Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
It started out an ordinary Saturday night at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas. About 45 people were gathered in the church hall to honor their recent graduates. But then the storm hit.
The forecast had called for severe storms across the South on Saturday evening; and when the front arrived, high winds lashed at homes and commercial buildings. Damaging hail smashed windows, heavy rain and flash floods closed roads and threatened towns, and at least four tornadoes touched down – killing at least 13 people in Texas, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma and Arkansas, extending northward to southern Illinois. In the small town of Canton, Texas, at least five people died and more than 50 were hospitalized as a tornado mangled trees, flipped vehicles and wrecked homes. Homes in Emory were flattened by another touchdown.
But amid the storm's fury, there was a miracle in Emory, Texas: None of the 45 graduates, proud parents or friends who were huddled in a hallway at St. John the Evangelist Church were injured, even as a tornado tore away the building around them.
The Diocese of Tyler's public affairs director Peyton Low told CNN, “The tornado was a direct hit. Both ends of the building were blown out.” In fact, the building was a total loss – photos on the diocese's Facebook page show the roof blown off, brick walls toppled, insulation and pipes and electrical wires dangling precariously. The Diocese of Tyler said on Facebook:
Dear friends, St. John the Evangelist Church in Emory, Texas, was totally destroyed by a tornado last night. About 45 people were just 10-feet away in a hallway sheltering when the tornado hit. By the grace of God and the protection of Our Lady, no one was injured.
Parishioner Monica Hughes was there Saturday evening, and she shared a photo of the hallway that was left standing on Saturday night. Her message, according to the Daily Mail:
God is good. Grateful. So very grateful. House has a tree in it. Boat was tossed.
We were at church with 40+ people. Got everyone into the hallway just as it hit. Church is gone. Only thing left standing is the hallway we were in. Not a scratch on anyone.
Amid the total destruction at the church, a statue of Our Lady stands atop a pew. And on Sunday, with no church building in which to celebrate the liturgy, an outdoor Mass was offered in the parking lot. Parishioners gathered around an open canopy, under which a folding table served as a makeshift altar.
The diocese asks for prayer for the safety, comfort and healing of all who have been affected by the storms. As yet there has been no appeal for assistance to rebuild the church and help those who have suffered loss; but information will most likely be published on the Diocese of Tyler's website.