After Harvey: A Mosaic of Stories from Galveston-Houston

September 26, 2017

A man stops to pray in an empty sanctuary at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Huffman. The parish was devastated and saw several feet of water during Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy of Father Richard Barker / St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Huffman.


Texas gives the world a lesson in the Beatitudes


Grace, grief mark Harvey's aftermath

HOUSTON — The chop-chop-chop sound of the helicopters were all too familiar.

Helicopters had been flying over the city for weeks.

Buzzing loud and low, four Houston Police Department choppers zoomed past the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Downtown Houston Sept. 13. Three flew straight ahead, one suddenly pulling away hard and fast: the Missing Man Formation — an aerial salute.

Below, three Galveston-Houston bishops stood outside the Co-Cathedral on St. Joseph Street gazing upwards at the now empty and quiet sky.

The silence after the aerial salute was quickly pierced by three gunshots that echoed off the Co-Cathedral walls. Each one, with the Mass and prayers of the faithful, honored the life and service of veteran Houston police Sgt. Steve A. Perez following his funeral Mass.

A Catholic, Perez was an active parishioner at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in northwest Houston. Perez, 60, died after driving into high water on his way to work in the dark early hours of Aug. 27 as Hurricane Harvey's record rainfall flooded hundreds of streets in the fourth largest city in the nation.

Surrounded by thousands of uniformed police officers, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo said Perez lived with an open, human heart receptive to the Lord, a heart that he gave to the whole Church.

"In the recent weeks, the city of Houston and Texas has given an object lesson in the Beatitudes to the whole world, though we never tried to do it," Cardinal DiNardo said. "Part of the reason for that has to do with people like Sgt. Steve who always lived those Beatitudes.”


A Mosaic of the Beatitudes

It’s now been a month since Hurricane Harvey drenched Galveston-Houston.

The proud and faithful State of Texas has seen grief and grace — a mosaic of the Beatitudes, in a way — profoundly come alive.

Parishes are once again celebrating daily Masses and school is now back in session. Homes are clearing out for rebuilding with the painful process of sorting a lifetime of belongings.

The bayous are slowly returning to their banks. Shelters are closing and nervous evacuees still seek solace in the hand of a neighbor as look for what’s next.

Here are stories of the mosaic of light, both glimmering and blazing, that is the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.


Blessed are the poor in spirit


Just days after Harvey hit, Father Luke Millette, J.C.L., judicial vicar with the Tribunal, found himself navigating a shelter filled with evacuees.

Within minutes, a resident asked him to pray over her. From that day on, Father Millette would pray with more, many “who just wanted to pray or just to speak about everything that had happened,” he said.

But it wasn’t until someone brought up the lack of Bibles in shelters, did Father Millette see one of the greatest needs in Harvey’s aftermath.

“As important as everything else that needed might be, the greatest thing that they wanted was to know that God was there with them in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “They needed someone to listen to them and comfort them, to let them know that they were loved and that God would not abandon them in the midst of their trials.”

Thousands of evacuees, countless trapped in their homes by high water and rescued by boat, spilled into shelters across the region.

In the weeks after the storm, Father Millette, along with several other priests and deacons, including Father Paul Felix of Annunciation Catholic Church, would celebrate Mass for the residents in shelters at the downtown convention center and NRG Arena. Ministry teams also passed out dozens of Bibles, Rosaries and Christian children’s books to shelters across the region via Catholic relief agencies.

“[The] most important thing that we were able to do was simply being present... so that they could voice their trauma and pain to someone who represented Emmanuel, ‘God is with us.’” he said. “Everyone had some tragic story to share that led them to the shelters.”

Many of these stories were familiar to Pui Au-Earls.

When Au-Earls, a licensed Catholic counselor with Gratia Plena, visited shelters in Southeast Houston and met with evacuees who shared harrowing stories from Harvey.

“Whenever there is a crisis, particularly a natural disaster, first priorities are always safety and security,” she said. “However, once we get out of immediate danger, thoughts usually turn to worries about the uncertainty of our future, as well as the fear of what may come. These anxieties and fears can be debilitating if left unaddressed,” resulting in panic attacks and even disorders.

