The church was hit by flooding and high winds during Katrina.
By AMANDA GARRETT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A local parish is reaching across the miles to send money and hope to a hurricane-ravaged church in Louisiana.
On a brisk Sunday afternoon, hundreds of local folks gathered in the cafeteria of St. Patrick Church on Oak Hill Avenue for a spaghetti dinner to benefit Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Slidell, La.
The benefit shows the true spirit of Christianity, said the Rev. Edward Noga, the pastor of St. Patrick's.
"The real story is not the devastation beforehand, which is what people sometimes want to focus on," he said. "The real story is people of faith reaching out across thousands of miles to other people of faith."
The Rev. Kyle Dave, co-pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, was able to visit Youngstown for the benefit.
"The people of Youngstown are just salt-of-the-earth people with so much humility," he said. "The essence of the community is hospitality."
Father Dave became co-pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in March, seven months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.
Slidell, which is about 35 miles east of New Orleans on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, was hit especially hard by Katrina.
Parishioners who lived through the hurricane in Slidell, told Father Dave the church was flooded with 6 to 8 inches of water from the lake while a funnel cloud spawned by the high winds tore the roof off the church.
"We were hit both ways," he said. "Water from the sky and water from the lake."
Our Lady of Lourdes is holding services in what was formerly the cafeteria for the parish's pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school.
"We've made it work well for us," Dave said. "We have our offices and everything in there."
It will take about $20 million to restore the church and school, which were built in 1960, back to their original state. Our Lady of Lourdes has around $5.5 million in the bank, Father Dave said.
The benefit was organized by Dennis Alexander of Youngstown, who runs St Patrick's Parish Life Committee.
Wanted to help
After watching Katrina's destruction on television, Alexander said he felt inspired to contact the New Orleans diocese to find out how he could help fellow believers.
The diocese first partnered St. Patrick's with a church in the lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Alexander said.
Few residents were returning to that area of New Orleans, however, so the diocese moved St. Patrick's commitment to Slidell.
Our Lady of Lourdes has 900 to 1,000 parishioners, compared with 2,300 before the hurricane, Father Dave said.
The Louisiana priest was able to take a break from the stress of his ministry while visiting Youngstown. He and Father Noga took in a performance of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on Friday and a Youngstown State University football game Saturday.
Meanwhile, Father Dave said he was enjoying the chilly Mahoning Valley weather before he leaves today for the Louisiana sunshine.
"It's a good cold," he said. "It's not bone-chilling or anything. I find it very refreshing."