Monday, April 17, 2006

Coming together on Easter

Monday, April 17, 2006


Parishioners find comfort in each other

By Brian Morelli
Iowa City Press-Citizen

In many ways, St. Patrick's Catholic Church celebrated Easter Mass on Sunday similar to how they would any year: as a parish.

Little girls wore Sunday's best dresses and bonnets and boys dressed in spring outfits. However, while worshippers remembered the resurrection of Jesus, they too were resurrecting from the tornado that decimated their church just three days before.

"This Easter Sunday morning 2006, I am a grateful man," the Rev. Rudolph Juarez said to more than 400 worshippers at the opening of the 11 a.m. Mass in the Regina High School gym.

"I was driving down Governor (Street) and Rochester (Avenue) on my way here, and I had a hankering for gumbo ... because I could have sworn I was in New Orleans, but I was in Iowa City. I am grateful to be in Iowa City, and grateful to be here with this church," said Juarez, and parishioners clapped.

Thursday's F2-rated tornado tore off the 228 E. Court St. church's roof, knocked over the steeple and sent support beams flying, while about 70 people sought shelter in the church basement.

That destruction was only a small sampling of 3½ miles of damage in Iowa City from a twister with 150 mph winds, according to the National Weather Service.

While damage estimates are at about $10 million and rising, there were surprisingly no serious injuries in Iowa City, although the storm killed Christine McAtee, 49, when a tornado tore through her mobile home near Nichols, about 20 miles southeast of Iowa City.

Juarez said he expected the building to be closed for at least 10 months, and the future of the church is unclear. The damage to the church was not yet assessed. If and how they rebuild is still to be decided, Juarez said.

Juarez lives in the rectory, which also was severely damaged. He is being housed at the Newman Catholic Student Center, 104 E. Jefferson St.

"We will rebuild St. Patrick's in some way. Where, we don't know. When, we don't know that either," Juarez said. "We have to be open to God's will."

Mass proceeded in standard fashion, aside from a few on-the-fly adjustments because of relocating to the gym.

"As Jesus, who rose from the dead, we too as a parish will rise up to new heights," Juarez said.

For many, the service was one of mixed emotions, but parishioners were mostly upbeat.

"I am excited to celebrate as a parish and as a community," said Katy Lincoln of Iowa City. "We could go to another church in town, but our church is the people, not the building."

Lincoln, 43, was baptized at St. Patrick's and has attended the church her whole life.

"I realize it is just a building, but there is a lot of family memories there," Lincoln said.

Lincoln's mother, Pat Brandt, 71, was baptized, married and attended St. Patrick's her whole life. She also saw eight of her children baptized and six children married at the building.

"It's a sad weekend, but we all survived. We are a strong people, stronger than a storm. ... It's not quite the same as being in that church, but it is the people who make a church," Brandt said.

Joe Wallace, 26, of Iowa City, is a teacher at Regina and attends St. Patrick's. He echoed Lincoln and Brandt's thoughts.

"Being a Catholic, you have a lot of events in life that take place at church. Knowing that might not exist anymore is emotional. But seeing us rebound is powerful. When we need to come together we do," Wallace said.

Pedro Chavez, 40, of Iowa City, came with his wife and three children to the 12:30 p.m. Spanish Mass. He said he was still getting over the shock of the tornado.

"I've never been in a tornado warning before. This is the first I've been in a tornado," said Chavez, adding that he had seen the devastated church. "It's hard to look at. We feel very sorry."

Jerry Miller, the deacon, was in the church Thursday during the storm. Beforehand, he went to his car and heard sirens, which prompted him to warn those in the building to head for the basement. He said as an Iowan he has heard many sirens, and normally they prompt little reaction. He said he was not sure why it was different this time.

"You could call it intuition or a feeling. I am not really sure," Miller said.

Whatever the reason, Juarez and others said Miller saved many lives.

In the church, the balcony collapsed and with it a large organ fell to the floor level. Only a short time before a youth choir had been practicing on the balcony, and people had been congregating below.

Regular services including daily Mass and other functions will continue at St. Patrick's Parish Hall, 435 S. Linn St., which will serve as home while the future status is determined.

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