January 26, 2018

2018 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Bond of faith draws two schools together during disaster

As pastor of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis, Father James Wilmoth has always had a close connection with the students at the parish school—a connection that led to the students raising more than $26,000 earlier this year to help a Catholic school in Texas devastated by Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017. (Submitted photo)

As pastor of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis, Father James Wilmoth has always had a close connection with the students at the parish school—a connection that led to the students raising more than $26,000 earlier this year to help a Catholic school in Texas devastated by Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

As Father James Wilmoth shares the story, it soon becomes clear that it captures the heart of everything that’s good about Catholic education.

After all, it’s the story of the students of one Catholic school reaching out to help the students of another Catholic school that was severely damaged by a natural disaster—the story of two schools that once weren’t even aware of each other coming together through a common bond of faith.

Then there’s an angle to the story that Father Wilmoth would be the first to downplay—the story of how this 78-year-old pastor of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis once again showed his 53-year commitment to Catholic education by putting the needs of a devastated Catholic school community before the needs of his parish’s own school.

The story started in August of 2017 when Father Wilmoth watched televised news reports showing Hurricane Harvey roaring through Rockport, Texas—a hurricane that is believed to be the strongest to make landfall in Texas.

“You saw the devastation and how it displaced people and destroyed homes,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Dag-gone-it, we’re going to do something.’ ”

So he had a meeting with the staff of St. Roch School, told them he wanted to donate the school’s upcoming walk-a‑thon funds to a Catholic school hit by the hurricane, and asked St. Roch’s principal Amy Wilson to call the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, to find a school that needed help.

She found one in Sacred Heart School in Rockport.

“Their windows were blown out. Their computers and rooms were ruined,” says Father Wilmoth, who soon shared his plan with the children of St. Roch School.

“I told the kids I’d like for you to raise $20,000, and we won’t keep any of it. All the money will go to Sacred Heart School,” he recalls. “Then I talked it up at church one Sunday. The kids caught onto it, and it took off. We got to $20,000 and met our goal. So I said, ‘Let’s do a goal plus. Maybe we can get to $25,000.’ People really responded. We ended up sending them close to $26,500.”

The people of St. Roch School and Parish also ended up receiving a wealth of thanks from the community of Sacred Heart School, a school that re-opened on Jan. 4.

“I am so amazed at your awesome total donation to our school,” wrote Sacred Heart principal Kathy Barnes in a thank‑you note to St. Roch. “You and your school, St. Roch, really ROCK!! I just can’t imagine how you raised so much money in having your Walk-a-Thon, but I am impressed!

“Please, please relay to your students, families and staff our gratitude and appreciation for not only your check, but for your prayers. Those heartfelt prayers are helping us, I’m sure. May God bless you all abundantly.”

God has, Father Wilmoth says. That’s why the school and the parish wanted to share their blessings.

“It didn’t surprise me that people in St. Roch would respond that way,” he says. “But the amount of money we got did surprise me. I was so proud of how they responded to other people. Those people needed to understand we are their brothers and sisters even though they didn’t know us.”

St. Roch’s efforts reflected one of his favorite Scripture passages, he noted: “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you’re doing for me” (Mt 25:40).

He believes that passage is the essence of the Catholic faith and Catholic education.

“I’ve loved Catholic education during my 53 years as a priest,” Father Wilmoth says. “I look back on my life and see what it’s done for me. And Catholic education has been a terrific contributor to all of society, not just our Church. Thousands and thousands of people have benefitted from Catholic education.

“That’s what Catholic education is all about—the fact that Jesus is the focus of our schools. That’s what makes it so successful.” †

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