April 14, 2006

Archdiocesan Katrina Fund continues to aid
in hurricane relief

By Sean Gallagher

The enormity of the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina in late August last year inspired a massive response by archdiocesan Catholics.

In the weeks after the hurricane, nearly $1 million was contributed to what became the Archdiocese of Indianapolis Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund.

The fund’s money was given through second collections taken up in archdiocesan parishes and via individual donations.

Most of the funds contributed were unrestricted. But more than $54,000 was dedicated to the relief of those displaced by Katrina who resettled in the archdiocese.

As of March 28, only slightly more than $52,000 of the nearly $1 million contributed remained in the fund.

David Siler, executive director of the archdiocese’s Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries, called the building of the Katrina Fund a “bright spot” for him.

He witnessed the great influx of contributions and helped determine how they were dispersed.

“To see such good come out of this tragic situation has been pretty inspiring,” he said. “It just shows us the hearts of Catholics. When the need is known, people will respond.”

Shortly after the donations started pouring in, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein established an ad hoc committee to recommend to him how the funds should be dispersed.

Large portions of the Katrina Fund were distributed last fall. More than $615,000 from the fund was given to Catholic Charities USA. A donation of $100,000 was given to the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Two gifts of $25,000 each were given to the Catholic Church Extension Society and Catholic Charities of Jackson, Miss.

Support was also given from the Katrina Fund to relief trips sponsored by archdiocesan groups.

Valerie Sperka, development specialist for Catholic Charities Indianapolis and a member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, recently spoke with The Criterion while she was a chaperone on a relief trip to Pascagoula, Miss., sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. The trip was supported by the archdiocesan Katrina Fund.

She is amazed by the ongoing interest and willingness of Catholics in central and southern Indiana to lend a helping hand.

“It has continued throughout,” Sperka said. “We’re seven and a half months out, and people are still willing to give of their time and give of their finances to help enable the rebuilding process taking place down here.”

The Katrina Fund also awarded a $25,000 grant for a trip sponsored by Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish last December to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Orleans. The dozens of people who made the trip south did work that allowed the parish’s school to open up for the spring semester.

Dominican Father Ian Bordenave, pastor of the parish, spoke about the impact that the relief work has had on his faith community.

“Their generosity … [has] helped to rebuild St. Anthony of Padua School,” he said. “Families could not return to New Orleans if their children had no place to go to school.”

Father Ian said that the public school system in New Orleans has, by and large, remained closed and that it is only private schools, such as those run by his parish, that are enabling families to return to the city.

The Katrina Fund has also aided those displaced by the hurricane who came to the archdiocese.

It has helped provide counseling, clothing, tools and other supplies for work, transportation and rent assistance.

David Bethuram, the director of Catholic Charities Indianapolis, has interviewed many of the people displaced by Katrina who are seeking aid here.

“It’s just been a really humbling experience for me personally to be able to let these individuals come in and talk about their own experiences of what has happened to them,” he said, “… and to really let them know that not only do I personally care, but we as a Church community care about what’s happened to them.”

Siler said he hopes the care extended by archdiocesan Catholics through the Katrina Fund will continue in the months to come because the need will continue to be great, both in the affected region and in the archdiocese.

He foresees the possibility that more second collections will be needed to replenish the Katrina Fund.

“I’d like to see it continue for as long as necessary,” Siler said. “There’s no way I can say how long that is because the rebuilding effort is going to take so long.”

He also expressed his hope to establish an ongoing archdiocesan general disaster relief fund that would aid people in the archdiocese affected by tornadoes, house fires or other local tragedies.

“Obviously, the scale of this hurricane was unbelievable and unprecedented,” Siler said. “But you can’t say that to somebody whose home just got flattened last night by a tornado. It’s as devastating to them as anything that’s happened in New Orleans.”

But whether it is coming to the aid of those affected by Hurricane Katrina or those struck by disasters closer to home, Father Ian is convinced that Catholics in central and southern Indiana are driven by their faith to respond.

“A spirit of mission to go out and help others must be a part of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ blood,” he said, “because we haven’t seen other dioceses in the United States have an outreach like there seems to pervade [there].” †


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