News from NOLA

Tuesday, Sept. 27th, 2005
Memorial of St. Vincent de Paul

Dear Family and friends,
Today as we celebrate the memorial of St. Vincent de Paul?the saint who personifies giving to the needy and poor. Most communities in the world have a St. Vincent de Paul Society who gives food, clothing, household items, and whatever the poorest of the poor needed. As we continue to pick up the pieces here at St. Rosalie, and plan for the future, we ask him to guide us in wisdom and judgment.

At 9am the faculty gathered in the cafetorium, making sure that they were not sitting under one of the two holes in the roof. We began with prayer and praise to God and lifted up our voices in thanksgiving for what we have and reflected upon what we have lost, individually and collectively. Then the plans to open school were laid out in detail. As a blessing from heaven, Fr. Mike Conway, sdb, Principal of Archbishop Shaw High School called and offered six classrooms for St. Rosalie?s use. Again, the middle school, located at St. John Bosco is not usable and will probably not be habitable for at least three months. The Family Life Center, which the school uses as a cafeteria, will also take several months to repair. Class lists were prepared, and ?rooms? were handed out based upon space availability and the age of the students.
On Monday, the Parish Center as well as the Youth Center will be used as classrooms for fourth and fifth graders. The Gathering Room of the Church will be used as a classroom as well. I have offered the sanctuary of the Church as a gathering space for the smallest of our students and even suggested the kids could take their naps in the pews.
We will send our seventh and eighth grade students to Archbishop Shaw for the time being. Lunch was prepared by the Robicheaux Family as well as snacks and drinks for some 60 people?another great blessing.
This afternoon the funeral of Mrs. Shirley Holsum, aged 55, who died in Alexandria, Louisiana, from a heart attach. Many parishioners attended and we prayed for all of our friends who have lost loved ones these weeks.
Upon returning, the adjuster finally made an appearance at the parish. We walked around the Church, he took pictures to validate our losses, and as he walked around spoke of two issues?the deductibles that apply to our policies, and how underinsured we are for the property that we have. We will find out what the insurance company will repair and replace in about two weeks, but continue to sign contracts for services once they are approved via fax and phone.
There was a steady stream of friends and family who came to bring two things?snacks for the teachers and school supplies. Two fifth graders came in to bring in their five-dollar contributions to buy school supplies for their classmates.
This evening the administration will meet to assess the needs of the faculty and their financial situations. We are still looking for housing for two of our faculty members.
Pray for us, as we move forward with Mary, Help of Christians as our guide.

In Don Bosco,

Fr. Jon D. Parks, sdb

News from NOLA

Dear Family and Friends,
Today we celebrate the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. We reflect upon the call of the Gospel to follow the Christ each and every day, recognizing that we are sinners who are in need of God?s love. When we help others, especially our family, we build up the Kingdom of God on earth and are blessed a hundredfold by our loving God.