Handling these emotions can be difficult and hard, but Au-Earls said that it is crucial to our mental health to address these feelings.
“One of the most powerful things we can do after a crisis is to reach out to others,” she said. “Whether it is our family, friends, neighbors, or mental health professionals [and priests] it is important to share our stories and care for one another.”

“Prayers and Sacraments could be extremely beneficial in times of crisis, as they could give us a lot of peace and comfort,” she said.
Au-Earls echoed Father Millette: “While we may not understand the mystery of God’s plan, we can take comfort in knowing that even in the midst of our suffering, God is still with us.”

Organizations like Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston and Gratia Plena provide low cost bilingual crisis counseling. Many local universities and school are also providing free crisis counseling services to students.

How you can help

Hurricane Harvey brought widespread flooding and damage throughout the Archdiocese. Many families will need short-term and long-term recovery services to rebuild their lives. And you can help.

Donate to the Archdiocesan Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

You can also donate to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. 


Blessed are they who mourn


Four parishes saw catastrophic damages. The communities continue to mourn the loss of their parishes, but also continue to meet in faith to rebuild and pray for the future.

In Huffman, Father Richard Barker was now homeless after Harvey.
“What we are left with is humility and sacrifice,” Father Barker said. “People who are willing and accepting of the experience of the humility who share their sacrifice and those of others allows us to be... out there in solidarity with Christ and the people of God.”

The parish saw 95 percent of their property destroyed. Father Barker said he's struggled seeing the loss the church and the dispersal of God's people.

“The rectory is gone. I lost an awful lot of personal things, but in a disaster like this is something it's amazing to see the miracles and graces that come, [they] are beyond what we can imagine.” he said. “I'm doing everything I can to bring the Body of Christ back into the circle. Simply because we're... Keeping the flock together is the most pressing thing of all.”

In Spring, Father Norbert Maduzia only had bad news for his parishioners. Via Facebook Live, the pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish showed a church in devastation.

“Treacherous” floodwaters covered the altar floor, nearly reaching the top of some pews.

“All the buildings are flooded,” he said in the video. “It's devastated. All the buildings are flooded. I'm standing inside the church now. I'm just speechless. Everything is lost.”

Walking back to the narthex, he showed that the “baptismal font meets the floor and the water.”

“I didn’t know what to think,” Father Maduzia later said. “I went numb seeing the destruction in the church. The water was over the sanctuary level in the church.”

At one point in the video, Father Maduzia picks up the parish processional cross, face down in the water. The corpus then breaks off and floats for a few seconds until Father Khoi Le, parochial vicar, picks it up and places it on a nearby table.

“I’ve prayed about that image and realized Christ was sharing in the passion of His people,” Father Maduzia said. “He, too, was now homeless, off the cross, and broken as are many through these floods.” READ MORE

In Houston, Father Martin Eke, MSP, at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church said, “ever since the rain started ... my life has never been busier.”

The parish and its school, which serves a vibrant African-American Catholic community in northeast Houston, were covered in at least four feet of water from a nearby bayou.

As the storm approached, Father Eke kept vigil in prayer, watching the waters rise from his rectory window. Father Eke pushed through the water to the church to save what he could.

Floodwater rushed into the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School's library, science lab and gymnasium, where dozens of the school's basketball team uniforms, sports equipment and treasured championship trophies became drenched in muddy water.

When the water receded, parishioners came to help salvage what they could. Despite it all, Father Eke made sure that St. Francis of Assisi parish life continued.

“We are running, no matter how small it is, we are running,” he said. READ MORE

Down in Dickinson, it was a similar scene for Father Larry Wilson. Shrine of the True Cross Catholic Church also saw flood water at least four feet high. Photos and videos showed the water flowing through the church and school buildings.

Father Wilson has been busy with recovery efforts, tending to parishioner needs and ensuring that parish life goes on. Like at St. Francis of Assisi, school students were transferred to a nearby Catholic school to resume classes.

Masses were celebrated in the nearby KC Hall and elementary school. The KC Hall, where Knights of Columbus served meals six days a week, served as a staging area to support the stricken region.

