DURHAM, N.C. — Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Emmet Murphy, OFM, has helped about 10 families and organizations return to their homes and facilities in New Orleans.
He made his first trip in January 2006, a second trip in May 2007, and recently returned from an early January visit to the still devastated Ninth Ward.
“I feel like I need to do this to keep myself aware of the blessings I have, and to be aware of the tragedy that this still is to others,” said Emmet by cell phone from his temporary assignment at Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham.
His usual ministry is at St. Anthony Parish in Butler, N.J., where he travels to New Orleans with a group from Catholic Charities of the Paterson Diocese.
Renovating a Drugstore into a Church
On this most recent trip, 60 people volunteered, helping a black evangelical church group retrofit a gutted drug store to use for worship space.
“We slept on the floor of an Episcopal Church,” he laughed. “I had two different air mattresses, and each one had a leak. I would wake up on the floor each morning.”
But despite the humble conditions, Emmet said he felt a deep sense of accomplishment in doing something for others.
Describing himself as a “lugger,” he said he hauled wallboard into the drug store and helped the construction team pound it into the walls with nail guns. They also put up curtains and made the space suitable for about 100 people to worship on Sundays.
Helping an Elderly Woman Move Home
In another location, the group helped an elderly African-American woman move back into her devastated home from the FEMA trailer where she had been living. Carrying furniture back in and painting the walls, the group took a day and a half to make the place home again.
“She started to cry when we left,” recalled Emmet. “I had a sense of satisfaction in reaching out to those who need help; to someone who is hurting.”
While it was hard work, he said, it was well worth it. One of the hazards of working in New Orleans, however, is the amount of mold that still exists from the flooding, he said. “It is so humid and you can smell the mold all the time. In some places, we even had to wear masks.”
But the mold seemed like a small problem compared to the critters that inhabit the abandoned buildings. “In one place, I smacked the wall with a crowbar and a bunch of rats came running out,” said Emmet. “I did an Irish jig on that one.”
While he has no plans to take a group from St. Anthony, he said he does look forward to traveling again with the Catholic Charities group, which includes two churches from northern New Jersey.
For more information on traveling with Emmet, email him at his e-mail address in the Provincial directory or through the communications office.
— Wendy Healy, a free-lance writer in Danbury, Conn., contributes frequently to this newsletter.