Summer Mission Trip to Biloxi - 2006

(Looking for the Winter 2007 trip? Click here!)

This page is devoted to covering the 2006 Summer Mission Trip to Biloxi, Miss. -- a weeklong event that nearly 100 youth from around the archdiocese will participated in this July.

As was the case this past spring, Katie Berger, youth minister at St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, served as our reporter/photographer/participant on the trip, periodically sending back information that are posted below in chronological order..

If you're interested in the blog we ran for the Spring Break Mission Trip to Biloxi this past April, then go check out those pages. (Also see our pages for World Youth Day 2005)


Youth arrive in Mississippi

Katie sent an e-mail this morning relating the following:

"Six of the nine vans arrived at Resurrection School around 10:30 p.m. last night and the last three vans arrived a little after midnight.  All got settled in after a long day on the road.  This morning the wake up call was for 6 a.m. as the estimated departure time to the work sites is 7 a.m.  The majority of the teams will be working today in Biloxi, which is just west of where we are staying in Pascagoula."

She also sent photos from the road last night that I will post shortly.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:30 a.m. on July 24, 2006

Photos from the trip

See a photo gallery that Katie sent along with the following description:

"After meeting early Sunday at Our Lady of the Greenwood, 90 youth and adult chaperones began the day-long trek down to Biloxi.   Before departing, the youth and their families attended Sunday mass where the youth received a blessing and a large  five-foot San Damiano Crucifix was also blessed.  This crucifix will be a gift from the group to our host, Resurrection High School.

"Like the trip in the spring, each van is paired with another van to travel to ensure safety.  Early in the trip, the Blessed Mother Teresa van broke down and had to wait for another van to arrive but we have heard that everything is now fine and they are back on the road only a couple of hours behind us.

"We have now stopped for pizza at our dinner stop in Birmingham, Alabama with all the vans.  We still have several hours to go but all is now going smoothly.   We pray that we don't have any more difficulties with any of the vans and we arrive at Resurrection this evening."

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:49 a.m. on July 24, 2006

First day of work

Info from Katie:

"For work today, eight of the nine teams traveled to Waveland, a town due west of Biloxi.  The other team remained at Resurrection School to do work around there.  We have been told that the further west you drive, the worse the storm affected the area.  As we drove along highway 90, we saw concrete slab after slab where homes and/or businesses once stood.   Sometimes when you do not see destroyed homes in front of you, it is hard to imagine the damage; however, when you allow yourself to see the empty space and think about things even more destroyed in that they do not even exist, it is much more sobering.  

"We pulled up to St. Clare Catholic Church and School.  There was no church building, or school building, but only tents.   Outside stood a sign that read, "Katrina was big but God was bigger."  It was a great sign of hope.  Behind the tent that housed the church were several more tents – one the church office, another the church hall and others to organize volunteers.

"Father Meyer led everyone into the church.   We knelt and prayed for the parish; that God would give them the grace to persevere in faith.   Afterwards all the adult leaders reported to a tent that where we met Jane, a parishioner sent from St. Bartholomew in Columbus who was coordinating volunteers.   Each team selected a task from the chalkboard full of jobs to be done.  Jane and another volunteer, Laura, explained that St. Clare Church was virtually at the eye of the hurricane and had been completely washed away.   She also said that the city of Waveland began with 6,700 people prior to the hurricane but now had roughly half of those.  She said that in Hancock County, the county where St. Clare stands, still had 11,000 families in FEMA trailers, all of which would have to be vacated in only six months.  Jane and Laura explained that many of the residents were having difficulties with the insurance companies and did not know what would happen after those months pass.

"Many teams are out doing demolition at homes around Waveland.  A few homes were in need of personal belongings removed as their homes are still in the same condition as the day after the hurricane.   Now, some eleven months after the hurricane - to think that there are still homes that have not been touched is quite hard to believe.  Jane and Laura also explained that it was very emotional for many homeowners to see their homes being demolished even though they knew it had to be done.

"My team has spent the day in a home that was in need of painting and sanding.  It was the home of a couple who has been slowly working on their home.   The homeowner, Lou, said his goal was to move back in the house in three weeks.  He took us through his home and showed us the water line, which was about six inches from the ceiling.   The house currently had nothing inside it.  The walls have only dry wall and there is no flooring other than cement.

"Later, I hope to report on what other teams did for work today and hear stories from selected youth."