In a Facebook post, parishioner Stacey Johnson Buchanan said she has felt the power of the Holy Spirit during Masses after Harvey.

“I have been sitting in the front row and I'm hearing how loud everyone is singing and praying like never before,” she said. “I believe this disaster has made our congregation stronger and one body, the heartfelt emotion is really overwhelming in a good way.”


Fr. Timothy Hedrick of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church near New Orleans, La. speaks with Galveston-Houston Knights of Columbus leaders during relief efforts. The Louisiana parish traveled to Houston with donated goods. Photo courtesy of Jim OBrien.

Blessed are the meek


Though hundreds of miles apart, both St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Metairie, La. and St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in San Antonio felt called to help their neighbors, near or far.

The New Orleans-area parish was no stranger to storms, having seen the reckoning of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In an act of charity, both parish and school sent a total of 5 big rig 18-wheelers and several trailers full of relief supplies to the Texas Gulf Coast.

The Louisiana contingent made several stops on their whirlwind trip. The caravan left Louisiana, at 4:30 a.m., and the bus of volunteers arrived back home at midnight.

They visited hard-hit Beaumont, where volunteers first unloaded 18-wheelers already on site before unloading three of their own that had been part of the six-hour convoy from Metairie.

Then the two remaining trucks visited a Knights of Columbus distribution center in Southeast Houston. From there, supplies were sent to several KC distribution centers across the region. 50-plus volunteers, including their priest and seminarians from Notre Dame Seminary, came to assist with delivery and distribution.

St. Gregory the Great Catholic School hosted a school supply drive and delivered the items to St. Helen Catholic School in Pearland for True Cross Catholic School in Dickinson.

True Cross is working on repairing the damage to their facilities caused by Hurricane Harvey; St. Helen stepped in to offer their facilities as a storage area to hold the supplies until True Cross can receive them.

Daniel Martinez, the principal from St. Gregory, drove from San Antonio with a few of his students to help unload the supplies, Sept. 8.
These acts of kindness have poured in across the country.

In Omaha, Nebraska, high school students collected donations and gave a portion of ticket sales to Harvey relief efforts, according to Omaha archdiocesan staff.


Blessed are the merciful


Strake Jesuit College Preparatory students Thomas Edwards, Richard Dickason, Liam Connor and his brother Declan Connor sprang into action when the floodwater started rising. 

In the early hours after the storm, while the waters in many places had not yet reached their final peak, the students spent hours rescuing stranded neighbors in a small fishing boat. Edwards estimated the crew saved more 50 people, not to mention numerous pets.

Edwards woke up to find the massive flooding; his truck was nearly completely submerged and one-story houses all around him had water all the way up to their doors. In true Jesuit fashion, rather than spend time fretting over their own situation, the four struck out to answer the call to help others.

“We could hear people screaming for help and we towed a paddle board behind us so we could fit more people on the boat,” he said. “We began to pick people up and take them to a local Kroger where other evacuees sought refuge. We were the only boat in the neighborhood until 2 p.m We motored back and forth making trips to rescue as many people as we could.”


Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness 


It’s clear that it’s not often that Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale is confused.

He didn't understand why others were concerned that he had opened up his famous Houston furniture stores to house flood victims.

“What else am I supposed to do? Let my people drown?” he said, standing outside his store. “It wasn’t a choice, it was an obligation. There’s a big difference. That’s the way I was raised. That’s what my parents taught me, that’s what I needed to do. There’s nothing to it, it’s who I am. I’m part capitalist, I’m part social worker.”

Wearing a pair of black cowboy boots, McIngvale eyed a growing line of 150 people, each waiting to meet him. Then, with a smile and sometimes a selfie, he gently directed weary flood victims to a warehouse full of cleaning supplies, food and water, and much needed resources as Houston recovers from Hurricane Harvey.

During the storm, which inundated the fourth-largest city in the nation with 20 to 52 inches of rain, the local Houston legend — known for his TV catchphrases, enthusiasm and same-day delivery service — became a worldwide icon of generosity overnight. READ MORE


Photo courtesy of the Cenacle Sisters of Houston.