Yesterday at our Vigil Masses we prayed for all the victims of the latest hurricane Rita and watched as our levee system was strained to the limits. The Marrero Fire Marshall came by at 5pm and said that there may be a mandatory evacuation within the next two hours, depending upon the height of the water and the pressure against the levee along the Harvey Canal, just two blocks from the parish buildings. He drove me up and down Destrahan Avenue and we saw sandbags being placed in two critical spots. The flood gates were closed below the city of Harvey but the wind, some 30 miles an hour, coming from the south just pushed water over the gate walls up through the channel. The forecast last night was more rain, some 3-5 inches as well.
After the 6pm Mass I packed a bag, had my sister come and pick up Fr. Jim Curran?s car and bring it to her house, some 15 miles away, and prayed. We did get a light rain that began about 10pm and continued past midnight. Sleeping in the lounge chair in the living room, I waited for word from the fire marshall. He called around midnight to say that the sandbags were holding in the upper Harvey area but that in lover Harvey there was water flowing over the levee but it was contained.
This morning, as I was opening up the Church, a state police office stopped to check to see if I ?belonged in the area? as he said. I thanked him for keeping us safe but assured him that I was the pastor and was simply opening the Church for the day.
As I prepared for the 8am Mass the phone rang and the word was that the levees were holding. I looked out the back window of the Church and to my amazement there were three Navy SeaBee trucks pulling into the parking lot. The had come back again to finish the work they had started yesterday. Their Chief agreed to let them come one more day to clean up and with military efficiency they filled two more industrial dumpsters with trash. At the 11am Mass twenty-two attended Mass with three more joining our Choir in praising God. As I thanked them at the beginning of the homily, the Church broke out in spontaneous applause which lasted for a few minutes, as a sign of our gratitude for the work they were doing for the parish and especially for the kids.
Since we did not plan on them being here, I invited the parishioners to bring desserts to the parish center as a sign of appreciation. Well, here are a few of the items that were brought in: 20 hamburgers from McDonalds, 4 family packs of fried chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, deer sausage (yes, that what I said, deer sausage) macaroni and cheese to mention a few, and cakes and cookies of all kinds. The troops came in and feasted on a buffet that was second to none. When they left the property at 3pm they were eager to take the left overs back to the barracks for a snack later in the night.
At 5pm I drove one last time along the levees of Harvey and saw the water level fall some four inches. The sun is shining and God is continuing to smile upon the people of St. Rosalie. Tomorrow is another day, clean up and assessment.
We have received bids for the first series of repairs:
a) the cafeteria here at St. Rosalie: $95,500.00
b) the school building roof for building 2: $58,000
c) the Family Life Center at St. John Bosco: $98,500.00
d) the elementary school main building: $95,500.00

These are the first of many bids that have been accepted and we hope to begin repairs as early as tomorrow. Bids for air conditioning and heating systems and the rebuilding of the inside of these four buildings will follow this week. The insurance adjuster has yet to step foot on our campus but through faxes, emails and phone calls.
Tomorrow we hope to start to order textbooks for the kids?imagine calling up the textbook company and saying, ?please send us as soon a possible 1000 Bibles, English, reading, math, science, history and computer books for our kids and can we have them here by this Friday, September 30th. (Mail service is suppose to resume this week, pray God).
Well, thanks again for listening, for your prayers, and your generousity.

Blessings and Grace.

Fr. Jon D. Parks, sdb

NOLA: Mass in honor of St. Pio

The Lord is kind and merciful. That is the refrain of our congregation today as we gathered to celebrate the Mass of St. Pio. The prophetic readings announce to us God’s call to follow His will and to announce to others that HE is the Christ, our Savior, who walks with us in faith.

We began the day with the hope that Rita will move away from us and fade away. Because the Navy SeaBees as well as the Army would not be here any longer, a decision was made to give the teachers the day off—then as we watched the news we saw more and more of the affects of Rita upon our already damaged city. Our maintenance men came in to finish making sure all things were secure around the property and tie down some of the school items that would be projectiles from the storm. The insurance adjuster was suppose to come here to visit the school and begin the official process of preparing pages and pages of insurance forms. We waited from 7:30am until 8:45am then the cell phone rang—surprisingly. It was the insurance adjuster who called to say he was stopped from entering the parish (county) and would have to postpone his visit until next week. Another major setback for the parish and the school! So we went to plan ‘b’ which was to just continue to clean up and tie things down.

The rain began to fall in buckets, squalls they call them. The wind certainly was here in force and it rattled everything from the rope on the flag pole to the siding on the house to the neighbor’s garbage can which flew down the street in from of the rectory.

The wind and the rain combined the darkness of the sky combined for another dreary part of living with a hurricane at your doorstep. Trying to keep busy and not glued to the news is difficult, the ordinary activities of the day give way to the immediacy of trying to keep things together.

Fr. Jim Curran flew into Baton Rouge last night and of course could not get back to the parish. After making call after call after call, I found our parish president who picked him up at the airport and brought him to a local parish until it would be safe to return to the parish.

Today is my sister’s birthday…we are celebrating by phone calls, everyone hunkered down in their own place for the majority of the day. As Rita moved northwest, we chanced it and all gathered at the rectory for dinner, finishing off the boiled shrimp from yesterday and sharing a cake that Mary White stood in line for an hour to purchase as part of her own shopping adventure this morning.