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 4:55 p.m. on July 24, 2006

Photos from the first day

The two galleries below contain sets of photos from the first day of work. As Katie mentioned yesterday, the youth prayed at St. Clare Parish -- which is no longer a church and school but a set of tents.

For whatever reason, I liked the picture on the right...bowls and bowls of cereal of all sorts ready to make a quick breakfast for the youth. In the same vein that it amuses me, it also makes me remember such quick meals on Church retreats and projects when I was a teenager.

Not like there weren't any good pictures of the parish church in which the youth were ministering in charity...but you'll have to click on the galleries below to see them!


Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:29 a.m. on July 25, 2006

Rest and prayer

Katie sends along a set of photos from Monday evening, along with this description:

"After returning from work, we grilled out hamburgers and hotdogs and ate in the Resurrection School cafeteria.  After eating, the students were then able to shower - this the first time since our long drive.

"We had Mass this evening in the parish that is right next to the school.  In our first trip back in April the church was still being restored and did not have any carpet.  This trip, though, the church looked like it was back to normal and was beautiful. 

"Following the conclusion of Mass, there was a Eucharistic Procession back to the gym.  Only seconds before the procession was to begin, it began pouring down rain.  The procession still went on despite the rain.  Everyone was soaking wet but handled everything quite well.

"Now our evening Rosary has been said and the lights have just gone out.  Our wake up will be at 6 again tomorrow."

Now, did you catch that little detail? Monday night for the first chance for a of many sacrifices for these young people, to be sure. Not showering is the sacrifice that you share with others...especially when you live in a gym with 100 other people.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:34 a.m. on July 25, 2006

In their own words (plus more photos)

A few dozen more pictures have been sent from the second day of work for the young people. I've separated them into two galleries:

Katie has also collected the thoughts of five of the youth on the trip. Below are some of their own words about the experience so far.

"My team has worked on a single house and another house with another team. We have gutted it out and are about to finish. The second house that we are working on has been completely demolished and the owner is very excited. It was moving to help out someone without anyone else in their lives. This has been a great experience for me."

-Sean Scott
Grade 10 at Waldron HS
St. Joseph Parish, Shelbyville

"The past three days have been so crazy, but so incredible! We started out with a nice short 12 hour drive and arrived in Pascagoula, MS late Sunday night. We woke up Monday morning and traveled about an hour to Waveland, which was hit by the eye of the hurricane. We all got our work assignments and tasks from St. Clare’s Church, which was completely wiped out.  They have lots of tents and trailers setup and are working extremely hard to rebuild the community of Waveland.  Most people, including myself, haven’t really heard much about Waveland before. So much of the media focus and attention was put on New Orleans and Biloxi, and Waveland was kind of shoved off into the background because it’s such a small town.  We are helping with a lot of tasks, such as “demoing” houses and building fences.  My group is salvaging and demoing a house that had barley been touched since the hurricane. The kitchen was still fully stocked and the bedrooms were full of clothes and toys. We’ve only been here two days, but it has already been an amazing experience.  I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity and feel that God has all called us down here for a special reason. From the outside it appears that we are doing all the work and helping the community, but in reality they are really the ones helping us. They are such an inspiration and have so much faith and hope. This is truly an amazing and wonderful experience that I will always remember."

-Sara Wagner
Senior at Bishop Chatard HS
St. Monica Parish, Indianapolis

"A lot of the stuff we are doing isn’t necessarily heavy-duty work; it’s not demo work –  but cleaning someone’s house.  It is necessary for the mental health of the people of Biloxi.  Our team has been really good because we have been able to find the meaning of the trip even though it has been frustrating at times.  A lot of people have been asking why I came back on this second trip and it is because there is still a lot of work to do."

-Eleanor McReynolds
Senior at Bishop Chatard
St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Indianapolis

"This week we have been demolishing a couple’s house that had not been touched since the hurricane.  We cleared the entire house yesterday and today we began on the roof.  Our hope is that by the end of the week we will have the house to the ground.  Right now the couple is living in a small trailer outside their decaying house.  These people have been living there for about 10 months.  They are frustrated and hurt that they have had to wait this long to see their house come down.  Almost every house around theirs has been rebuilt.  It’s been pretty hard work, but this couple is so grateful for our help.  The hardest part is taking the pictures and personal items to the curb so they can be taken away.  I have thrown away a few full photo albums.  Knowing that we have helped this couple take a step towards normalcy really helps me know why we are here.  These people are touched that there are still those who care about the welfare of these victims.  Since the aftermath of Katrina is no longer on the news, it is easy for us to forget the struggles these people are going through.  I am thankful that I have been able to be a part of this effort."

