Joplin tornado 10 years later: The story of hope and the cross that stood after the storm

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JOPLIN, Mo. (KODE) – On May 22, 2011, the Joplin tornado flattened houses, tore through businesses and tossed around countless cars and trees.

In the path of the storm, more than two dozen churches including St. Mary’s Catholic Church, school, and a cross that still stands.

“We heard through the grapevine the school and the church had really taken a hit but when we walked up there and saw the total devastation,” recalled Margie Black, St. Mary’s Catholic Church Parishioner.

That happened on top of tornado damage to Black’s own home.

“It was very overwhelming,” she said.

Decades of Sunday masses, prayer vigils, and choir practice reduced to piles of debris.

“It was still so overwhelming to see the destruction,” said Patty Wheeler, St. Mary’s Parish Council.

Wheeler said it was a tough thing to see while remembering her daughter’s wedding and dropping off grandkids for school.

“Just the things that we did as a parish family. At that moment walking through and just seeing that debris, kind of put a thought in your head is will it ever come back together again. Is this truly the end?” said Wheeler.

PHOTO GALLERY: JOPLIN TORNADO

It was a beginning.

Cleaning up the wreckage of the church and school, something they didn’t have to do on their own.

“I think the greatest blessing that came out of the tornado was the number of people from all around the world, that came to help,” Wheeler said.

The site at 25th and Moffet was one in a long list of churches damaged or destroyed by the storm.

“And, in that time, I really thought we would rebuild there,” said Wheeler.

But many changes were in store as the church address would move to 32nd and Central City Road. Construction of a new campus wouldn’t wrap up for more than three years.

“As we saw other churches beginning to open up, it’s like, well, ‘Why not us?’ you know? But I’m glad we took the time to do the research and build this beautiful, beautiful church that we have now,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler points out that what’s even more important is still intact 10 years later.

“But what makes that building is the people that are inside of it. And those, the majority of those people stayed together we came back together, and we’re still together,” she added.

She still has a piece of the church wood she saved.

“I mean it’s like saving something of your mom or your dad’s,” said Wheeler.

Meanwhile, for Black, it’s a statue of Mary that rode out the storm.

“It was a moment of hope, something that gave me some grace in spite of this brokenness to find this statue completely intact; it’s very special to us,” she said.

The St. Mary’s cross is still at the old church site, left in place in the hopes it would be part of the healing process.

It’s still a focus for church members, who are working on plan to further develop the site.

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