Wheeling Parish To Aid In Hurricane Recovery in Texas

Photos Provided Results of Hurricane Harvey are seen in this photo of the rectory at Sacred Heart Parish in Rockport, Texas, where the church community is looking to rebuild with a little help from a parish in Wheeling.

WHEELING — What are best friends for? A Catholic priest in hurricane-stricken Rockport, Texas, will soon find out.

The Rev. Ray Yrlas, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Rockport, is a personal friend and former seminary classmate of the Rev. Bill Matheny, associate pastor at St. Michael Parish in Wheeling. Matheny and Yrlas have maintained contact since their seminary days with the Wheeling priest visiting his friend in Texas in January.

When Matheny heard the Texas parish and school were heavily impacted by Hurricane Harvey, he wanted to help in any way he could.

After this upcoming weekend, that help could be on its way to the Texas parish and school.

Matheny has asked his boss, the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, if St. Michael’s special collection for hurricane victims could be sent directly to the Rockport parish. The bishop has asked all Catholic churches throughout West Virginia to take up a special collection this weekend with proceeds going to hurricane relief. Since Matheny has a personal connection with Yrlas’ church, the bishop gave his OK for St. Michael’s special collection to go directly to Sacred Heart Parish.

Matheny announced his intentions to his congregation this past weekend. He explained how he and Yrlas attended Josephinum Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, at the same time, and that they have stayed in touch over the years since their ordination. He said Sacred Heart sustained extensive damage to its school, parish office and parish hall, while the church and rectory survived with minimal damage.

“Because Father Ray is one of my best friends, I thought that we could focus our collection on the recovery efforts for Sacred Heart,” he said. “I’d like to thank Bishop Bransfield, Monsignor (Joseph) Peterson and the St. Michael Parish Council, Finance Council and Stewardship Council for supporting this collection.”

Matheny said when he visited Rockport in January, he found the area to be “a charming coastal community.” However, when Hurricane Harvey hit the community, it resulted in one person being killed and the destruction of homes, schools, churches and businesses in the small town.

“He (Yrlas) sent me pictures on his phone of the devastation,” Matheny told parishioners. “They had a church and school and parish center like we do. The roofs are gone. Buildings are destroyed. It’s a mess.”

Matheny said St. Michael Parish is blessed with generous people and he knows they will help another parish not so lucky.

Peterson, pastor at St. Michael Church, said, “Father Bill and I are grateful to the bishop for permitting us to direct our donations to Sacred Heart Parish. We have seen photos of the devastation there and are looking forward to helping them to rebuild.”

St. Michael will take up a special collection at all Masses this weekend to support the Sacred Heart recovery effort. Matheny said the parish welcomes contributions from the community at large.

Anyone wishing to donate can send a check payable to St. Michael Parish, 1225 National Road, Wheeling, WV 26003. Write “Sacred Heart” on the check’s memo line. Donations are tax deductible, and Sacred Heart Parish will verify that all contributions will be used in the parish recovery effort.

Meanwhile, funds given to the special collection throughout the rest of the diocese will support the humanitarian and recovery efforts of Catholic Charities USA and will provide pastoral support and rebuilding assistance to impacted dioceses through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Church of Christ on National Road also is collecting donations for the Churches of Christ Disaster Relief. The Church of Christ is currently taking cash and check donations, which can be mailed or dropped off at the church.

The Salvation Army is also collecting donations for Harvey and Irma victims.

Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church has already sent out a check for $835 to Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, as well as $1,000 to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Vance Memorial is in the midst of another round of collections that will be sent Sept. 25.

“We don’t compete with other churches, we collaborate to help more people,” said Jane Schockey, administrator at Vance Memorial.

Staff Writer Jessica Broverman contributed to this story.