After the 2018 Camp Fire ravaged Paradise, California claiming many lives and destroying homes, the Order of Malta’s Northern California locations reached out to offer assistance. Ken Hurley, Hospitaller and David Barca, Chancellor for the Western Association have been actively involved in marshalling resources and member volunteers since the 2017 Tubb Fires in Sonoma County.

These efforts which have evolved into the Order of Malta’s Disaster Recovery Program for fire relief includes hosting partner resource fairs, making connections to mental health professionals, providing material support for household items and more. The on-site events begin with the Holy Mass.

The parish community shrunk from 900 families to 120 individuals who attend Mass at the Parish church...

The Camp Fire, which was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history and the most expensive natural disaster in the world in terms of insured losses, destroyed nearly 20,000 structures most of which were residential homes. The Parish of St. Thomas More in Paradise, impacted heavily by the fire, lost its rectory, parish hall, and office buildings in the 2018 blaze. The parish community shrunk from 900 families to 120 individuals who attend Mass at the Parish church on Sunday afternoon when their supervising priest can make the trip to Paradise.

Greg Kidder, parish steward and head of operations at St. Thomas More Parish led the evacuation of the parish church and school, as the wildfire overtook his town and destroyed his own home. Now, with Bishop Soto’s wholehearted support, he is leading the campaign to rebuild St. Thomas More’s battered community.

The relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts began in earnest post-fire and the St. Thomas More Parish set about the daunting task of rebuilding their lives and as well as their Parish. The Order of Malta has already sponsored two events that offered spiritual and material support for the parish community.

This April, as COVID-19 public health restrictions forced the postponement of a third event, A Mass of Miraculous Intercession, it was Paradise Catholics’ turn to lend a hand. St. Thomas More Parish tapped its storehouse of emergency supplies left over from the fires and shipped seven hundred N95 masks to virus hotspots in New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco by way of Order of Malta members in these locations.

“We had extra N95 masks left over from the fires and believed that they could be put to better use right now on the front lines,” Kidder added, noting that the local fire department and other organizations already had a generous supply of the medical grade surgical masks. “I was certain that the Order of Malta could quickly find a use for them”.

Katheen Bruno, the San Francisco location’s hospitaller, gratefully received the donation. “Masks of this quality are in high demand and after making a few calls to our Malta colleagues we knew exactly where to send them: Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and Terence Cardinal Cook Hospital in New York City.”

Greg has welcomed the Order’s efforts to forge a partnership, beginning with a Fall 2019 Lourdes Healing Mass, the model which evolved out of the Disaster Recovery efforts in Sonoma County, two years prior. Following Mass, the Order hosted a Resource and Partner Fair, featuring local social service and mental health organizations and a hot lunch provided by the Knights of Columbus. It was a beautiful day with some tears shed remembering the trauma and loss, mixed with anticipatory hope of looking ahead to new beginnings with God’s grace and Healing.

The next event, held in January 2020, was called The Mass of New Beginnings. Msgr. James Kidder, a chaplain for the Order and the chief celebrant at the Masses, also happens to be a distant relative to Greg Kidder, which they discovered during this period of collaboration! In fact, Greg had discovered and followed Mgsr. Kidder’s pioneering in Catholic parish stewardship and had adopted some of his best practices as he looked to rebuild St. Thomas and, today, they are collaborating closely – God is good!

The Mass of New Beginnings struck a deep chord in the parish community as they were struggling with the past...

The Mass of New Beginnings struck a deep chord in the parish community as they were struggling with the past, many of whom had lost everything that they’d worked for in their lifetime, while trying to forge a new future.

During the homily Mgsr. Kidder reflected on his own experiences with similar loss, including his grammar school, high school and college, all of which were destroyed by a fire, flood and an earthquake. He reflected “During my drive to Paradise, and seeing the lush green of the foothill grass, I am reminded that after a fire, the grass comes back stronger than before and as such, we are all hoping that this community comes back stronger and more vibrant as well. Green is the color of the vestment that we wear on Sundays that expresses this hope.”

In addition to the Mass, a special guest was flown in from Haiti to provide an inspiring talk, Father Tom Hagan, from Hands Together Ministry. Father Tom, formerly the Chaplain at Princeton University related these words to the congregation “I too, have experienced trauma; I was in Haiti when the earthquake hit that killed 320,000 residents and most of the structures built by us over the past fifteen years were destroyed and crumbled around me.” The silence in the church was deafening. Father Tom also spoke about new beginnings and that we should strive to be a people of “miraculous expectation” despite the setbacks and to always trust in God. His humor and humility struck a resonant chord and the first question that was asked during the break was “When are you returning to Paradise?”. Answer: “Soon, God willing.”

These inspired words and messages of hope were followed by a delicious Italian dinner homemade by the St. Thomas More’s women’s club. All were appreciative of the Jacuzzi Family Winery in Sonoma for their generous donation of wine for the feast!

Although Covid-19’s impact is far-reaching, Paradise residents have already endured their own “pandemic” with the fires. They have survived, are beginning to thrive and this momentum provides much-needed stamina for these days of Paradise rebuilding. The St. Thomas More Community was grateful to be able that they could provide the N95 masks for the front lines. Greg Kidder is confident that the partnership with the Order of Malta will continue to be a source of inspiration, rejuvenation and are viewed as a valued “spiritual partner” in rough seas.

Members “have not only come up for major events, they have come up for town hall meetings and joined conference calls. What the Order of Malta has done for us as a community is to connect us to the greater Church.”

By News Staff