Disaster-stricken diocese in Kentucky receives ‘humbling’ amount of support: Bishop

After a series of deadly tornadoes hit Kentucky last year, the overwhelming charitable response from many fronts has been “humbling,” Bishop William Medley of the diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, told Fox News Digital recently. 

Speaking at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fall General Assembly in Baltimore last week, Bishop Medley said it will take “three or four years” to fully rebuild after the tornadoes’ devastation.

On Dec. 10, 2021, tornadoes ripped through western Kentucky, killing 57 people and injuring over 500, Fox News Digital reported at the time. 

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Waking up to the news of the tornadoes was “just disorienting and devastating,” said Medley. 

He has been bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro for 12 years, but last year’s disaster was the first of this scale that he’s endured, he said. 

“There are many occasions where there have been natural disasters where our diocese has taken up collections to send elsewhere,” he said. 

He added, “Never thinking that we would be the recipient of that.”

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, people on the ground were hampered by communications difficulties, the bishop said.

“[In] the first days, I couldn’t even reach the pastors and the people in the local areas,” he said. 

“And then it was more days before we could actually visit.”

The territory of the Diocese of Owensboro consists of 32 counties in western Kentucky, according to its website. 

It was established in 1937 and has one of the highest Mass-attendance rates in the country.

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Following the storms, Medley said that money began to pour into the diocese to assist with recovery efforts. 

“We began as a diocese to receive contributions from all over the country, primarily from other Catholic churches,” he said. 

“The Catholic charities, in particular Catholic Charities USA, called on that first day that we were back in the office to say they were giving us $1 million.”

Eventually, his diocese would receive about $10 million in donations, with a third of that coming from Catholic Charities USA, he said.

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“The responses of dioceses and individual contributors who sent money to us was just a real affirmation of what it means to be Catholic,” he said. 

And while the money was helpful, Medley explained that “we didn’t have the structure to know what to do” with it in a way that would help the most people possible. 

Catholic Charities USA then “also sent personnel, to give us a blueprint.” 

Those individuals explained to the diocese how to better engage with the community — and how to partner with other charitable organizations such as the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity — to serve the population more effectively, he said. 

In the days after the tornadoes, Medley said that “Catholic Charities helped us by coming in and saying, ‘This is the role you can have.’” 

“And we’re now engaged in the reconstruction or repair of scores of homes and will be as case managers,” he said. 

Medley said there were a “few dozen” homes that, as an agency, the diocese is involved with rebuilding.

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“And we have 16 case managers who work with the diocese and have accepted cases all across those counties of western Kentucky,” he said.

While over 900,000 people live within the Diocese of Owensboro’s territory, only about 50,000 of them are Catholics, Medley told Fox News Digital. 

“So the vast majority of the people we will touch in direct service will not be Catholic,” he said. “But that’s not the point.”

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