Wind Rips Roof Off Historic Indiana Catholic Church

Father Schroeder said powerful straight-line winds lifted the metal roof — which was about 10 years old — entirely off, depositing debris largely in the parking lots as well as in a neighbor’s yard and driveway.

Undamaged trees surround St. Joseph Church in Vanderburgh County, which lost its roof to a severe storm that moved through the area March 3, 2023.
Undamaged trees surround St. Joseph Church in Vanderburgh County, which lost its roof to a severe storm that moved through the area March 3, 2023. (photo: Don Werner/The Message / Diocese of Evansville)

A parish church in southern Indiana that dates to the late 19th century had its roof ripped off in a windstorm Friday.

Photos shared by the Diocese of Evansville show the roof of St. Joseph Parish church, which is located in rural Vanderburgh County, lying in a crumpled heap nearby.

One of two large pieces of the roof from St. Joseph Church in Vanderburgh County landed adjacent to — but did not significantly damage — the stone marker in front of the church. Don Werner/The Message, Diocese of Evansville

One of two large pieces of the roof from St. Joseph Church in Vanderburgh County landed adjacent to — but did not significantly damage — the stone marker in front of the church. Don Werner/The Message, Diocese of Evansville

Father Gene Schroeder, the church’s pastor, told CNA that the roof came off shortly after a funeral took place in the church and while class was in session at the nearby parish school. Miraculously, no one was injured.

Father Schroeder said powerful straight-line winds lifted the metal roof — which was about 10 years old — entirely off, depositing debris largely in the parking lots as well as in a neighbor’s yard and driveway. He said neither the school, rectory, nor the parish office sustained any damage. The windstorm caused thousands of power outages in the Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois tri-state area and damaged a hospital in Evansville, local outlet 14 News reported. 

The owners of the home across the street from the church told 14 News that they had gotten married at the church 59 years ago. They said that they saw, through their front window, the ripped-off roof barreling toward them and are thankful that the roof hit their garage and not their window. 

A large portion of the roof from St. Joseph Church in Vanderburgh County landed in the driveway of church neighbors and parishioners Harry and Madonna Lincoln. Don Werner/The Message, Diocese of Evansville

A large portion of the roof from St. Joseph Church in Vanderburgh County landed in the driveway of church neighbors and parishioners Harry and Madonna Lincoln. Don Werner/The Message, Diocese of Evansville

Father Schroeder said because there is a plaster ceiling above the sanctuary, the interior of the church did not sustain any damage. He said crews are in the process of putting a temporary cover over the roof to prevent water damage, since rain is forecast for later this week. 

The parish community is one of the oldest in the diocese, having been established in 1841. The original church building was destroyed in a fire in 1886 and rebuilt two years later. 

“Back when the church burned down in 1886, they didn’t have any insurance,” Father Schroeder noted. 

“But we have insurance. I don’t know if that will cover the whole cost, but we’re blessed because we do have insurance and we’ve had insurance adjusters out there and people working with them without too much difficulty at all.”

Despite the damage to the church, the parish was still able to host its parish fish fry the day that the windstorm occurred. 

Father Schroeder said he has been heartened by other faith communities in the county extending offers of prayers and material support, including St. Paul’s United Church of Christ and a local community of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Above all, the Catholic community is eager to help rebuild their historic church, he said. He also said many of the workers helping to fix the church have connections to the parish.

“This is a small little country parish in a lot of ways, and people love the church. And of course, they’re kind of heartbroken by seeing [the roof] down, but they just want to do everything they can to fix it up,” the pastor said. 

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