December 14, 2012

Renovated St. Francis Xavier Church is rededicated

The now-renovated St. Francis Xavier Church in Henryville is pictured on Nov. 25. (Photo by Leslie Lynch)

The now-renovated St. Francis Xavier Church in Henryville is pictured on Nov. 25. (Photo by Leslie Lynch)

By Leslie Lynch (Special to The Criterion)

HENRYVILLE—The short summary of the devastating tornadoes of March 2, 2012, still leaves a haunting feeling:

A deadly outbreak of tornadoes strikes the Midwest United States, from Illinois to Ohio, from Tennessee to Indiana. One touches down near Fredericksburg [in] Indiana, and travels nearly 50 miles on the ground, gathering strength to become an EF-4 and cutting a swath half a mile wide. The towns of Borden and New Pekin are impacted in varying degrees; much of Henryville is leveled, and Marysville is destroyed. St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Henryville, damaged but still standing, becomes a beacon of hope and a hub for relief efforts.

Nearly nine months after the deadly storm, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, traveled to Henryville to bless the repaired and renovated church on Nov. 25.

Father Steven Schaftlein, pastor of both St. Francis Xavier Parish and nearby St. Michael Parish in Charlestown, concelebrated the Mass.

The tornado caused $250,000 in structural damage to St. Francis Xavier Church, but the church, which was centrally located in the damage area, quickly filled with donations of clothing, food and tools.

“Since the night of the March 2 tornadoes, we have tried to open our doors to all of its victims and to all of the volunteers who have come to help,” Father Schaftlein said. “We have tried to be a place of welcome.”

At first, the focus was on emergency responses, which soon transitioned into disaster relief. St. Francis Xavier Parish supported the rebuilding effort and community healing by collaborating with other area churches and organizations.

The result was March2Recovery, a community organization formed to oversee the rebuilding and promote events aimed at emotional healing.

St. Francis Xavier Parish purchased two adjoining plots of land and renovated their existing buildings. In July, a house on one of the plots became the administrative offices of March2Recovery. Its garage became a work center.

Efforts initially focused on removing debris, and providing thousands of meals to volunteers and victims. Representatives of archdiocesan Catholic Charities and Indiana Project Aftermath—a team of mental health workers—assisted residents in accessing resources that provided emotional support.

The parish and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have helped many residents with funds for rent, utilities and car repairs from hail damage.

In the midst of these efforts, the damage to the church’s roof was discovered to be much more serious than first thought. Members congregated in a parish hall below the church to celebrate Mass while repairs were done. They moved back into the sanctuary just weeks before the blessing.

During the Mass on Nov. 25, Father Schaftlein thanked the parish, community, volunteers and agencies that have helped during the past nine months.

Father Schaftlein also thanked Bishop Coyne “for joining with us in our time of distress, and now in our time of celebration. We are a symbol of what our community is. More than buildings and people, we are God-fearing spirits.”

Bishop Coyne responded, “There is one other person in this space that needs to be thanked. He’s had a hammer in his hands more than a chalice over these past few months. He’s been such a good leader for all of you, not just this parish but also for this town. That is Father Steve.”

The blessing of the repaired and renovated church touched many parishioners.

The cross on the church’s steeple was a symbol of life for Emily Horine, who was a senior at Henryville High School on March 2. She had gone to her mother’s classroom after dismissal to help with Vicki Horine’s class of preschool students with special needs.

Emily’s extended family huddled in the church basement during the tornadoes so her biggest concern upon emerging from a classroom closet was the church. She was told that the town had been leveled and the church wasn’t safe.

Fearing the worst, Emily ran outside. The first thing she saw was the cross. With a flood of relief, she knew that her family had survived the devastating storm. The experience changed her life.

“I know I want to help,” Emily said. “I cherish every moment a lot more. A lot of kids are ready to leave their small town behind and go to college. I can’t wait to get back, to be part of it.”

She also carries an unshakable belief that “God can be with you regardless” of the circumstances.

Vicki Horine shepherded her students into a closet when the alarm was sounded that day, and grabbed her holy water and rosary on the way.

“I was raised by my grandmother to get the holy water when there’s a storm,” she said. “It’s like turning the light off when you leave a room. I asked one little girl if I could sprinkle her with ‘Jesus water,’ and she said ‘yes.’

“Of course, it’s not [only] the water that brings the blessing, it’s the prayers that go with it. Now, her mom says the 3-year-old doesn’t go to bed at night without having her ‘Jesus water’ close by,” Vicki Horine said. “Her mom says, ‘I’m glad she feels safe having it there.’ It gave us a chance to teach something that’s important to us as Catholics.”

Both Horines point to the incredible rise of ecumenism in Henryville since the storm.

“The walls between churches came down,” Vicki said. “If it hadn’t been for those tornadoes, we never would have seen this.”

Father Schaftlein said the deeper sense of community is epitomized in the Gospel of St. Matthew, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

The outpouring of hearts and service has brought healing and recovery to the area, but there is still much work to do. Recovery will continue for at least another year.

The need for volunteers has not diminished, but it has changed. In the spring, another call will be made for skilled volunteers.

And St. Francis Xavier parishioners in Henryville will continue to minister to the spiritual and temporal needs of all who ask for help.

(Leslie Lynch is a member of St. Mary Parish in Lanesville. Catholic Charities is still looking for skilled and unskilled volunteers to help with rebuilding efforts in Henryville and the surrounding area. For more information, send an e-mail to Jane Crady, coordinator of disaster preparedness and response for Catholic Charities, at or call 317-642-7322.)

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