JOPLIN, Mo. (KODE) — The 2011 Joplin tornado flattened houses, tore through businesses and tossed around countless cars and trees.

Then, there were the churches including more than two dozen in the path of the storm. That includes St. Mary’s Catholic Church, school, and the cross that still stands today.

“We heard through the grapevine the school and the church had really taken a hit but when we walked up there and saw the total devastation,” recalls Margie Black, St. Mary’s Catholic Church Parishioner.

That happened on top of tornado damage to Black’s own home. She says, “It was very overwhelming.”

She was one of many members of St. Mary’s who lost their church home.

Patty Wheeler, St. Mary’s Parish Council, says, “It was still so overwhelming to see the destruction.”
Decades of Sunday Masses, prayer vigils, and choir practice reduced to piles of debris.

Wheeler says it was a tough thing to see while remembering her daughter’s wedding and dropping off grandkids for school.

“Just the things that we did as a parish family. At that moment walking through and just seeing that debris, kind of put a thought in your head is will it ever come back together again. Is this truly the end?” says Wheeler.

It was a beginning.

Cleaning up the wreckage of the church and school, something they didn’t have to do on their own.

“I think the greatest blessing that came out of the tornado was the number of people from all around the world, that came to help,” Wheeler says.

The site at 25th and Moffet was one in a long list of churches damaged or destroyed by the storm.

“And, in that time, I really thought we would rebuild there,” says Wheeler.

But many changes were in store; The church address would move to 32nd and Central City Road.

Construction of a new campus wouldn’t wrap up for more than three years.

Wheeler says, “As we saw other churches beginning to open up it’s like, well, ‘Why not us?’ you know? But I’m glad we took the time to do the research and build this beautiful, beautiful church that we have now.”

Wheeler points out that what’s even more important is still intact ten years later.

She says, “But what makes that building is the people that are inside of it. And those, the majority of those people stayed together we came back together, and we’re still together.”

She still has a piece of the church wood she saved.

“I mean it’s like saving something of your mom or your dad’s,” says Wheeler.

Meanwhile, for Black, it’s a statue of Mary that rode out the storm.

“It was a moment of hope – something that gave me some grace in spite of this brokenness to find this statue completely intact; it’s very special to us,” she says.

The St. Mary’s cross is still at the old church site, left in place in the hopes it would be part of the healing process.

It’s still a focus for church members, who are working on plan to further develop the site.