By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are forming a Disaster Relief Team that will aid people affected by disasters in a 500-mile radius of Nazareth, Ky.
The team was set to begin operating in April, in time for tornado season. But the volunteers began their work a little earlier than expected this month, assisting people in Southern Indiana affected by the unseasonable outbreak of tornadoes on March 2.
“No matter where you go, people suffering from disasters need to know someone is there to help them,” said Sister Luke Boiarski, the sisters’ director of volunteers. “It goes back to our foundress, Mother Catherine Spalding. She was there to meet the needs of the time.”
Today, that means “meeting people who are paralyzed by disaster,” she said. “I feel really good about it, that this is where the spirit is leading.”
Sister Boiarski, director of the Nazareth Volunteer Program, was one of about a dozen volunteers from Nazareth who made repeated trips to Marysville, Ind., in early March to aid people affected by the tornadoes that destroyed parts of that town and areas around it.
She has a base of about 250 volunteers who have joined her on service trips to Appalachia, New Orleans, Belize and Botswana. These trips normally focus on repairing homes for people in need and, in some places, building a modest home for a needy family.
Their focus shifted a last year when a scheduled trip to Montana was cancelled because of flooding in that area. At the same time, an EF5 tornado had just destroyed parts of Joplin, Mo., leaving people homeless and in dire need. The volunteer group redirected their efforts to Joplin. They helped to clear debris and prayed with survivors.
“When I came back, I realized, this is where we need to be as sisters — helping with disasters,” Sister Boiarski said.
“The sisters at the motherhouse raised the money for a trailer for our tools,” she noted. They raised $3,800, and they’re are hoping some tools may also be donated. “And now we’re starting a database of volunteers.”
It already includes the 250 people who have volunteered in the Nazareth Volunteer Program in the last two years. Volunteers range in age from 18 — the youngest they’ll accept — to a volunteer who is 82 years old.
The new Disaster Relief Team will be a part of the volunteer program. Team leaders are being trained now in different areas of need, such as first aid and chain saw safety skills. The database will keep track of volunteer names and skills so the right people can be dispatched for the right job.
The jobs vary widely — from using a chain saw, to carrying debris, to praying with people and sometimes even babysitting while parents affected by a disaster sort out their upturned lives.
Butch Cecil of Raywick, Ky., a long-time volunteer with the sisters, is being trained to use a chainsaw safely in disaster areas. He’ll be one of the team leaders.
“I think it’s a calling,” he said during a work break in Marysville, Ind, March 9. “I’m retired from UPS Freight. I’ve had a really blessed life. I want to give back.”
Sister Susan Gatz, a vice president of the SCNs who also volunteered in Marysville, said the disaster relief effort will give the sisters “an opportunity to do what we’ve always done: to respond to disaster situations.”
In the past, she noted, the sisters have aided the community during epidemics, the flood of 1937 and in wartime.
Sister Angela Hicks, who’s a part of the Disaster Relief Team, said she has served on relief efforts in New Orleans and has taken trips to Appalachia to do service work with people who are struggling there.
She does it for one simple reason: “We’re sisters of charity; we are supposed to be doing charitable things.”