New Orleans welcomes Canadian students’ help

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • April 23, 2007
AJAX, Ont. - Broken doors and smashed windows, rusted paint and water-stained walls are just a few of the images etched into 15-year-old Matthew Provenzano’s memory of what Hurricane Katrina left in her wake.
New-Orleans.jpgProvenzano and 47 other students from Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Ajax, plus 20 adults, mostly teachers, bused four days to New Orleans to spend their March break gutting 11 homes so owners could have the option to rebuild. 

“I expected it to be fun, laid back and have a good time, but when we got there I realized how much hard work it was. It was hot, we were getting up at 6:30 a.m. every morning and my muscles would be sore every day,” said Provenzano.

The students spent their days knocking down walls and ceilings and carrying heavy fridges, beds and lawn mowers out for the garbage. 

This mission trip was the brainchild of former Notre Dame principal Brian Hughes.

“I wanted them to understand... we can’t control where we’re born,” said Hughes. “These people who had been struck lived in communities very much like the ones we live in. These owners could have been their neighbours in Ajax.”

Parents of one of Hughes fellow Knights of Columbus came to Port Perry, Ont. to get relief after the hurricane hit in 2005. The Knights made a financial donation to help out the family and Hughes began discussion about organizing a student mission trip. 

Hughes initially invited the school football team, which he coaches, to lend aid, but later opened  up the trip to all students. 

Aside from leaving behind hours of hard labour the group also left behind $20,000 it had raised. At the suggestion of the local diocese, $7,500 was donated to St. Genevieve parish, $7,500 to Our Lady of Lourdes, two completely destroyed parishes, and the last $5,000 to Archbishop Hannan High School, whose students have been temporarily relocated an hour away. 

Retired New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan is still alive. The group met with the 94-year-old and he regaled them  with stories about his close friendship with the family of John F. Kennedy in the 60s and what is was like presiding at the funeral Mass of the assassinated president.   

Hannan was one of several locals appreciative of the group’s efforts.

“What surprised me the most was how happy everybody was,” said Provenzano, a kicker on the school football team. “Every time we’d be on the street random people would come up and thank us.”

Provenzano said he thinks twice now before taking anything for granted and he’s satisfied with the fact the group surpassed its goal, working on 11 houses instead of the eight as originally planned. 

“We accomplished what we went there to do.” 

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