January 27, 2006

2006 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Archdiocesan students aid schools damaged by hurricane

By Sean Gallagher

When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, Catholic schools and their communities across the region were severely damaged by the storm’s strong winds and its subsequent flooding.

The hurricane also tested the mission and identity of Catholic schools far away from the area, including those in the archdiocese.

Now, five months after Katrina blew ashore, Catholic school faculty members, staff and students in central and southern Indiana are able to see how they passed that test with flying colors.

Tony Hollowell, a graduate of Nativity School and Roncalli High School, both in Indianapolis, witnessed the impact of the relief efforts of archdiocesan schools as a teacher at Resurrection High School in Pascagoula, Miss., in the Biloxi Diocese.

The devastation that he saw at Resurrection High School when he returned to it three days after the storm hit was hard for him to fathom.

“There’s really nothing to describe it,” said Hollowell, who teaches there through the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program.

“You never would think you would see that place the way you saw it,” Hollowell said. “It was your home for so long and then to see it completely uprooted—you’ve never seen something this big before.”

But with the help of his high school alma mater and several nearby Catholic schools and parishes, Resurrection High School reopened just six weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi coastline.

Hollowell’s father, Joseph Hollowell, is the president of Roncalli High School and led fundraising efforts in Indianapolis for repairs to Resurrection High School.

By early November, approximately $42,000 had been funneled through Roncalli to help rebuild the storm-damaged high school.

Those funds were collected from Roncalli students, St. Roch Parish and School, Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School, Cathedral High School and Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish, all in Indianapolis, and also from several individuals.

The approximately 290 students, teachers and administrators of St. Roch School raised $24,000 in a walk-a-thon last fall. These funds also aided in the rehabilitation of Mercy Cross High School in Biloxi, Miss., in the Biloxi Diocese.

“A part of our everyday mission is teaching how Christ ministered to those in need,” said Joseph Hansen, St. Roch School’s principal. “These people had fallen on some tough times, and it was a great opportunity for our kids to minister and show how much they care.”

Tony Hollowell said he was astonished by the magnitude of the response by archdiocesan schools.

“You’re overwhelmed by the storm,” he said, “but it’s even more overwhelming to see that response, that generosity, that people gave to our school so openly.”

Katrina was a heavy burden for Tony Hollowell and the Resurrection students and teachers to bear at the start of the school year last August.

But he said the response to the storm strengthened his “conviction of the value of Catholic schools and their responsibility to form people who will change the world, not only by what they believe but also by what they do.”

Many other archdiocesan schools organized relief efforts to aid those schools and students affected by Katrina.

Students at Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison collected more than $1,300 for hurricane relief.

Eighty shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts were sent to students at St. Stephen School in New Orleans by St. Christopher School students in Indianapolis.

Students at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis were among the volunteers who traveled to Louisiana to help repair St. Anthony of Padua School in New Orleans.

The service trip was sponsored by Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood shortly after Christmas. The students helped clean up the school and prepare the classrooms for its reopening.

Archdiocesan schools also helped those affected by Katrina by opening their doors to students whose families moved to Indiana because of the storm.

At least 10 schools across the archdiocese collectively took in more than 20 students.

Haley Lafferre, a fifth-grader at St. Lawrence School in Lawrenceburg, and her family moved to the southeastern Indiana town in mid-September after their home in Ocean Springs, Miss., was destroyed by Katrina.

They decided to move to Indiana because they have relatives who are Lawrenceburg residents.

Haley said she was nervous about becoming a student in a new school in a place that she had only visited briefly at Christmas, but the warm welcome she received from St. Lawrence students soon calmed her fears.

“It’s been really great,” she said. “Everybody’s nice. On my first day, [students] came up and asked me if I wanted to sit with them at lunch and go outside and play with them.”

She said that she wants to complete the academic year at St. Lawrence School, but there is a possibility that her family might return to Mississippi in February.

Haley said that, wherever she lives, she wants to stay in touch with the friends she has made in Lawrenceburg.

Dena Steiner, the principal of St. Lawrence School, said the welcome given to Haley and her sister are indicative of the school’s Catholic identity.

“I think that’s what we’re all about, opening up our arms and welcoming everybody that needs us into our school,” Steiner said. “We try to teach our students that there are other people out there [who need help]. We encourage them to help others, whether it’s in our neighborhood, whether it’s in the United States or whether it’s in the world.”

Last September, the community at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis welcomed Christian Curry-Jeffries of New Orleans, now a junior at the school, when she was displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Christian was a student at a public high school in New Orleans and now lives with her grandmother, Franciscan Sister Jannette Marie Pruitt, at St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis.

While she said that she has had to adjust to the fact that Cardinal Ritter has “a little more rules” than the previous school she attended, Christian appreciated the welcome she received there, saying that she feels like her fellow students have known her “all her life.”

Christian said she plans to continue her studies at Cardinal Ritter until she graduates in 2007, and is thankful for the stability that the Indianapolis West Deanery high school’s community has afforded her.

“It will just help me to study more and get my life together,” she said, “rather than worrying about whether or not I’ll have to move and make new friends again.”

Christian said she is especially looking forward to school events like the spring prom, and “everything that comes with being a junior and senior in high school, those special moments.” †


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