It’s quite hard to have 5 cars stay together, so we just planned to meet at the first rest stop south of the Louisiana border. We arrived around 4:00am just behind a couple of cars and before another (not bad for having gone the long way through Chicago). We all rested there for a bit, then left at 6:00am so we could arrive in New Orleans together. We stopped at a McDonalds and had breakfast together. That takes a while with 32 people.
Then we headed to St. Leo the Great church for 10:00 Mass. What a place! We arrived around 9:00. A great majority of the parish members had left after the hurricane, but it was great to see the 8:00 service let out and the place was full. We then filed in for the 10:00 service. The choir starts practicing at 9:30 so we were treated to some cool music before Mass. This is a beautiful church. The stained glass windows and beautiful woodwork make for a very nice worshop space. We probably looked somewhat goofy there, being that we were a group of white people dressed like we had just driven across the country all night. But the priest introduced our group to the congregation at the beginning of Mass, and they all clapped.
Oh ever immaculate Virgin, Mother of Mercy, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners. Comfortress of the Afflicted, you know my wants, my troubles, my sufferings. Look upon me with mercy. When you appeared in the grotto of Lourdes you made it a privileged sanctuary where you dispense your favors, and where many sufferers have obtained the cure of their infirmities, both spiritual and corporal. I come, therefore, with unbounded confidence to implore your maternal intercession. My loving Mother, obtain my request. I will try to imitate your virtues so that I may one day share your company and bless you in eternity. Amen.
Right after Mass, a man walked up to me and asked, “are you with the group from Wisconsin?” to which I replied, “yes”. Then he reached out his arm, shook my hand and said simply, “thank you”. We hadn’t lifted a hammer or even come near a work site yet, and we could already feel the appreciation for us being there. That sure didn’t take long.
After Mass, we headed over here to our home for the week. We’re staying at Marian Central Catholic Middle School (map). First, a bit of history. When our group came here last year, they stayed at Camp Algiers, a FEMA funded camp for the thousands of volunteers who descended on New Orleans to help after the hurricane. The funding for Camp Algiers ended on June 1, 2006 (ironically the beginning of the next hurricane season), so Catholic Charities and all the other organizations were left to make other arrangements for housing their volunteers. The neighborhood which is home to Marian Central Catholic Middle School was in 10 feet of water after the hurricane, so it and St. Rafael’s church remain closed. The Archdiocese decided to make this closed facility available to Catholic Charities for volunteer housing. So, here we are in the gym building. There are close to a couple hundred cots, not much privacy, and little electricity, but it’s home.
Three of us wear CPAP masks while we sleep, so we had to setup camp on the stage, the only location we could find with access to power. There are 5 showers in a trailer out in the parking lot and 4 inside (in what were the locker rooms). They are all coed so you never know who will be in the shower next to you. It rained most of the day today, so the gym floor was quite moist. Kind of gross actually. But we went out for dinner tonight and when we got back, we found that the floor had dried out nicely.
We had an interesting encounter at dinner. A bunch of us went down to the French Quarter. Twelve of us went to the French Market Restaurant. The waitress asked us where we were from. When we told her “Wisconsin”, she told us that her brother owns a nail salon in De Pere, Wisconsin on Lawrence Drive right next to WalMart (map). That’s just around the corner from us! She had just spent 3 weeks in De Pere with her brother last month. Small world.
After a long night of driving and all of today’s activities, I’m pretty tired. It’s a little after 8:00 now, so I’m gonna hit the sack (actually the cot).