As the news stations focus on Rita’s landfall, my concern is for those people who will have their lives changed in an instant. My other concern is that the memories of Katrina will be just that, memories, and people will move their funds and resources to the latest tragedy of nature and we will be an afterthought.

Let us pray for one another, and as I have done so many times before, I ask you to continue to pray for us and for our kids and help wherever you can. Salesians and friends are beginning to get through–Fr. Provincial, Fr. Lou Molinelli, Fr. Don Delaney, etc… your support and prayers keep me going and I am grateful…

Blessings and prayers,

Fr. Jon D. Parks, sdb

Pastor of St. Rosalie

Memorial of St. Januarius (in Gretna)

Dear Family and friends,

Today was another difficult day for St. Rosalie parish. We began, as usual, with the celebration of the Eucharist and the numbers begin to pick up. The Harvey Fire Department came during Mass and gave us five cases of fresh fruit to distribute thru the parish. Teachers began to return and view the damage of their classrooms and the school campus. There were many, many tears. At ten o?clock we gathered for a Prayer Service in Church, shared a few stories of faith, and then quickly made plans to begin to clean up.

The U.S. Navy Seabees are on our campus and the U.S. Army are on the middle school campus. They quickly began the work of cleaning and moving things from classrooms to the outside. We have been in contact with our insurance adjuster who has yet to come to the school and help us in assessing damages. More importantly, we need him/her to give the O.K. to do some major work on the buildings. The response we receive is understandable?there are just so many claims out there and only so many adjusters who are living in Baton Rouge and traveling down each day?some four hours of travel due to the roads being clogged with people who want to return to their homes.

The Chefs were out in force today. Two kinds of Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice, homemade brownies and fudge, and Rotolo and Martin donated sixty gallons of ice cream to help in the efforts. All day long neighbors and friends, workers and parishioners welcomed people, shared stories, and then began to work.

The middle school at St. John Bosco campus is really ?torn up bad.? To make matters worse, around 11am someone thought there was a gas smell in the school building which then had to be evacuated. The Fire Department arrived, went through the entire building, and said the smell was coming from some ceiling tiles that were burnt as the light fixture in a classroom shorted out as the storm came through the campus. I spent the morning in lines, again, at the bank and the post office. The cell phone is the only way to communicate effectively these days either through calls or messaging. One apartment and one house was found for our displaced teachers. Guaranteeing the first month’s rent with St. Rosalie credit, we hope to move three families in to safe surroundings this weekend: one family in the apartment, two families in the house.

Around 1pm we were fortunate to have a visit from Mr. John Young, who is the Chairmen of the Jefferson Parish Council. He was very concerned, promised his personal support, gave us his private number and said he would be available as needed to help. He is a good Catholic and it was more than a ?photo op? for him, you could see he really cared about the kids and the Church. Many of the teachers and military officials waved as he passed by but did not stop their activity. Mr. Young stopped by to see the cooking crew and shared a bowl of red beans and rice with us for a few minutes. He left the St. Rosalie campus and was going back to St. John Bosco to see their efforts to clean the campus and Church.

As the afternoon wore on, the news of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico began to spread as fast as the lips could carry the words. The Mayor of the City of New Orleans was on the radio and television suspending re-entry plans, and making some temporary plans to evacuate the parish (county) of New Orleans as early as tomorrow morning, depending upon the path of the storm. You could see the anguish on the faces of the teachers, while the kids played games in the courtyard unaware of the events unfolding around them.

Your prayers for the parish and school are much appreciated? keep them coming, please. Know of ours in return?

Fr. Jon D. Parks, sdb

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Gretna)

Greetings from Harvey and St. Rosalie Parish!

Today was a great day to celebrate the Gift of the Eucharist with family and friends. We celebrated two Masses, 8am and 11am. They were great expressions of faith for parishioners and my family. My Aunt Dee and her family attended the 11am Mass and shared where their children and grandchildren are located. It is a great relief to know that they are all safe, even if they are in Texas, Florida, and Virginia.

My brother in law, Ray, along with my niece Janet and her son Kenneth made it home from their three day journey from Norfolk, Virginia. They are tired and it shows on their faces. We all cried, knowing that being together is more important than anything else, even the material possessions we have lost. Tomorrow we will go to Mom’s grave and thank her for her protection from heaven.