Blessed are the clean of heart


Women and men religious also suffered during Hurricane Harvey.
At the Cenacle Retreat House in west Houston, the Cenacle Sisters had to be evacuated during the storm when floodwaters form Buffalo Bayou flowed into their home. Four feet of water remained inside their buildings for 15 days.

While the Cenacle is currently not operational to host outside groups, according to Cenacle staff, they continue to minister to those around them affected by the storm through spiritual direction and ministry groups. After the waters receded, the sisters donned white coveralls and returned to their home to salvage what they could.

In Cypress, the LaSalle Sisters also were evacuated during the height of the storm, rescued by canoe from their buildings Aug. 28. Water entered the Chapel, convent and their two-story buildings. The next day, firefighters rescued the sisters from their Chapel's attic.

“Thank God! We are safe,” said Sister Thoa Ta. “But everything is gone. Please pray for us so we can have strength to rebuild everything from the bottom up.”

“We're safe but still in shock, haven't slept much. It’s a total [loss],” she said in a post to their LaSalle community on Facebook. “The De La Salle Chapel, De La Salle Educational Center and our house are gone. I’m trying to stay strong but kind a hard. Don’t know what to do? These past three days, lots of volunteers came and help us cleaning up the places.” READ MORE


Blessed are the peacemakers


Back at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz presided over the funeral Mass for Sgt. Perez, joined by concelebrant Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza and Father T.J. Dolce, archdiocesan vocations director.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick attended, with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston police Chief Art Acevedo to pay their respects to the fallen officer and his family.

Outside the Co-Cathedral, a large American flag waved high from two fully extended firefighter truck ladders as choral chant filled cordoned-off city streets.

The funeral Mass was broadcast to allow as many people to observe and participate in the Liturgy. Dozens of emotional mourners listened nearby, many bearing flags, pins and ribbons, sharing hugs and wiping tears.Groups of uniformed officers from Dallas to Detroit stood watch on horse, bike and foot.

Father Anthony Udoh, parochial vicar at Perez's St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church and homilist for the funeral Mass, said that Perez had seriously discerned the priesthood, but “decided to serve God and his people in a different uniform. We thank God for such selfless love and loyalty to service.”

“We pray today that our presence here and our prayers for your family, our love and concern may bring you some peace and consolation,” Father Udoh said to Perez's family.

After Mass, the service moved to the street outside the Co-Cathedral, where Perez's body was escorted by other officers and his son Maverick Perez.

Born in California, Perez, 60, attended Catholic schools in Central Texas before joining the Army in 1978. After serving in the Army, he became a member of the Houston Police Department in 1982.

A Rosary and Liturgy were held at his parish church, St. Mary Magadalene, Sept. 12. Perez was the 114th Houston Police officer to die in the line of duty.

Just two weeks after Perez died, two first responders were killed in a car accident in Florida as Hurricane Irma rocked the state Sept. 10. Together, the storms have claimed at least 150 lives.


Stories from the storm

Sept. 1 - Water’s rise and fall: Harvey's wrath still felt across Gulf Coast

Aug. 30 - Prayers, aid offered amid floods as parishes grapple with Harvey

Aug. 28 - Parishioners shocked by Harvey's devastation

Aug. 27 - WATCH: Houston priest kayaks in floodwaters, shares faith with live TV reporter


Archdiocesan staff share their stories and perspectives as Houston continues to whether Harvey's aftermath.

Steadfast through the Storm: Continuing the mission of youth ministry
By Brian Henritze, Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.

Through the storms of this summer, the countless people throughout our Archdiocese who minister to, with, and for young people will remain steadfast to this goal. Read more

Hurricane Harvey: A lesson in merciful discipleship
By Julie Blevins, Office of Evangelization and Catechesis

It didn’t matter if the victims were Catholic or not. Hurricane Harvey was an exercise in bountiful mercy and witness to the faith and love of our Catholic community for the people of God. Read more

Can anything good come from a hurricane?
By Deacon Arturo Monterrubio, Archdiocesan Office of Family Life Ministry

God’s own mercy has been shown to us by those who have comforted the afflicted, sheltered the homeless, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and performed every other corporal and spiritual work of mercy. Read more