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Damage in Joplin, Mo., several days after the 2011 tornado. Credit: Bob Webster via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Springfield, Mo., May 24, 2021 / 17:19 pm (CNA).

A Catholic parish in Missouri this week held a memorial service for those killed ten years ago when a massive tornado struck Joplin, a city of 50,000 people in southwest Missouri near the Kansas and Oklahoma borders. 

St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Joplin held a memorial service May 22 for the victims of the tornado, remembering in a special way the five parishioners who perished in the disaster. 

“I appreciate all the prayers for each one of these families, as well as all communities of faith that suffered here in Joplin,” Father Joe Weidenbenner, pastor at St. Mary’s, said at the memorial service. 

Bishop Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau led those in attendance in praying a rosary, and later celebrated a memorial Mass at the new church building, located about 4 miles west of the old site.  

An EF5 tornado struck Joplin May 22, 2011, cutting a 1-mile wide swath of destruction directly through the town. 

The weather event killed 161 people, making it America’s deadliest single tornado in six decades. St. Mary’s parish was one of more than two dozen church buildings destroyed. 

The church’s sturdy steel cross famously survived the massive tornado intact, despite most of the church building disintegrating around it. The church building had been constructed in the 1960s under pastor Father Sylvester Bauer. 

Fr. Justin Monaghan, a former pastor of St. Mary’s, said he received “several poignant letters” in the years following the tornado from survivors who were trapped in rubble, but could see the cross. Monaghan himself survived the tornado by sheltering in a bathtub in the nearby rectory. 

St. Mary’s has since rebuilt their church building in a different location, but the metal cross has remained as a memorial. 

Last fall, the parish stabilized the cross by installing a permanent pedestal. At the May 22 gathering, the parish unveiled plans to build a memorial structure around the cross, with the hopes of completing the project in the next year. 

Father Weidenbenner urged prayers for other faith communities in Joplin who also lost their places of worship, as well as for all those suffering as a result of natural disasters around the world.

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