She said “Welcome.” Since that day, we have been home

By Lindsay Blaylock
With two small overnight bags, photographs, diapers, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor’s intercession, Ron, myself, and our boys, Gabe (4) and Declan (7 months), evacuated our Metairie home at 2 a.m. Sunday.  We arrived at Ron’s parents’ Madison home at dawn. We watched as the levees broke and the city flooded.  I think I knew then I wouldn’t go home. Living in Jackson wasn’t part of that concept yet, but God had a plan.
A few days later, we learned that Ron had lost his job. He was running a photography studio whose roof had failed. His boss let us know that they would shelve the studio for the foreseeable future.
There was prayerful waiting – waiting to see when we could get back into the city, waiting to hear from friends and family about their plans, waiting for insurance questions to be answered, waiting for guidance.
My mom, a fellow evacuee, and I began attending daily Mass at St. Richard Church in Jackson. I felt peace. A posting in the parish bulletin alerted us to temporary work for Ron, a job supervising storm clean up crews.
Delays to return to the city persisted.  We heard if we could enroll our child in school for some stability, we should do so.   I walked into St Richard School and announced “I think I am here to register my son???” The secretary, Mrs. Georgia (Sckiets), compassionately walked me through the necessary paperwork.  As I handed it to her, she smiled at me and said “Welcome.” Since that day, we have been home.
Approaching his new classroom, I remember thinking, “He already has a school, God. We bought the uniforms already.”  The warmest smile greeted us that day.  Mrs (Tricia) Meyers put us at ease.  While I read about sleep behaviors and eating habits changing in kids post Katrina, I watched my son thrive.  In the next few weeks, he was learning to read and coming home happy.
One of the greatest gifts God gave us that fall was a lesson in material detachment.  We had practically nothing.  We didn’t have any of the comforts of our home.  The small apartment we rented was empty, save for a wicker love seat, an inflatable raft, a table with four chairs and our air mattresses.  It was amazing to sit there with nothing around you and feel fine with that.
Our home was a wet mess.  We lost a lot. Yet, Ron was already picking up freelance work in Jackson and reconnecting with friends.  He was determined to make the best of our time here. I was having trouble.
Gabe was invited to a classmate’ s party. With Mapquest not yet with us, I had directions on a looseleaf and got lost anyway.  We arrived 45 minutes late.  A woman named Deborah introduced herself as a New Orleanian and said, “You are Gabriel’s mom, right?  I’m so sorry.”  New Orleans is a small town and we discovered schools and neighborhoods in common….her husband was the parishioner who placed the job notice in the bulletin.  He grew up behind our flooded home … was the big tree still standing? I left the party with a live goldfish and a new friend.  From that moment on, she became a trusted advisor on everything from local pediatricians to po-boys.
And this kindness was repeated! At Halloween, a parent from the class called and invited us to trick-or-treat with them.  Although we had not ordered them, fair T-shirts arrived in the folder.   A baby blanket, extra lunch tickets, a jogging stroller at the white elephant sale.  People we would meet would say, “We’ve been praying for you. How can we help?” The “St R” community was a haven for us.
So, we decided to stay.
When Katrina came ashore and the levees broke, my heart broke with them.  Looking back, I can see God’s hand in all of it.   When my parents lived here briefly in the 70s, I was actually baptized at St. Richard.  I think God was leading us to life here.  I think He was leading us to the education He wanted for our children.  He chose a school built in the shadow of the church.  A place that lived its Catholic faith from administration down to the simplest art projects.  Everyone was generous with us in all the ways that matter.
We sing the Prayer of St. Richard after Communion at every weekly school Mass.  It opens with “Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits that you have given me…” At this 10 year mark, I can say He has given our family so many.  The St. Richard community showed us Gospel charity in action – We were strangers and they welcomed us.
(Lindsay Blaylock works for the Special Kids program at St. Richard School. Her husband, Ron, is a photographer in Jackson. They are members of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)