Ohio parish rebuilds two years after being destroyed in a tornado

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Angela Kessler

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Two years after a tornado flattened their church and devastated their town, members of St. Barbara Parish packed the pews Dec. 19 as their new church building was dedicated.

In his homily, Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo, Ohio, congratulated the congregation on the accomplishment of rebuilding the sanctuary and reminded them that they are also living temples of the Lord.

"So while we rejoice that this magnificent new church ... is now completed and today dedicated, in this historic moment, we are encouraged -- or maybe better, challenged ... to make the living temples, the building of our persons, ever more beautiful for God," Thomas said.

The bishop acknowledged that there was sadness and grief when parishioners in the farming hamlet 68 miles southwest of Toledo learned of the destruction of their church after a tornado swept through the area Nov. 17, 2013. Their weeping, he said, was not for the love of bricks and mortar, but because of their love of God's church.

That love was evident after the storm when parishioners of St. Barbara and other nearby Catholic churches gathered on the site and began picking through the rubble, searching for the tabernacle, which still contained the Eucharist, and other salvageable items.

"When the church came down, the tabernacle was buried under about 3,000 pounds of stone, block, brick and rubble," said Fr. Jerry Schetter, pastor of St. Barbara and its twin, Immaculate Conception Parish in Ottoville. "And the firefighters the next day retrieved that out of the rubble. It was very damaged, scratched and banged."

After being refurbished, that same tabernacle is now front and center of the new church building, Schetter said.

The $1.7 million structure seats about 300 people and is built in what the priest called a "modern traditional" style. Among the six stained glass windows are four that recall mysteries of the rosary, one of St. Barbara and one of St. Isidore, the patron saint of farmers.

In the new church's narthex stands a display case with several artifacts found while volunteers were picking through the wreckage. Among them are the bent and broken processional cross, a misshapen chalice, an unbroken but dirtied bottle of communion wine and a piece of sheet music for "We've Only Just Begun."

They are reminders of what parishioners have endured and how they have grown as a family of faith.

"As any family, when something happens, a family has to grow back together again," Schetter said. "As a parish family, that's what we did. We bonded back together again after the tornado. We found the strengths that we had and we brought those strengths out of each other to accomplish the task of rebuilding this church."

At the dedication, Thomas consecrated the altar and church walls with sacred chrism. A bowl of incense also was burned on the altar to signify that Christ's sacrifice ascends to God and that the people's prayers rise to God.

While the new building is an inspiration to prayer and worship with its new stained glass windows and statuary, it is the Catholics inside that make the church a parish, Thomas said.

"First and foremost, they are the Catholics who every day are dedicated and devoted to be the living buildings, the living temples of the Holy Spirit -- out in the fields, in school, in the workplace, at the market, at our homes and neighborhoods," he said. "Every time you come here for Mass and are enriched by the word of God and receive the body and blood of the Lord, so may you go out of here living buildings and witnesses to the Lord who dwells here and in your souls."

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