By ROB HERBST
The Catholic Week
When Fr. Johnny Savoie, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Mobile, informed parishioners that Hurricane Laura took his parents’ home, the faithful sprung into action.
Category 4 Hurricane Laura devastated portions of Louisiana and Texas early Aug. 27. More than 600,000 homes were reportedly in the path of the storm, including the Lake Charles, La., home of Fr. Savoie’s parents, Jerry and Margaret Savoie.
Fr. Savoie said he told parishioners on Friday, Aug. 28. He then arrived in Lake Charles the next day with strong support from the parish.
“They’ve been overwhelmingly responsive,” Fr. Savoie said. “There was over $20,000 collected in 24 hours between gift cards and other things that I was holding in hand.”
That didn’t include the RV a parishioner loaned, which Fr. Savoie’s parents are currently living in on their property, nor the 50 gallons of gas, 100 cases of water or generators. Along with St. Pius X donations, all parishes in the Archdiocese of Mobile have already or will be taking special collections at Mass for hurricane victims.
Most of the donations from St. Pius X came as gift cards and Fr. Savoie gave much of it to a fellow priest in the Lake Charles area, who was to disperse it to those in need. Fr. Savoie recommended gift cards because unfortunately he has experience in this matter.
His parents also lost their Louisiana home when Hurricane Rita hit in 2005, when Fr. Savoie was parochial vicar at St. Lawrence Parish in Fairhope.
“My parents were further south then, right on the Gulf (of Mexico) and it took two weeks for the water to subside then. I couldn’t even get home to visit until I knew I had the opportunity to help them. In a week’s time, St. Lawrence donated $25,000 in Walmart gift cards so I knew that worked as a method. Walmart is the first place that opened and it will be again,” he said.
It’s normally a five-hour trip to Lake Charles for Fr. Savoie, but obstacles turned it into a nine-hour journey on Aug. 29. When he arrived a little more than 48 hours after Hurricane Laura struck, there was no electricity or running water. He said every telephone poll was either leaning or knocked down.
“I’d say 100 percent of the dwellings had some damage,” he said. “Some lost only shingles. For example, at McNeese State University, one building was just missing some shingles whereas the fast food place next door was knocked down.”
According to Fr. Savoie, his parents rode out the storm at another house about 10 miles away. Fr. Savoie watched the storm’s effects that night through access he has to his parents’ security cameras, but the last live image with winds over 90 miles per hour occurred at about 12:30 a.m.
He didn’t hear his parents were safe until about 7:50 a.m. Thursday, 10 minutes before he was to celebrate Mass at St. Pius X. At that point, neither he, nor his parents knew the status of the house. A few hours later, Fr. Savoie’s parents reached him again with news of the house.
“This was supposed to be my parents’ retirement home until God calls them to eternity, but that wasn’t in the plans,” said Fr. Savoie, whose parents are both in their 80s. He added no decision on whether to rebuild had been made yet.
Fr. Savoie spent a few hours in Lake Charles on Aug. 29, but returned in time to celebrate Mass on Sunday, Aug. 30. He did so after not getting much sleep over the past days.
“That didn’t do well for my 8 a.m. Mass. I tried to tell (parishioners) what happened, but as soon as I told them they lost their house … what would’ve been a 30-minute Mass ended up about an hour because I kept having to pause and compose myself.
“It’s the first time I ever lost it at Mass.”
By ROB HERBST