Faithful turn to prayer, service as tornadoes tear through Midwest

A tornado ripped through this family home west of Wellman March 31. Members of Holy Family Parish-Riverside and St. James Parish-Washington are assisting with relief efforts.

By Lindsay Steele and
Gina Christian
The Catholic Messenger

Tornadoes carved a deadly path through the nation’s midsection March 31, killing at least 18, injuring dozens and devastating thousands of homes and businesses.

More than 50 preliminary tornado reports have been received in at least seven states: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin. By the afternoon of April 1, powerful winds had knocked out the power in more than 850,000 homes and businesses in 14 states, according to

At least 12 tornadoes touched down in Iowa, according to preliminary assessments from local emergency managers and the National Weather Service. Meteorologists had predicted severe weather for March 31 in the afternoon and evening. Many parishes and schools in the Diocese of Davenport prepared by closing early and postponing Friday fish dinners.


The most significant damage came from a large, violent tornado that touched down at 3:37 p.m. in northern Wapello County four miles northeast of Ottumwa and carried on for more than 40 miles before lifting in southwest Johnson County. The EF-4 tornado with peak winds of 170 mph was as wide as 600 yards and was on the ground for 67 minutes. The tornado caused at least three

Cathy Meinsma
A tornado is seen northwest of Dewitt on March 31.


EF-2 tornadoes with maximum wind speeds of 111-135 mph touched down in Clinton, Des Moines, Cedar, Johnson and Wapello Counties. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for 12 counties, allowing utilization of state resources to respond to and recover from the storm’s effects.

The Charlotte area in Clinton County sustained considerable damage as a result of the EF-2 tornado that touched down there, said Father Bob Cloos, pastor of parishes in Lost Nation, Charlotte, Petersville, Sugar Creek and Delmar. The tornado broke two stained glass windows in the steeple of Assumption and St. Patrick Parish in Charlotte and blew out porch windows in the rectory. Several farms were hit, affecting at least three parish families. “The next day many of the people in the Charlotte community came together with equipment to help those families wanting to rebuild,” Father Cloos said.

At least two families from Holy Family Parish of Riverside lost their homes and vehicles, according to parish staff. The homes were located west of Wellman. Several other parish families, including those near Fry Town, Richmond and Hills, received significant damage. “It mostly affected rural areas,” said Angie Goodwin, youth minister, noting that the two families who lost their homes are also dealing with injured and displaced livestock and building damage and debris. “They’re still in shock.”

Parishioners met on Palm Sunday to figure out how to assist families. Youth group members from Holy Family and from St. James Parish in Washington made 250 sandwiches for families and workers who were combing fields and cleaning up. Parishioners hand-delivered the sandwiches along with food and drinks. “It means a lot to our kids to know they are helping.”

Holy Family Parish established a VENMO account to donate to relief efforts. “A lot of people out of state have reached out and want to give,” Goodwin said. Plans to coordinate parish efforts with other emergency and relief services is ongoing. “We want to support (the families) moving forward in the next few days, weeks and years to come,” Goodwin said. “We are still trying to figure out what we can do and what is the best way to serve parishioners and help them find what they need.”

In Belvidere, Illinois the roof of the Apollo Theater collapsed during a concert, killing one and sending 28 others to the hospital.  Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huck­abee Sanders de­clared a state of emergency after multiple devastating tornadoes struck the state, including Little Rock, the state capital. Parishes throughout the affected areas canceled planned Lenten devotions for Friday evening, with many advertising disaster safety and relief information on their social media accounts. Catholic school students in the area prayed and sang worship music as they waited for the storm to pass.

“Any time a natural disaster hits … it brings us to our knees, and not in a cute theological sense,” said Father Stephen Gadberry, pastor of St. Teresa Parish in Little Rock. “It levels the playing field and shows we’re not the big and strong individuals we think we are. We really do need community. Literally, over­night, enemies are working together in the same yard, getting past their differences. … We’re a pilgrim people, and we have to journey on together.”

(Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News.)

Storm assistance
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation April 1 for Cedar, Clinton, Delaware, Des Moines, Dubuque, Grundy, Johnson, Keokuk, Linn, Mahaska, Wapello and Washington counties. The proclamation activates the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program for all qualifying residents, up to $5,000 per household for households with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level. Grants are available for home or car repairs, replacement of clothing or food, and temporary housing expenses. Original receipts are required. Applicants will have 45 days from April 1 to submit a claim. For more information, go to

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