In the parish, between the two Masses, parishioners set up a food kettle. They prepared and distributed to family, friends, and any one who we could flag down, some 600 servings of gumbo, along with soda and candy. We flagged down Bell South workers as well as insurance agents. One group that stopped by was Allstate Insurance. A district manager was surveying the area, looking for a safe place to put six trailers. It would be a working district office for the next three weeks. Since St. Rosalie is housing West Jefferson Medical Center?s transportation group, I called Fr. Jim McKenna who graciously agreed to allow them to use the parking lot of the school. By the way, all of them took gumbo ?to go? plates with them.

A National Guard group from Nebraska stopped by and offered help with cleaning up our school. I passed the phone call on to our principal, Mary, but before they left they, too, had their first taste of gumbo.

Tomorrow 45 teachers will be here to being to clean up the elementary school and we hope to get to the middle school by the end of the week. There is a grid in the main office, teachers names and places assigned, where to get supplies, and a timeline as well. Efficiency is the key and health of the kids is of major importance.

Many of the grocery stores are without perishable items?milk, bread, cheese, and dare I mention ice cream! Tuesday is the next big shipment day to the local groceries. Here in the parish we are using Rotolo and Martin, a parishioner who has opened the ?back? door of his store to our families. I have provided many gift certificates/food vouchers today and will continue to do so as funds permit.

Finally, this afternoon the Provincial made the round of phone calls to the Salesians here and at Archbishop Shaw. He was, as he has always been, most supportive of each one and each apostolate. He promised the support, spiritually and financially, of the Province, and promises to keep in contact with each ministry. It is comforting to know that while we are back working to rebuild so much, he is doing his best to find the means to help us in many ways.

God Bless you all and know of our gratitude and prayers.

Fr. Jon D. Parks, sdb

More news from New Orleans

From Father Jon:

Dear Friends,

There is always light at the end of the tunnel…. Today we began with the celebration of Mass in St. Rosalie Church. The Parishoners had to use the side entrance since the front door, blown off by the storm, is still boarded up and had cinder blocks for extra security. There were 11 people at Mass, grateful for the opportunity to gather and pray. Many cried as the Blessed Sacrament was placed once again in the Tabernacle and the sanctuary light was lit for the first time in over two weeks.

The clean up continues, my sister and nephew went to their houses to begin to clear paths for others when they follow. The Entergy Power trucks were seen on the road and on side streets, rebuilding the infrastructure.

Last night, around 1pm the phone rang and it was a neighbor to my sister who said power was restored to her house…a welcomed call at any hour. They promise electricity in all the homes on this side of the river in two weeks. No trucks were seen in our neighborhood, however, even though there are many houses that have no lights tonight.

On a lighter note, the curfew is in effect. Last night, at 7pm I walked through the parking lot of the Church to the parish center. It necessitated that I cross a street. As I was chaining the gate and ready to move from the parking lot to the parish center, a car pulled up next to me to remind me of the curfew. After being grilled by the policeman for some three minutes, he revealed that he was a member of the Knights of Columbus, Council 1905, my own council from the town of Gretna. He smiled and said ‘Be Safe, Father, and get inside!”

Today I visited the hospital to get the mandatory shots, the line was long but a nurse friend called me aside and escorted me to one of the many tents on the hospital grounds that were administering the slightly painful injections. I was called to West Jefferson Medical Center by Mr. Erie Hebert, a parishioner of St. John Bosco, who wanted to use some parish space to house some of the people who were bus drivers from around the area. They were bringing people to and from staging areas, patients, hospital employees, and family members. The hospital itself is secured by the National Guard. Starting tomorrow, some 25 people will use the back of the parish center to rest and sleep. They will stay there, I believe for some two weeks.

