Prayers, aid offered amid floods as Texas parishes grapple with Harvey

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

By James Ramos

— The 200-home community of McDade Estates down the road from Sacred Heart Parish
had just hours to evacuate Aug. 27. City officials knocked door-to-door,
alerting residents to escape to higher ground.

Hours later,
authorities released historic amounts of water from Lake Conroe as Tropical
Storm Harvey continued to flood southeast Texas with as much as 50 inches of
rain. Lake Conroe surged past record numbers, forcing city officials to advise
more neighborhoods to evacuate as the San Jacinto River churned with floodwaters through Conroe, located
45 miles north of Houston.

Less than
three miles away, surrounded by donations of clothes, water and food, Father Philip Wilhite, Sacred
Heart Church’s pastor, said Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at the parish
to house flood victims Aug. 28. The shelter served many of the communities,
some less than two miles from the church, flooded by the rising San Jacinto.

Despite the
rain, Father Wilhite said “this has been very joyful, to see people come
together all in good spirits, doing what we can to help each other.”

Sacred Heart
joined a number of parishes, including St. Anthony of Padua Parish in The Woodlands, throughout the
10-county Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston that assisted with flood relief as
emergency shelters or donation sites Aug. 29. Shelters across the region served
thousands of people including a downtown convention center housing about 10,000
people by nightfall.

Father Tom Rafferty, pastor
of St. Anthony of Padua, described the response to help as “outstanding” and

“I try to
share with them what the church is, and they’re embracing it. You see it all
across Houston,” he said.

However, Father Norbert Manduzia only
had bad news for his parishioners in Spring, closer to Houston. Via Facebook Live, the pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish
showed a church in devastation.

Floodwaters covered the altar floor, nearly reaching the top of
some pews.

“All the
buildings are flooded,” he said in the video. “It’s devastated. All the
buildings are flooded. I’m standing inside the church now. I’m just speechless. Everything is lost.”

Walking back
to the narthex, he showed that the “baptismal font meets the floor and the

At one point
in the video, Father Manduzia picks up the parish processional cross, face down
in the water. The corpus then breaks off and floats for a few seconds until Father Khoi Le, parochial
vicar, picks it up and places it on a nearby table. The video, viewed more than
300,000 times, shows the clergy and staff saving vestments and other parish

Elsewhere, the
Discalced Carmelite Nuns of
New Caney, Texas said they are praying for Harvey flood
victims and aid workers.

“We have
been praying every minute for all the people in the Archdiocese and the people
in Texas, especially for those seeking shelter and for those who are helping
them,” Sister Angel
Teresa Sweeney, superior of the contemplative community. The small
convent, located 37 miles northwest of Houston, found itself less than three
miles from a major 12-mile stretch of I-69 that was closed because of high

Sweeney said the convent saw 23 inches of rain that caused nearby Peach Creek
to rise to a record height, flooding nearby homes. But after seeing damage from
the 2016 Tax Day Flood,
the seven sisters readied their property with a pump and equipment to handle
floodwater, which Sister Sweeney said worked steadily.

In Richmond, Texas, 30 miles
southwest of Houston, Sacred
Heart Parish served as a shelter until the Brazos River also began to flow past its banks. The
parish closed after authorities ordered mandatory evacuations for much of Fort Bend County. The river was
expected to rise through Aug. 31, cresting at 57.5 feet, 42 feet above normal.

Galveston Island, in Dickinson, one of the hardest hit communities, The Shrine of the True Cross Parish
and School was inundated by at least four feet of water. The parish sits
less than 500 feet from Dickinson
Bayou and is home to a relic of the True Cross, which church officials said was safe. Photos show the
submerged parish campus, including a grotto with a statue of the Mary just
above the waterline.

Archdiocesan representatives
said damage at parishes continued to be assessed as major roadways and
communities still remain flooded Aug. 29.

Harvey remained a deadly storm Aug. 30, keeping several counties under
storm and surge warnings with “historic river and bayou flooding,” according to
the National Hurricane Center. The storm has claimed at least 15 fatalities in

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about contributing to storm relief efforts is available at the Texas Catholic
Conference website,
Catholic Charities USA also is accepting contributions at

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Ramos is a
staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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