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A Recent Tornado Reveals the Power of Christian Community

By Carlos Briceño

A Recent Tornado Reveals the Power of Christian Community

Father Norbert Raszeja, CR, thought nothing exceptional was going to happen on Sunday, June 20.

Boy, was he ever wrong. 

Sure, there was wind, rain and lightning that evening.

“These things happen,” he said. “It’s the Midwest.” 

What also occurs in the Midwest are tornados. That evening, one that was estimated to be ranging from an EF-1 to an EF-3, which means winds as high as 140 miles per hour, touched down and raced through Naperville, Woodridge and Darien. 

One of the areas it struck was the area around St. Scholastica Church, in Woodridge, which is where Father Raszeja is the pastor. That evening, just before going to bed, he stepped into the kitchen. He could hear the wind picking up, but he also heard the sound of the window in his bedroom cracking. 

The parish’s parochial vicar, Father Ed Howe, CR, heard it too. They looked at each other. Then, Father Howe said, “We should go to the basement.” 

“Good idea,” Father Raszeja said. 

Then their ears popped, which usually occurs when a tornado strikes because of the drop in atmospheric pressure. The tornado had already passed, so they never made it down to the basement. The lights were out at this point, and Father Raszeja heard the sound of gas, probably from a neighbor’s house.

“It was whistling, and you could smell it,” he said. 

That meant they needed to leave the rectory, so both priests headed to the church office complex because the lights were on there, and they wanted to be far from where the gas was leaking.  

No one on the church grounds got injured or died that night. But there was damage. Part of the rectory roof was torn off, while its front entranceway was knocked down. The rectory garage was left with one-and-a-half brick walls still standing. A statue of the Virgin Mary was knocked off its pedestal. Roofing shingles had been ripped from both the church and school. Trees were uprooted.

Years ago, while he was stationed in Panama City, Florida, Father Raszeja experienced four hurricanes, which never directly hit where he was living. So he said he never felt the full brunt of a fierce storm like the tornado that ripped through Woodridge. 

And, because he didn’t realize it was a tornado — his cell phone notified him 10 minutes after it had passed that there was a tornado warning in effect — he wasn’t afraid. What occupied his mind that evening were all the things that needed to be done to deal with the storm’s aftermath.

The next day, his faith level became “very, very high,” he said. That is because around 200 people, from all ages, and ranging from individuals to groups, such as the Scouts, the Knights of Columbus and youth organizations, began to help with the cleanup.

They cleaned the walkways of debris. They cut logs and trees that had been downed.

“I was just amazed,” he said. “They also started going down the block to check our neighbors and those who were alone. To help clean up their places. It really spoke highly of faith that people have. Christian community help[ing] each other.”

He said the biggest spiritual lesson he learned from the tornado was the power of community.

“The Christian community, the feeling is still alive,” he said. “That people will help each other. I think God was good that way.”

He referred to the Sunday Gospel that was read on the day that the storm hit. The one where Jesus quiets the storm while lecturing his disciples to have faith.

“Maybe God prepared us for this with the Gospel,” he said. “I never doubted. I was grateful we were well and that we weren't even hurt. The Lord was good.”