Rural Life Office reports on diocesan flood response Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Tom Nelson, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008 -- 1:00 AM
 Cathy Wiechering, left, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist Parish, Spring Green, talks with Eleanor Rock at the Catholic Charities and Diocese of Madison Community Resource Center for flood victims. Rock was flooded out of her home in Spring Green, and received help — including a pair of shoes — at the resource center. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner)

The Rural Life Office of the Diocese of Madison began receiving field condition updates from our Diocesan Rural Life Network members throughout the month of May and early June, and the reports were quite startling.

The 2007-08 record snow fall amounts of 100 inches across our 11 counties was having an immediate negative impact on agriculture. Days of limited sun and near record low temperatures for May continued, covering the fields with water from snow melt that the soil could not absorb.

Rains start coming in torrents

Then towards the last week of May and first week of June the rains started. The Rural Life Office began to receive numerous reports from the Rural Life Network members and the news was anything but positive. While driving from Mass in Monroe (Green County) on Sunday, June 8, I noticed huge rivulets of soil, containing the tiny late corn plants, flowing down the sides of the hills in all directions. The rain was coming in torrents across our entire area and the ground seemed to not be able to take in anymore.

The following day, Monday, June 9, the dam in Lake Delton ruptured, emptying the lake in a matter of several hours, destroying homes and roadways. All along the Baraboo River communities were hit with rising flood waters.

Word also arrived regarding isolated flooding in areas far and wide. The flooding would continue across our diocese through June. Our diocesan offices and parishes were in communication to assess this disaster and to seek an approach to offer assistance to those impacted by this record flooding (FEMA would refer to this 2008 central Wisconsin flood as a 1,000 year event.)

  Flooding in Wisconsin
Incredible love and concern shown

That in a nutshell was the bad news. The good news was the incredible love and concern shown to those who had lost so much by thousands of their fellow citizens who volunteered both during and after the flooding with thousands of hours of labor and service.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino presided at a Mass at St. Cecilia Parish of Wisconsin Dells and had an opportunity to witness directly the flood damage. He quickly authorized the Diocesan Disaster Relief team to begin to provide assistance and comfort through our diocesan Church, working with pastors and volunteers from the parishes experiencing area flooding.

The Rural Life Office continued to assess and document the destruction and the resulting losses and began the process of working with our Madison Catholic Charities partner in a program of relief. Bishop Morlino authorized a special collection over two weekends with all money collected to go directly to aid flood victims. And the people of our Diocese of Madison were most generous.

First resource center in Spring Green
We were able to open our first Diocesan Flood Resource Center in Spring Green on Wednesday, July 16, at the Spring Green Town Hall, partnering with other faith communities, local groups such as Friends of the Wisconsin River, and governmental agencies (local, county, state, and federal).


Most importantly were the volunteers, such as the Knights of Columbus Council 10905 Barneveld-Ridgeway, who provided care and concern on behalf of our Catholic Church to those impacted from the flooding. From Spring Green we were energized by the compassionate spirit of parish volunteers from St. John the Baptist, Spring Green, and its linked community of St. Luke in Plain. The cluster pastor, Fr. Mike Resop, was available and present every day of the two weeks we were open in Spring Green, handing out sandwiches to volunteers and helping with whatever came his way.

Several volunteers providing intake information were flooded out of their own homes and yet were there daily to serve the needs of others in their community. Over 160 families received direct assistance during the two weeks the center was open and served the Lone Rock, Avoca, Richland Center, Spring Green, and Reedsburg area.

Reedsburg and Highland parishes assist

The community of Reedsburg opened its own Flood Resource Center called RAFT and developed a total community effort. Their work helped provide a template for how the diocesan effort would proceed and we are very grateful to Mary Williams of Sacred Heart for sharing their valuable experiences.

The cluster of SS. Anthony and Philip of Highland gathered food, cleaning supplies, and fresh water and sent a number of carloads to their neighbors in Avoca. Later they would purchase and send small appliances to replace those lost in house flooding.

Resource center in Jefferson

The second Diocesan Flood Resource Center went up in Jefferson at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Main Street on Wednesday, July 23. During this week we were completing our second and final week in Spring Green and opening our first week in Jefferson.

This was only possible with a well trained Catholic Charities (CC) staff presence, represented by CC Associate Director Kathy Stellrecht and a new temporary coordinator Monique Hicks. Stellrecht developed the training and packets given to all volunteers on site to assist with intake of clients, while Hicks arranged and directed operations at each site.

Thanks to Fr. Tom Coyle of St. John the Baptist, Jefferson, for his assistance in locating volunteers through his parish cluster. Thanks especially to Barbara Kramer of St. Mary Help of Christians, Sullivan, and Theresa Rueth of St. Lawrence, Jefferson, for all their time and phone calls to line up the location and volunteers. We were able to assist 296 families in direct assistance, as well as provide groceries, school supplies, personal hygiene kits, and mold clean-up buckets and supplies.

Resource center in Janesville

Our third and final site was placed in the community of Janesville. We were hosted by Fr. Jim Kuhn at St. Patrick Parish, with incredible and visible support from the parish priests of the entire cluster. Our two week stay in Janesville allowed us to assist 420 families, many who still had flood water in their basements five weeks after the flooding. Special thanks to Jeanne Vogt of St. John Vianney Parish, who assisted the operation from start to finish, providing our efforts with some of the most generous volunteers we had the pleasure to work with. Truly this was a mission of compassion, but more importantly, JOY.

Many thanks to all involved

At every site we operated, the volunteers came away with the conviction they had received more than anything they were able to provide. We can thank the Holy Spirit for the inspiration to serve those in need with our time, abilities, and financial resources.

I thank Bishop Morlino for his leadership in this crisis and special thanks to Vicar General Msgr. Daniel Ganshert, who answered all phone calls and continued to support the efforts of the diocesan offices and the Madison Catholic Charities at each location. Special thanks also to CC Director Brian Cain, who had the courage to advance this relief operation in spite of not knowing whether the finances would be readily available and thanks to the Stewardship Office (Daun Maier and Jill Driscoll) for tracking the financial gifts from our generous Catholic family across the Diocese of Madison.

A special thanks to Jacque Childs of St. Paul University Parish, Madison, who volunteered to manage the many details of our network of volunteers through the Rural Life Office. And thanks especially to all the Catholic parishes, organizations, and individuals who helped finance our efforts of relief and compassion. We were able to be a balm to those in great crisis, serving Jesus Christ as we served those who had suffered. There can be few more joyful missions than that.

Tom Nelson is the coordinator of the Office of Rural Life for the Diocese of Madison.

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