Joplin church shares rebuilding process after 2011 tornado

Joplin Tornado
Rev Steve Heather KOLR

JOPLIN, Mo. — One of the more than two dozen churches impacted by a massive tornado in Joplin is sharing its story of recovery.

Margie Black, St. Mary’s Parishioner, said Saint Mary’s Catholic Church suffered severe damages from the tornado.

“We heard through the grapevine the school and the church had really taken a hit, but when we walked up there and saw the total devastation,” said Black.

Decades of Sunday Masses, prayer vigils, and choir practice reduced to piles of debris.

Patty Wheeler, a member of St. Mary’s Parish Council, said it was a tough thing to see while remembering her daughter’s wedding and dropping off grandkids for school.

“Just the things that we did as a parish family,” said Wheeler. “At that moment, walking through and just seeing that debris, kind of put a thought in your head is will it ever come back together again. Is this truly the end?”

Wheeler said cleaning up the wreckage of the church and school is something they didn’t have to do on their own.

“I think the greatest blessing that came out of the tornado was the number of people from all around the world, that came to help,” said Wheeler.

The site at 25th and Moffet was one in a long list of churches damaged or destroyed by the storm.

“And at that time, I really thought we would rebuild there,” said Wheeler.

The church address ended up moving to 32nd and Central City Road. Construction of a new campus wouldn’t wrap up for more than three years.

New church building on 32nd and Central City Road

“We saw other churches beginning to open up it’s like well why not us, you know, but I’m glad we took the time to do the research and build this beautiful, beautiful church that we have now,” said Wheeler.

Black saved a statue of Mary from the rubble of the old church building.

“It was a moment of hope – something that gave me some grace in spite of this brokenness to find this statue completely intact; it’s very special to us,” said Black.

Wheeler also saved a little piece of wood.

“I mean it’s like saving something of your mom or your dad’s,” said Wheeler.

The Saint Mary’s cross is still at the old church site left in place in hope it would be part of the healing process.

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