-Elisabeth Patterson
Senior at Bishop Chatard
St. Luke Parish, Indianapolis

"Since Monday my team has been demolishing a house that had been already half demolished by a previous youth group, and we had been sent to finish the job.  There were two rooms left, a bathroom, a washer and dryer, and three fridges.  Now the only thing standing is the washer, because it is extremely heavy from the full load of laundry that has been in progress since last August 29.  The entire house came down with a crash as we were walking away from it to go to lunch.  Afterwards, another team came by to help us pick up the debris.  When it was time to leave, we all stood in a circle and prayed together.  Every person in the circle thanked and praised God for the opportunities he had granted us on this trip, and for being able to give hope to the single woman who lived in the house.  It has truly been a moving experience for all of us in group TL, and the week can only get more amazing from here."

-Stephen Pendl
Senior Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School
St. Luke Parish, Indianapolis

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 7:43 a.m. on July 26, 2006

Wednesday work and play

Katie forwarded some more photos, including this tag line at the opening of her e-mail: "we demolished a house today, if it isn't obvious by the pictures." Demolish a house? Those kids really are working! Here are the galleries:

Katie reflects on the day:

"Today was the hardest day – there were no clouds in the sky, which made it extremely hot and difficult to work for long periods of time.  Water breaks were key.  It was impressive to see how all the youth worked through the heat because they wanted to accomplish their tasks.  We had some who needed to rest due to the heat and minor scrapes and cuts but overall they came through a tough day.

"My team, St. Francis of Assisi, joined the St. Clare group for a second day to continue demolition work on the home of Don and Juanita, a couple who resides in Waveland.  An amazing amount of work was accomplished today; the roof was dismantled and sections of the outside walls were also removed.  As much as we had completed, we knew it would take many more days of work to level the home down to the cement slab.  Father Meyer and our volunteer coordinator, Laura, went across the street where a crew of men on large machines were clearing a lot full of trees.  They struck a deal and within a couple of hours a crew was at our site.  A man drove this large machine off a truck and started demolishing the house.  We all stood back and watched.  It was truly like nothing I had ever seen before.  In five to ten minutes and entire house was brought down.  I didn’t know what to think either:  On one hand I was very emotional because I could just picture this family in their home and the many moments they shared within the walls that were so easily brought to a heaping pile of debris.  On the other hand, it was a great moment for the future.  This house had to be cleared in order to begin the slow process of rebuilding their homes and their lives.  During the final demolition, only Don was there; his wife had gone out for a bit and would return only to find her home gone.  I was again overcome with emotion upon seeing her reaction.  Her tears made an impact on me because behind all the tears, all I wondered is, “what must she be thinking?”  What a crazy eleven months it must have been.

"Before departing the site for the day, Father gathered us all with Don and Juanita to pray.  I watched as many of the youth were deeply moved, as I was.  We sang the song, “Sanctuary,” and prayed that this family would put their faith in the Lord and His love in the future months of rebuilding.  Don expressed his appreciation for our team’s work and praised the youth for their dedication to serving others.  He related the fact that much of the news regarding youth is negative but that this experience has shown him how, in fact, youth are willing to make sacrifices to be on a trip of this kind.  He also commented on the good that has come after Hurricane Katrina; how it has allowed so many people to come to together in Christian love to serve their fellow brother.  What an interesting thought!"

I also have three more reflections written by young people -- apparently Katie gives them the laptop and lets them type in what they're thinking (pretty efficient for her. I don't know how she finds the time to not only work on these projects everyday, but also to take pictures, write reflections and get it all sent back to Indianapolis!).

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 10:59 a.m. on July 27, 2006

More of "In Their Own Words"

From three young people:

"Today was a very moving day for me. We spent the day in Waveland, Mississippi, a small town right outside of Biloxi. We were there in order to totally demolish a house that had been totally submerged in water from the storm surge.

"We spent the day tearing down siding and on the roof, ripping off shingles and removing the boards that covered the roof. And at about three thirty in the afternoon, Father Mayer went across the street and negotiated with the construction crew that were tearing down trees across the street. They agreed to come over, and then finished tearing down the house. In the space of about ten minutes, what once was a standing house, became a huge pile of splinted wood, broken glass, and twisted pipes and wires. When one of the owners of the house, Juanita, came back, she started crying, because the house she had lived in for how many years was gone. Her husband, Don, went, and gave her a big hug, and held her, and I realized how much they must have gone through during these months since Katrina hit. We all came over and after we prayed, Don stopped us and told us that seeing us work so hard to help people we didn’t even know gave him faith in young people again, because all he had heard lately about us was bad. He said that we had given him hope again, as well as the means for a new beginning. And he is right."

