Texas Parishioners Unhurt as Tornado Destroys Church

About 45 parishioners of St. John the Evangelist Church in Emory, Texas, took refuge in a hallway.

Tornado damage at St. John the Evangelist, Emory, Texas.
Tornado damage at St. John the Evangelist, Emory, Texas. (photo: Ben Fisher, Catholic East Texas Magazine, Diocese of Tyler)

TYLER, Texas — On Saturday night, parishioners of St. John the Evangelist Church in Emory, Texas, received the horrifying news that a tornado was heading in the direction of their church.

Immediately, the parishioners found the safest spot they could: the hallway in between their parish hall and the main church.

“About 30 seconds after we went into the hallway, it hit,” said youth minister Monica Hughes, according to CNN. “Everybody dropped to the floor and protected one another.”

The hallway was the refuge for about 45 parishioners, which included toddlers and students of St. John the Evangelist. Hughes and her husband fought against the strong wind to hold the hallway doors shut before the tornado hit — all while watching their church being torn apart by the storm.

“We could see the beams bending and the aluminum roof being ripped away,” Hughes recalled.

Throughout the terrifying experience, Hughes said that “everyone was perfectly calm and felt like it was going to be okay.” When the tornado seemed like it was over, they began to sing to keep the children calm and continued to pray for their safety.

The parishioners remained in the hallway for about two hours until EMS arrived, but they were removed from the location because of a gas leak and destroyed power lines.

“Both ends of the building were blown out,” stated Peyton Low, the director of public affairs for the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

“People are using the term ‘miraculous’ to describe what happened on Saturday night — the same night that at least three tornadoes killed four people in east Texas,” Low said.

All of parishioners at the church were unharmed, although most of the church was destroyed.

Despite conditions, the parish gave thanks for their safety during the tornado and celebrated Mass outside of the church on Sunday.

“By the grace of God and the protection of Our Lady, no one was injured,” Low stated, saying that “they gave thanks that the people inside survived.”

At least five deaths and 45 injuries have been confirmed across east Texas from the multiple tornadoes on Saturday night, and displacement centers have been set up at local churches in the area.

St. John’s is a small parish of about 150 families in Rains County, just outside of Dallas. The parish-damage estimates and relief-effort updates will be posted to the parish website as more information is gathered.

The Diocese of Tyler said in a statement on its website. “Please keep the parishioners of St. John and all affected by the storm in your prayers.” 

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