Loretto Community Answers the Call

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By Jonathan Nagy
For Proclaim!

On the evening of Saturday, August 12, violent storms ripped through the region. One of the hardest hit areas was between Gallitzin and Loretto, with the Shrine of Our Lady of the Alleghenies taking the brunt force of wind and rain. The storm left trees and debris scattered throughout the Shrine.

While surveying the damage on Sunday morning, the Basilica’s Rector, the Very Reverend John Byrnes, along with the maintenance team and several other parishioners, deemed the area unsafe and unfit to hold the weekly outdoor Mass that evening. Within hours, that would change.

While there were endless amounts of debris scattered over the acres of the Shrine, not one branch was found anywhere near the altar or the statue of Our Lady of the Alleghenies. The only damage other than trees that was found was to the head of the statue of Saint Joseph. Some may say he took the brunt of the damage to protect both his Son and his wife from further damage. Remarkably, no other permanent damage was detected.

With such damage to the grounds, the plan was to move the Mass indoors that evening and call professional crews for cleanup duty on Monday morning. The Loretto community had other ideas. After the 8:00 a.m. Mass, a few parishioners started to pile limbs, branches, sticks, and debris in piles to be cleaned up later. Within the next few hours, nearly 50 parishioners, from the ages of 2–80, arrived to lend a hand. Individuals brought chainsaws, power tools, rakes, wheelbarrows, tractors, shovels, trucks, and their own two hands to do what needed to be done. Everyone did what they could. The youngest children enjoyed picking up the small sticks and watching the equipment, others cut up and picked up every last branch and pine needle, and the eldest members of the team brought drinks and made sure everyone who was helping was hydrated.

No call was put out for help. People just began showing up on their own accord. Additionally, no one asked what needed to be done when they did arrive. Everyone went to an area of need and began working and doing what they could to clean up the beloved Shrine. Two companies also showed up, Diggers and Dumpers and Becks Lawncare, to help remove additional damaged trees and the larger pieces.

So many showed up to help that others who wanted to help found themselves assisting others in the community instead. A Loretto local said that a random stranger showed up at his house to help cut up a tree. When he asked him where he came from, he stated that he intended to help at the Shrine, but he saw that there was already an army there. Yes, it was God’s army! The people of the parish stepped up to aid in the hour of need, spending several hours dedicated to the cause.

Each group of people engaged in meaningful conversations while they worked, making the hours just fly by. The warmth and goodness of the community was on display during the entire day. As the afternoon progressed, what was once seen as impossible hours earlier now seemed like a possibility – that Mass would indeed be held outdoors! Everyone worked to get the rest of the debris cleaned up just in time for the outdoor Mass crew, many of which had been there all day working, to begin Mass setup. Father John offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the work that was completed in order for the Holy Mass to be celebrated as intended.

The weather for Mass that evening was absolutely perfect, with calm winds and bright blue skies. While Mass is always special, there was something extra special about that evening. The large crowd was appreciative of the efforts made. After Mass, one parishioner remarked, “See that bench over there? I imagine Father Gallitzin was sitting there all day, smiling from ear to ear, just watching his community work so hard together, just as they did in his day.” How true that is! The Loretto community, and the parishioners of the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel, proved what it means to be a faith family.