St. Aloysius churches, both in Baton Rouge, have also launched gift card drives, with St. George’s donation already delivered to Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana. 

For Father Todd Lloyd, pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Lakeland, watching Laura’s wrath was a bit more personal. He is a member of a priests’ support group that includes clergy members from four dioceses in southern Louisiana.  

One of the priests is Father Jeffrey Starkovich of St. Pius X Church in Ragley.  

“Throughout the whole (hurricane) we were checking on each other, particularly (Father Starkovich),” Father Lloyd said. “He was letting us know what was up and who we needed to pray for in certain situations.”  

Support group members drove rented trucks stocked with tarps, water and other critical supplies to Lake Charles for distribution.  

Although Father Lloyd was unable to be present in Lake Charles he did help pay for some of the materials.  

“The support was huge (for Father Starkovich),” Father Lloyd said. “It’s an unusual event but for us it was kind of more normal because we help each other regularly.”  

He said St. Pius X suffered property damage but the buildings are still standing, unlike other churches that were not so fortunate.  

“All we can do is pray for him,” Father Lloyd said.  

The websites diobr.org and ccdiobr.org have donation portals for Hurricane Laura relief. 

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Bishop Michael G. Duca and Father Jamin David, incoming Episcopal Vicar for Strategic Planning for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, visited Lake Charles on Sept. 5 to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Laura. Pictured left to right are Diocese of Lake Charles Vicar General Father Ruben Miller, Bishop Glenn J. Provost, Bishop Duca and Father David.  Photo submitted by Father David