-Sarah Erdely
Sophomore at Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis
Saint Malachy Parish, Indianapolis

"Today was our final day on a roofing project.  For the past 3 days, our group (St. Maria Goretti) has been taking shingles off a roof, in preparation to repair it.  For the first 2 days, we did nothing but de-shingle and remove warped plywood.  Even though we worked very hard, it wasn’t easy to see the effects of our labor.  But today, we finally were able to appreciate the job we were doing.

"Today (Wednesday) we finished stripping both sides of the roof, and went about replacing plywood.  With a full three workgroups working during the afternoon, we were able to replace 8 sheets of plywood, with only 6 more to go.  One side is completely ready to tar and shingle, and the other is almost there.

"It was very hard to leave the site today.  We aren’t planning to come back to finish the project off, and that’s hard to handle.  We all feel like we own this project to a certain extent, and it’s hard to let go.  We know it’s not going to get all the way finished; we just want to be there on the final day.  It’s hard to do, but we were reminded that we are here to serve, in however the community needs us.  As we head into the final work day, I anticipate tomorrow’s project, but I still feel a desire to be roofing."

-Erik Pfarr
Junior at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis
Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish, Greenwood

"When thinking about the distance my group has come over the last few days on our project, I begin to beam with pride.  Here are nine kids who never knew each other before this week, yet we’re working together as though we are one of the most skilled demolition teams that ever walked the streets of Biloxi.  It is a truly incredible thing! 

"This week, “The Sharpies” as we affectionately call ourselves, have been instrumental in helping a family sort through their belongings, separating those things they can keep from other things that unfortunately, they cannot keep.  Once everything was out of the house we were able to pull up the moldy carpeting, and with the guidance of our counselors, we began hacking at the walls, stripping the house down to the bare framing.  All of this gave me mixed feelings.  While I was sad to destroy something that had been enjoyed over so many years, I was also happy that I was doing something that would give this poor family a way of starting over.  It’s not every day that one can feel completely gratified in destroying another’s house.

"Of the many new feeling I have experienced this week, I would have to say the feeling I got when the man across the street came over to us was definitely one of the best I ever had.  I thought he was going to complain about all the garbage out in the street, and even before hearing, I began judging.  Mean old man, I’m only doing what they told me to do, I thought. But Roy simply wanted to reach out to a bunch of hot sweaty kids and offer us the use of his hose.  He later brought his dogs over and a coke for each one of us.  We found out that Roy had moved down to Mississippi after Katrina to help his brother clean up and restart his life.  Father Meyer talked this week about laying your life down for your friends, and I think my entire group was able to see that in the generosity that Roy showed his family and us."

-Michelle Indiano
Junior at Fishers High School
St. Luke Parish, Indianapolis           

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 11:04 a.m. on July 27, 2006

Cleaning up the demolished house

Katie's photos from Thursday show Mass at St. Clare Parish and then a trip back to a house that the youth helped demolish -- this time they were clearing the remaining debris. As Katie wrote: "We were able to clear the debris down to the cement slab!"

Among the more memorable photos is a shot of the parish bulletin showing what St. Clare Church used to look like -- amazing that something so strong looking can be pushed away by a storm...a humbling thought.

She also sends along a few thoughts:

"Today instead of having Mass in the evening as we had done the past three nights, we had Mass over at St. Clare Parish.  It was their normal daily Mass so we were able to come together with several parishioners.  The Mass was held in their temporary church, the one that was photographed earlier in the week.  In his homily, Father Meyer talked about serving the Body of Christ so the chance to experience Mass with those we were serving helped to bring the point of the trip all together.  Those who know me would not be surprised to hear that I have had several emotional moments on this trip and Mass this morning was one of them.  As I thought about the Body of Christ and looked at those around me who were from Waveland, I couldn't help but feel bad at first but then proud because of the hard work that has been done for them this week.  After Mass many of us had the opportunity to briefly chat with some of the women who were there - again a great and wonderful opportunity - one of many for us this week."

