Published September 8, 2005
Catholic Charities was just one of several national organizations gearing up to provide assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans Aug. 29 and left hundreds, and possibly thousands, dead in its wake.
Insurance firms were expecting claims stemming from Katrina to be the largest single-event payout since the 2001 terror attacks.
Catholic Charities said through its Web site that it would work through its affiliates in the archdioceses of Miami, New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., and the dioceses of Baton Rouge and Houma-Thibodaux, La., and Biloxi and Jackson, Miss., where the hurricane did its greatest damage.
Catholic Charities was accepting contributions for Hurricane Katrina relief by phone at: (800) 919-9338; by mail at: Catholic Charities USA, Hurricane Katrina, P.O. Box 25168, Alexandria, VA 22313-9788; or online at: www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.
“Based on past disasters, possible long-term services that Catholic Charities may provide include temporary and permanent housing, direct assistance beyond food and water to get people back into their homes, job-placement counseling, and medical and prescription drug assistance,” Catholic Charities said.
Catholic parishes and organizations across the country and particularly in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are responding to emergency and long-term needs for Hurricane Katrina evacuees by providing shelters, food, medicine and schooling.
Virtually all dioceses nationwide planned parish collections the first weekends of September and immediate assistance is coming from Catholic Charities agencies, St. Vincent de Paul societies, Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, parishes, retreat centers and families.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has responded to a request from the American Red Cross to open one of its 21 available shelters to help with the flow of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.
The archdiocese is prepared to open as many of its shelters as needed, according to Annette Gonzales Taylor, director of communications for the archdiocese.
“We are just waiting for the American Red Cross to give us the green light,” Taylor told The Texas Catholic Herald, archdiocesan newspaper of Galveston-Houston.
On Aug. 31, St. Peter Claver was at capacity, as more than 230 evacuees had already found their way to the Houston parish.
Josephite Father Rawlin Enette, pastor at St. Peter Claver, received word from the American Red Cross Aug. 30 asking him to open his doors to the wave of evacuees.
“We mobilized very quickly. They called and said they wanted to come in and I said, ‘Bring the folks!’” said Father Enette. As evacuees arrived, American Red Cross nurses assisted those with medical needs, and everyone received food and clothing.
The priest said he has never seen an outpouring of charity such as the one he’s witnessed since the evacuees arrived.
“Every time you look up, they’re bringing in more stuff, like food and clothing,” he said. “People of all walks of life have brought in countless number of things.”
Among the evacuees at St. Peter Claver was Maxine Rixner, a parishioner at St. Monica Parish in New Orleans. Rixner, her daughter and granddaughter fled New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. While she does not have any confirmation, Rixner is assuming the worst regarding her home.
“From the area my home was in, I’m pretty certain it’s gone,” Rixner said.
After spending a night in a hotel, Rixner and those she was traveling with found their way to St. Peter Claver. “When we got to the hotel they had a list of shelters that were open,” she said. “We picked this one because it was St. Peter Claver, and we have a Peter Claver back home.”
The elderly refugee said she has been amazed at the level of hospitality she has received in Texas. “It’s something I didn’t expect. I had a different perspective of Texas before we came here. But they have just been amazing. I can’t believe it.”
“I’m so grateful. I was telling my daughter you see the Holy Spirit working in everyone. If we could just keep this togetherness going after this disaster, what a wonderful world it would be,” Rixner added.
The Diocese of Alexandria, La., 190 miles north of New Orleans, had several of its facilities designated as evacuation sites. The diocesan high school was housing people evacuated from Our Lady of Wisdom House, a retirement facility in New Orleans, which initially evacuated 103 residents to a stadium in Alexandria.
The Alexandria diocesan retreat center was housing a group of retired Sisters of the Holy Family and Red Cross relief workers. St. Mary’s Residential Treatment Center for the Developmentally Disabled provided shelter to 26 patients with feeding tubes and many developmentally disabled adults.
Dozens of parishes in Arkansas are also assisting parishioners who are taking in family members and other evacuees who relocated to the state. Catholic Charities of Arkansas is planning for long-term assistance to families.
Tricia Nicholson, a parishioner at St. Mark Church in Monticello, Ark., may have hurricane refugee houseguests for quite some time. Her sister, Carolyn Kieffer, arrived Aug. 28 with six members of her family, including two elderly women, and a neighbor.
Kieffer, who is from New Orleans, said she continues to watch the news about when she could return home, but she is not optimistic that it will be anytime soon.
“This reminds me of 9/11,” she said. “Not knowing, watching television and searching for something familiar, just waiting for news. We’re just in a state of shock.”
Holy Family Retreat Center in Beaumont has become a haven for 35 people, three dogs and a cat from New Orleans. The evacuees range in age from 21 months to the 80s; they do not know what they will find, if anything, when they are finally able to return to their homes.
Adlai Depano, staying at the center with his wife and three children, said the uncertainty of what life will be like when he returns to New Orleans is unsettling, but just “being able to stay at the retreat center, with structure to the day, daily Mass and evening prayer helps,” he told the East Texas Catholic, Beaumont diocesan newspaper.
“We are not in control,” Depano said. “It is humbling, disconcerting.”
Contributing to this story were Erik Noriega in Houston, Linda Webster in Monticello and Karen Gilman in Beaumont.