On the school front, the Archdiocese has given permission for schools to open up whenever they can, and many in our area are hoping for an October 3rd date. Most of the phone calls to the parish center and rectory, the latter manned by my family, were inquiries about St. Rosalie School and how to transfer students to Archbishop Shaw High School. Some called for Mass schedules, others to find out how some of our elderly parishioners faired in the storm. The rectory has a constant stream of visitors—parishoners, families looking for assistance, and even a local pastor who just wanted to talk about the Saints—who won this past weekend, now isn’t that a miracle! Fr. Mike and Fr. Jim stopped in, and we compared notes on what we were doing these days as well as school plans for each others campuses.

The clean up continues, and will for a long time. You can now see that there are playgrounds around the buildings, and while some windows have board over them, the telephone and power lines have all been removed from their view to the inside and outside.

I visited as well two local fire stations, to thank the women and men who were protecting us these weeks. These were and are staging areas for the military and local authorities. Tonight, at 6:30pm the door bell rang and there was the Fire Chief of the city of Marrero with two ‘take out’ containers of beef stew his crew had prepared for that shift and he wanted to share with my sister and myself. He spoke about some of the parishioners of St. Rosalie that he had seen enter the parish (county) and described their tiredness and anxiety in words that brought us both to tears. Some family members are returning to prepare their homes for elders who are waiting anxiously to return

Tonight beings another dark time period, some have lights, others do not. We are one of the lucky ones who have power and even cable TV which came on today, thanks to the efforts of some parishioners who have control of such things.

There is light to be seen in many ways. Some 45 people have volunteered to come to the school on Monday and begin the task of getting the buildings ready for school. Members of our Altar Society will be in tomorrow and will clean the church. Four of our youth center kids came by today to lend a helping hand, each willing to do what they could to get ‘their home at St. Rosalie’ back up and running, as one young man said. One last note… our parish fair which was to be held at the end of the month has been, obviously, cancelled. However, Mr. Hilton Lirette, our Chair, called and said, ‘Even though we will not have a Fair, we should have our Procession of St. Rosalie’s statue through the streets of Marrero and Harvey as an act of Faith in God, and His saints.” That is what we will do, I am sure.

Thanks for listening, and mostly for your support and prayers. There is a long way to go, but with God’s help and Mary, the Help of Christians to guide us, we will make it.

Fr. Jon

St. Rosalie after Katrina

Father Jon Parks, pastor of St. Rosalie in Gretna (across the Mississippi from the French Quarter) and the man who presided over Jennifer and Tom’s wedding, is currently here in NY at the Salesian headquarters. He hopes to be back in NOLA to say mass on Monday.

He sent some pictures of his church after the storm:

When he returns, Fr. Jon will be collecting donations to help get his flock back on their feet. Check back here for details.

News from New Orleans

Jen and Tom’s good friend Fr. Jon Parks is a resident of New Orleans. There has been a lot of concern for him and it turns out he is alive and well…

Dear Salesians, family, and friends….

Pray for all the parishoners at St. Rosalie in Harvey and the Salesians from our priests,brothers and sisters and all who are displaced because of Hurricane Katrina.


Yesterday Fr.Jim Curran and I left via Baton Rouge–Fr. Jim is in New York and I am with friends in Tampa. The other Salesians from Marrero and Harvey are at Mary Help of Christians Schoool in Tampa while the Salesian Sisters are going to move to their respective Mother Houses in Texas and New York.

I received a phone call from the Gretna Police (where my mom’s house is) and they said power and water are restored. There is some electricity back in Marrero and in Westwego, but the lawlessness continues in all areas of the cities and until that ends then no one can go back.

My family is fine, my sister, brother in law, niece and grand nephew are on their way to Virginia, and won’t arrive for another day or so.. the travel is slow, my brother in law is quite sick.

I received a call that Mr. Lenny Thibodeaux died, the father of Jeremy Thibodeaux. He reamined in Marrero and expired from a heart attach. Have been playing phone tag with many people in the south, as cell phones allow…things are bad but are getting better slowly.

The Salesians count on your prayers for all of the victims, and for our ministries.
If anyone cares to help, a fund will be set up at St. Rosalie’s to help the kids in the area upon our return, pray God soon. Until then pray for all of us and know of my prayers.

My cell phone is off and on since I have a LA area code.. ugh…

May God Bless each one of you…. Fr. Jon Parks

It is great to know he is well and our prayers are with Jon and his family.