Church that gave back during Henryville recovery gets repairs

People huddled in the basement of St. Francis Xavier during the March 2nd tornadoes.

The church that served as a hub to help southern Indiana tornado victims is finally getting its own much-needed repairs.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church is also expanding to help people still recovering from the storm.

After the tornadoes hit Henryville, St. Francis Xavier was one of the few buildings still standing. What became a shelter for survivors, providing sanctuary from the storm, is now being rebuilt.

"The tornado, when it came through, just peeled that (portion of the roof) off entirely," explained Father Steve Schaftlein. "It could have very easily been total destruction."

The $250,000 job, being paid for by insurance and donations for the deductible, will restore damage to the 85-year-old church.

"They've restored the secondary roof we had put on and above that you can see the blue tarps that were put there right after the tornado," Father Steve said.

People huddled in the basement of St. Francis Xavier during the March 2nd tornadoes.

The building shielded many from the violent damage outside.

Then the church quickly became the focal point for volunteers, supplies and food for families in need.

"There was constant stuff coming in, constant people going out. But all that happened spontaneously was the beauty of it," Father Steve said.

Now the beauty of this church is coming back to life, too.

Work crews are fixing the roof and the tower outside, shoring up support beams on the inside, and rehabbing the cross and steeple, which became beacons in the storm.

"The cross is battered and shaken, but it's still there," Father Steve said. "So again, it's a sign of hope for us."

The church also purchased two nearby properties from homeowner Betty Carver, whose houses were heavily damaged by the tornado.

Teams of volunteers are making one home into classrooms and a church office for the long-term.

In the short-term, it will become a recovery center for the nonprofit group, "March2Recovery".

That's where survivors in all three southern Indiana counties affected by the storm, will be able to get assistance.

Church leaders say they now have a clearer mission, not despite the damage, but because of it: a mission to help Henryville heal.

"It's just the continued witness of the people coming in to help and the folks who are persevering," Father Steve explained. "You really see the faith of the other people there."

Construction on the church and recovery center is expected to be complete in the next few weeks. Father Steve says the larger effort to rebuild the town likely will take another three years.

The church welcomes donations to help storm survivors.

They can be sent to St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Henryville, with "tornado recovery" in the memo. Father Steve says that money will go directly to victims in need.