Almost 10 years on from Hurricane Katrina, Sr Therese Lenehan looks at religious life in Louisiana
Up to August 2005 the Dominican Sisters were primarily engaged at the Parochial school of St Leo the Great and other parish ministries. However, with the onset of Hurricane Katrina, this has somewhat changed for us, as the schools and many parishes in our surrounding area were severely damaged. Many of our parish families lost everything – homes, belongings and employment. We also lost our home and our ministry like many others in the area, but St. Leo the Great Church remained relatively intact.
After Katrina, the church and its family was very important to the community at large. St. Leo the Great opened its doors for Sunday worship on the last Sunday of October 2005 and had about 65 people present to celebrate the Eucharist in darkness, as there was no electricity. Many people traveled from distant parts of the State or States to celebrate together each weekend. We came to the city from Houma each weekend to be with our Church family. This became the highlight of the week – the grace of sharing stories, meeting new friends each week and learning that someone else was safe was a wonderful blessing. The Church family became a wonderful support to all.
We learned a lot about faith, trust and sharing – self, time, talents and dollars too, during this readjusting period. The November 6th, 2005 Church Bulletin states that nine schools closed in our area with the hope of one school opening at St. James Major Campus in Gentilly by January 2005. This however, did not happen! St Leo served many adjoining parishes in the area – St. Raymond, Corpus Christi, Epiphany, Cabrini, St. Raphael, to mention a few. Our Pastor at the time was instrumental in uniting all with his weekly identification and welcome of new comers to the City – even just for the day – despite the hazardous drive through dark and dangerous roadways.
The losses and heartaches grew when Churches and schools were officially closed in 2008, and Church families were forced to merge. This time of transition was very painful for both sections of parishes – those losing their former place of worship despite their many hours of labor to clean and restore their churches, and those receiving an additional church family at their site. This was an Archdiocesan decision, and sorry to say, there was no Pastoral Care offered to the people of the merging parishes. It was helpful to know that our presence with the people on both sides of the fence was deeply appreciated during this difficult time. Today we are the family of St. Raymond and St. Leo the Great, worshipping at St. Leo the Great Church. St. Leo the Great School, the only Parochial School in the area opened in September 2007, with a lay principal and three Notre Dame Sisters from Toledo, Ohio, coming on board.
We resumed the Parish Religious Education Program at St. Leo School buildings in January of 2006, having cleaned hallways and classrooms to make this possible. We ministered in this building with other dedicated volunteers without electricity and with broken windows until the school was prepared for reopening in September 2007.
Our Religious Education Program has grown year by year. This year we had sixteen of our students receive their First Holy Communion. Twenty of our students in the Religious Education Program received the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Catholic School ethos has changed since Katrina, with less Catholics attending – so our Religious Education Programs are very important to our parish families. We are blessed with Sr. Elizabeth as the Elementary Coordinator and Mrs. Marlene Wilson as our Director of Religious Education at St. Raymond and St. Leo the Great Parish. Our Catechists are all volunteers and include members of both parishes who are dedicated to this ministry. Our Preaching Ministry thrives with Sr. Elizabeth’s reflection on the Sunday readings, which she puts before the children and faculty before we go to class each week.
We are also engaged in other ministries in the parish – Lectors, Fellowship Committee, and giving a helping hand whenever and wherever we can. We partake in Justice Issues, Crime Prevention Activities, Immigration, Human Trafficking Concerns with other groups in the City.
We have many inter community relationships in the area and we teach with the Holy Family Sisters and a Teresian Sister at St. Mary Academy, Elementary Section. We also teach religion to kindergarten and first graders. We see ourselves fulfilling our Preaching Ministry here with the children and our colleagues, taking morning assembly at the beginning of each day where all have the experience of coming together in a quiet prayerful atmosphere to ask God’s blessing on the day, give thanks for gifts received, to be of service to others and show respect for all. We also prepare the monthly celebration of the School Family Mass with grade level students and their teachers. We look forward to these celebrations held in the Sister’s Convent Chapel where the children really enter into the celebration and the singing. Our Chaplain loves coming to celebrate with us and always lauds the children for their participation and reverence in church.
We are the recipients of many blessings in our ministries here. Our Dominican charism and presence is much appreciated by those we encounter daily.