At the end of the photo gallery linked to above, you'll note that there is a group shot included. It's probably just the group of youth that were with Katie, but it's still a nice shot. Click on the links below to view two different sizes.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 12:00 p.m. on July 28, 2006

Submitted photos

I got an e-mail earlier this week from someone in Mississippi that has been working with the archdiocesan youth and also reading this blog. She sent another e-mail to me today, this time containing some photos of the group for me to post. You can look at her photos, as well as read what she wrote to me below:

"This is Laura, a long-term volunteer from St. Clare Catholic Church and I was told by the group of volunteers down helping with Father Meyers to send any photos I have taken to you. So, here they are!

"Once again, I want to get the message out that these volunteers were phenomenal.

"Some homes look as though the hurricane hit yesterday. These volunteers went into filthy, hot conditions where often the stench was overwhelming and gutted the homes down to the studs to begin the rebuilding process for the homeowners. They roofed, picked through debris to find many, many cherished personal possessions for residents and used hand tools to demolish entire homes (Although Father and I did finegal the help of a logging crew and their excavator across the street from one home at one point;) We are blessed that they chose to serve here and my hope is to get the word out to anyone that I can that more help is still desparately needed here.

"I urge you to let your Archdiocese know how grateful we are for the volunteers and to encourage others to come to the area and help in any capacity they can! We couldn't do it without them!"

-Laura Halleman

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 12:15 p.m. on July 28, 2006

On the way home

What a fast week! I didn't even realize that the crew was headed by until I talked to Katie a few minutes ago. Her van is between Nashville and Louisville.

She has promised some more pictures from today, and probably some homecoming pictures. I believe that she recorded one or more of the homilies from the trip, but was having trouble accessing them on the digital recorder. If possible, we'll post those sometime soon.

The next set of photos -- along with anything else Katie has -- may come sporadically, as Katie has my aircard with her (it's a PC card which enables my laptop to get access to the Internet via cell phone towers) and I am going out of town for the weekend. I should be able to get online by stopping into a Starbucks or something, but in the unlikely event that there is a delay in posting until the end of the weekend, you'll know why.

I look forward to seeing more of Katie's pictures and anything else that she can send!

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 04:41 p.m. on July 28, 2006

More photos on Sunday

I have gotten more photos from Katie and will try to post them tomorrow (Sunday).

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 12:49 a.m. on July 30, 2006

Photos from the last dinner and trip home

Take a peek at some of Katie's final photos, taken during the last dinner the group had in Mississippi on Thursday night and then on the trip home.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 2:13 p.m. on July 30, 2006

More submitted photos

Kay Scoville sends along some pictures, and writes of the youth in the photos:

They worked on the roof of this second story home.  They removed all the shingles and roof paper along with some boards that were warped. A second group came in to put on new boards and repaper.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 11:17 a.m. on July 31, 2006

Memorial in Biloxi

Another photo gallery, this time from Katie of a Katrina memorial in Biloxi

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 11:31 a.m. on July 31, 2006

A thank you from St. Clare Parish

Jane Crady, volunteer coordinator of St. Clare Recovery in Waveland, Miss., sends along these photos as well as a word of explanation and thanks:

I just wanted to thank everyone for their wonderful service here at St. Clare in Waveland, MS.  I am attaching a few photos that I took and a copy of what I published on our website  

Words cannot express our gratitude to Fr. Meyer, the adult leaders and especially all of the fantastic youth who labored so hard in our heat and brought so much to the people here.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 11:39 a.m. on July 31, 2006

Another thank you

From an e-mail that I received last week, addressed to all those on the trip:

Hi Katie and all of your group of youth workers! 

I think the work you are all doing is the greatest work of Charity I have seen in all my life. I kept following you last time and again today.  I wished I could go with you, but I'm there in spirit with you. We prayed for you at our prayer meeting for God to bless each one of you guide and protect you in your mission work for the very needy people of Mississippi.

I like to see you in all the works you do the prayer services, the work, and you enjoyment you have with all the whole group. You are an inspiration to the whole Country in the work that you all do the people in charge and all the youth who volunteer their time and themselves for the Mississippi people. You are what America needs.

Keep up your excellent work in your faith and eagerness to help others—it's beautiful.  Have a safe trip home, again God Bless all of you in all you do.

Love and prayers,

Eileen Young

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:15 a.m. on August 2, 2006

Audio homilies

Posted below are links to four mp3 files (about 4-5 MB each) that were recorded by Katie last week during the daily Mass celebrated by Father Jonathan Meyer for the young people during their time in Mississippi. The recordings are, specifically, the homily from each Mass.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 11:43 a.m. on August 2, 2006


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