Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., walks outside the destroyed St. Mary's Catholic Church in Joplin May 24 after it and the school were destroyed by a monster tornado.

Catholic hospital takes direct hit from Joplin tornado

By  Catholic News Service
  • May 24, 2011

JOPLIN, Mo. - A Catholic hospital in Joplin that took a direct hit from a category-F4 tornado that struck the city May 22 has made plans to get back to normal as soon as possible.

Five patients and one visitor at St. John's Regional Medical Centre lost their lives in the twister, but 183 other patients were evacuated to other facilities in Missouri and Arkansas.

"A number of Mercy caregivers themselves were injured," said a May 23 statement issued by the hospital. "Their selfless efforts put their patients first and resulted in a timely and orderly evacuation."

The six fatalities recorded at St. John's, a health care ministry of the Sisters of Mercy, were included in the total of 125 confirmed dead by early May 25, and is expected to climb. The number injured in the storm was 1,150 and news reports say there are up to 1,500 people unaccounted for.

"Our first priority is to the community of Joplin and to ensure that our patients, families and co-workers are safe and receiving the best care possible. We are grateful for your support as we work together to assist the Joplin community," the hospital said.

"Please know that Mercy remains committed to the Joplin community, both in the short-term and long-term," the statement said. "We are evaluating interim approaches to providing health care services, and we will be planning for the future as soon as we address more immediate needs."

A bare tree stripped of its branches and leaves is seen near St. John's Regional Medical Center. At least 89 people died and thousands of structures were wiped out in the monster tornado.Structural engineers were set to arrive in Joplin to evaluate the hospital building, said Mercy president and CEO Lynn Britton in a May 23 statement..

Donations to the Joplin Tornado Relief Fund, or wherever the need is greatest, can be made online through a site set up by St. John's at

"Please keep the people of Joplin in our prayers, especially those whose lives were taken as well as those who lost loved ones," said a May 23 statement from Bishop James Johnston Jr. of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. "We pray especially for the people of St. Mary's Catholic Church and school who suffered a total loss as well as St. John's Mercy Hospital which sustained major damage."

"Diocesan staff have been in contact with the other Missouri Catholic Charities organizations based in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau and Kansas City dioceses and the archdiocese of St. Louis," said a May 23 statement from the neighbouring diocese of Jefferson City.

The church, school and rectory buildings of St. Mary parish were all destroyed by the tornado, but the parish pastor, Fr. Justin Monaghan, was reported unhurt.

"The pastor rode it out in the bathtub. He's fine," said Leslie Anne Eidson, editor of The Mirror, newspaper of the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. "He's staying with a local parishioner right now."

At Joplin's other Catholic church, St. Peter the Apostle, parish administrator Elizabeth Runkle told Catholic News Service May 23, "St. Peter's is fine. We're OK. We didn't have any damage. Everybody's fine."

Residents search through debris of what was once their home after a devastating tornado hit Joplin, Mo.St. Peter has an outreach centre that they're trying to use to speed aid to victims, according to Eidson.

McAuley Catholic High School, which serves the city's two parishes, escaped damage, Eidson said. It was being used as an overflow triage centre.

Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri was in Joplin and seeking donations to aid tornado victims. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul also was co-ordinating its own relief efforts in the Joplin area.

Joplin, in southwest Missouri near the borders of Kansas and Oklahoma, sits in "Tornado Alley," so called for the frequency and ferocity of the region's twisters.

"The tornado has split Joplin in two," reported Eidson. Travel in and out of the city was difficult in the wake of the tornado, she added.

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