By Karen Baker, Contributing writer
“It was hot. It was sweaty. It was smelly. It was exhausting. And I enjoyed every moment.”
That’s how Mary Queen of Peace parishioner Herb Leedy described his trip to Orange, Texas, the weekend of Sept. 23-24 to gut houses in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Father John-Nhan Tran, pastor of the Mandeville parish, recruited parishioners to travel to the Diocese of Beaumont Sept. 16-17 and Sept. 23-24. Seven parishioners and the pastor traveled to Beaumont the first weekend, delivering supplies and gutting the homes of two parishioners from Our Lady of the Assumption Church.
They were personally thanked by Beaumont Bishop Curtis Guillory, who treated the group to dinner. The following weekend, 10 parishioners joined the pastor for a trip to Orange, where they assisted three families from St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
Leedy, who grew up in Orange, was glad to be a part of something special.
“It really made me proud to be a member of Mary Queen of Peace and to be able to represent our parish in this important work,” he said. “We truly are part of a wonderful community, and we have a special pastor guiding us. In the end it’s all about the people we touched and the friendship and bonds we built that strengthen our faith communities at St. Francis and MQP. I don’t think Father Sinclair (Oubre) and the St. Francis parishioners will soon forget our crew. It feels good to pay it forward.”
Wanted to help
Sandy Dombrowski, who made the trip to Orange with her husband, Jim, agreed.
“The desire to help is so strong” that everyone who made the trip worked joyfully and without complaint, and that was perhaps the greatest gift they brought to Texas.
“The lady we helped at the last house thanked us for coming with such joy and spirit of playfulness,” Dombrowski said. “She said it lifted her up. She was overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start” with the house. “Our whirlwind walked into her house and gave her hope – even if that meant ripping up her tile and linoleum and leaving bare concrete. We left her with no floor but with a lifted spirit.”
“Seeing the faces of the homeowners after seeing some progress on their home was uplifting,” added Michael Lavie, who also acted as the Orange team’s cook, preparing meals in the St. Francis parish center – which also doubled as the sleeping quarters. “There is no better way to live Jesus’ message than helping people in need.”
Lavie said he jumped at the chance to help because he remembers too well the lessons of Katrina.
“I try to go every day without saying the word Katrina,” he said. “With that said, ‘it’ taught us many things. So when I heard Father John was taking a group to Texas, I knew I had to go. I remember the despair people felt after our disaster, and I remember my parents’ reaction when perfect strangers offered to help (with their home in Lakeview). The joy they got just from the offer was unforgettable. So helping people in time of need is a must.”
For Lori Kilgore, who traveled to Beaumont and whose husband Patrick made the trip to Orange, spending a weekend offering relief was a joy.
“Going to help people who have lost everything was an easy decision,” she said. “Last year we went to Denham Springs to help a friend’s cousin whose house had to be gutted, so I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. I felt happy to go because I knew I would get more out of helping than I could possibly give. The feeling of helping others in a time of need is like nothing you can ever explain. It’s why we are here.”
Catholics are here, Father Tran said, to give thanks and to offer hope.
“I wish to thank those families for the opportunity to assist them with the recovery,” he said. “All of us who went to Beaumont and Orange had a joyful time working together; they laughed just as much as they worked. And they worked hard and for many hours. I believe that our presence and efforts brought those we helped a sense of hope.”
Hope was delivered to Texas in more ways than one from Mary Queen of Peace. In addition to the house-gutting trips, Father Tran and parishioner Ken Brownson traveled to Port Arthur on Sept. 8 to deliver a 24-foot truckload of supplies collected from parishioners. Mary, Queen of Peace also collected $43,000 for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and contributed $40,000 from its tithing fund to the Diocese of Beaumont.
“I am grateful for our community for generously donating to the relief efforts for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the Diocese of Beaumont,” Father Tran said.
For their part, the parishioners of Mary Queen of Peace are grateful for their pastor’s leadership in reaching out to those in need.
“Father John’s humility makes him a wonderful leader to tear up houses with – he inspired us and we inspired each other,” Dombrowski said, all throughout two hot, sweaty, exhausting, joy-filled weekends.
Karen Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.