Father John Henderson offered the Saturday and Sunday Masses by candlelight.
“It was like ‘Easter Vigil in July,’” said Fr. Henderson, pastor of St. William Parish in Perry and the Mission of St. Frances Cabrini in Paris.
Thunderstorms the night of July 9 produced 80- to 90-mph winds in and around Perry, damaging roofs, downing century-old trees and severing power lines.
“We were going to have Mass here, anyway,” Fr. Henderson noted. “We got a lot of calls about it the next morning, and we told them to come. We had about 60 people at each Mass.”
The National Weather Service at St. Louis reported that intense thunderstorms developed rapidly along a warm front, creating a destructive curtain of rain, wind and hail from east-central Missouri into southwest Illinois.
“The worst damage was noted from Rensselaer southward to Perry, where straight-line winds of 90 mph were found,” the National Weather Service stated.
No injuries were reported in or around Perry, but practically every house and building in town had some roof damage.
A light post near the church snapped in half and landed in the parking lot. A neighbor’s outdoor furniture was blown over the church and into the parking lot.
Trees around the St. William property helped protect the church and rectory, “although we did have to take down one of the pine trees,” Fr. Henderson reported.
He said he wasn’t aware of anyone whose home had been rendered unlivable.
Most important, “everybody’s okay,” he said.
Hannibal Courier-Post Staff Writer Meg Duncan in a July 11 article, reported on widespread roof and tree damage in Perry, as well as the owners of a local grocery store having to discard their perishable food after losing electricity.
The storm also brought down 20-30 trees in and around the cemetery behind historical St. Peter Church in Brush Creek.
There was no noticeable damage to the 1862-vintage church, which stands where Venerable Father Augustus Tolton was baptized in 1854.
The cemetery includes a section for people who were slaves.
Brad Copeland, diocesan director of buildings and properties, toured the area on July 13.
“It looks like a bomb went off up here,” he said.
He is confident insurance will help pay to repair damaged headstones in the Brush Creek cemetery, as well as the roofs of other affected church properties.
Fr. Henderson noted that the storms caused no damage to nearby St. Frances Cabrini Church in Paris or the 1860s-vintage St. Paul Church in Center.
He said damage to St. William Church and the rectory included lost shingles and ridge caps. Neither roof was damaged enough to leak.
“We had to put a little shingle patch on the house,” he noted. “Other than that, the structures are golden.”
Faith in action
Fr. Henderson, who has been stationed in Perry and Paris since 2002, has learned to take a “peace, be still” approach to violent weather.
“What can you do? It is what it is,” he said. “I’ve been in storms worse than this on my motorcycle.”
He believes the big story isn’t how the storm blew things apart; it’s how it wound up bringing the whole town together.
“This is a story of the Catholic community and the ministerial alliance and different churches and the whole town coming together and working together,” he said.
“We were all amazed at how people reached out and showed up with chainsaws and food and coffee,” he stated.
Local congregations and disaster-relief agencies used the St. William parking lot for a staging area.
“We survived and the Church is in good stead,” said Fr. Henderson. “Parishioners helped out. The community came together and it’s all good.”
“That’s what church is all about,” said Fr. Henderson. “It’s a community of believers and of people putting their faith into action. That’s what we’re all about.”