I recently visited the Ozark Mountain region of Missouri in the southwest corner of the Show Me State. And though golf was the reason for my visit, my reflections now take on a more somber note. Joplin, Mo., a town of roughly 50,000, and home to many fine golf courses, was steamrolled a few weeks ago by a powerful tornado. It has resulted in 142 deaths to date. Some of those who lost their lives were avid golfers.
One of the lucky ones who escaped relatively unscathed was the Rev. Justin Monaghan, a 70-year-old pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The church, however, was flattened during the tornado’s onslaught, which cut a path one-and-a-half miles wide, while leveling a third of the town’s structures.
Fr. Monaghan, who is from Mullingar, County Westmeath in Ireland, no doubt had a little luck of the Irish on his side that Sunday afternoon of May 22. When he heard the wrath being unleashed by the tornado, he jumped into a bathtub at the church, face down, and prayed. In addition to St. Mary’s Church, the 200-mile-an-hour twister also destroyed the St. Mary’s school and parish buildings. The padre was badly shaken, but otherwise unharmed.
On a normal Sunday in the Bible Belt, folks usually gather at a place of worship and try to gain a better perspective on life. The residents of Joplin will forever reflect on that Sunday, and hope to somehow learn from the past, if there is a message in the offing. “God allows things to happen that we don’t know why,” Fr. Monaghan told a CNN reporter, adding “but when we look back, we always hear the good things that happen as a result.”
In the days following the deadly tornado, parishioners and volunteers pulled together and sifted through the debris looking for items to salvage. As luck would have it, they found the padre’s Bible, and his golf clubs.