Whenever a natural disaster hits an area, it can take years to recover. For people who live in poorer communities, they might never bounce back.
Sister Princess Mary Dawson arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2011, just after the tornado that ripped through that part of Alabama with winds that reached 190 miles per hour, killing 64 people and injuring more than 1,500. She told us that people still talk about that tornado, and you can still see the impact of its destruction.
Sister Princess Mary is part of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart. Her religious community sent her to help after the tornado. Since then, she has worked for the Catholic Social Services of West Alabama, part of the diocese of Birmingham. The CSS tries to meet the needs of an area that encompasses ten counties, which have an average poverty rating of 24%, compared to the national average of 12.7%. Sadly, one of the counties they serve, Perry County, has 40% of their population living in poverty, with only one organization providing food for people who are in need. CSS tries to help everyone who comes to their door, but they are not able to keep up. The number of individuals who come asking for help keeps rising, going from 7,000 people in 2016, to almost 10,000 in 2017.
When we visited Sister Princess Mary, she showed us the food pantry that she takes care of. They are able to help feed about 200 people each week. Families can come once a month to ask for help with food. She also showed us their beautiful new clothing warehouse, which is set up like a store, so that the people who come for help are treated with dignity.
What keeps Sister Princess Mary going? Her faith, of course. The staff said that they often hear Sister praying out loud as she works, asking God to take care of some of the people she has met, or praying for someone who is sick. She told us, “I try to remember that I am a vessel for God’s love.”
Recently, the CSS said that they could no longer afford to pay Sister Princess Mary for her work. The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart are allowing Sister to stay on there for now, knowing that she is needed. Catholic Extension was asked to help pay for Sister’s health insurance for the next three years, so that she can continue in her ministry. We are honored to have a part in helping to support Sister Princess Mary, so that she can continue to be that vessel of God’s love, for so many of His children.