SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –– The powerful that ripped through cities and towns in western Massachusetts “left debilitating aftereffects,” said Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell said in a letter to all in the diocese.
“We mourn those who were killed or injured even as we thank God that the toll in human life was not greater,” he said. “The images of homes damaged or destroyed, of businesses wiped out, of institutions crippled, of mighty trees reduced to kindling, will long be seared in our memories.”
The death toll from the storm numbered at least four, and about 200 others suffered injuries.
The bishop said the devastation to the diocesan buildings was “especially heartbreaking to the diocese.”
Diocesan ministries were especially hard-hit in one section of Springfield. Cathedral High School, St. Michael’s Academy pre-school and middle school campuses and St. Michael’s Residence for retired priests suffered significant damage.
The tornado ripped apart homes, businesses, wooded areas and many, many lives. The chapel at St. Michael’s Residence is now a pile of rubble. Windows were blown out of the residence and Cathedral High School’s science wing. A large portion of the back wall of Cathedral’s gymnasium collapsed and a portion of the roof of the school was torn off. A wall also was blown away at the rear of the pre-school.
Diocesan spokesperson Mark Dupont said, “These facilities were hit very hard, nonetheless we are grateful that the injuries were minimal.”
Cathedral students ended their academic year with a final day of classes June 7 at Our Lady of the Elms College. Students from St. Michael’s Academy Middle School division were to conclude their academic year at Western New England University in Springfield. St. Michael’s Academy Preschool has been moved to the elementary school campus.
The diocese is currently investigating options to relocate all three schools in September.
In his letter, Bishop McDonnell asked for “prayers for those who died in the storm, for those injured, for those who lost homes or businesses, for those whose lives were upended by the tornadoes.”
“I ask prayers of thanksgiving as well for those who rushed to help: police, firefighters, emergency workers, medical personnel, National Guard, and all those volunteers who gave of themselves so unstintingly and continue to do so in the storm’s aftermath. God bless them,” he added.
He also said that Catholic Charities is in “immediate and ongoing need of household items, toiletries, clothing, baby needs, and non-perishable food supplies for the tornado’s victims.”
Bishop McDonnell asked parishes to publicize the needs and to accept monetary donations to help alleviate the effects of the tornadoes. He said the funds collected would be used to meet the needs of the 19 communities in the diocese who were hit by the June 1 tornado.
On the day of the violent storm, some students and school personnel were still present in each school as the twister touched down, but none were hurt. Fr. John Sullivan from St. Michael’s Residence, suffered a separated shoulder and broken leg and had surgery. He will be spending time in a rehabilitation facility. The other seven retired diocesan priests at the residence have been moved to other locations.
Bishop McDonnell was on-site shortly after the devastation. Cathedral Principal John Miller was in the building during the storm. He had alerted faculty and students about the impending bad weather.
One of the first things Miller did after the storm was to visit the school chapel and check on the holy Eucharist.
Especially hard hit was the Holy Cross Parish area in Springfield. At a weekend Mass, Franciscan Fr. Dan Lanahan preached comfort to all. He stressed that “God love us all equally and did not punish anyone or spare or harm anyone.”
Franciscan Sr. Cindy Matthews, pastoral minister, has walked the streets of the parish with Fr. Lanahan to provide a presence and ascertain needs.
The parish has hosted civic meetings and meal programs for those who were suffering the effects of the tornado.
“There is nothing so bad that God can’t bring a greater good out of it – if we let him,” said Bishop McDonnell, quoting Mother Teresa.
He urged “the Catholic people of western Massachusetts to help bring good out of this tragedy.”