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In flyover, Kentucky bishop blesses his people impacted by tornadoes

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OWENSBORO, Ky. — Owensboro Bishop William F. Medley wanted to bless his people who had been in the path of the tornadoes that struck western Kentucky during the night of Dec. 10, and with the help of a local pastor, some Knights of Columbus and an airplane, he did just that.

On Dec. 21, the bishop flew over the southern regions of the Diocese of Owensboro with a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, blessing all below who had been impacted by the tornadoes.

A week before, the bishop had driven 400 miles to visit the affected locations, including Resurrection Parish in Dawson Springs, St. Joseph Parish in Mayfield, the Princeton area and the Bowling Green area.

But seeing the damage from above, "it is a different perspective. A God's-eye view if you will," he said. "It was staggering to see what happened to people's lives and knowing all that would have to be rebuilt."

The eucharistic flyover idea was initiated by Daniel Schachle, the general agent for the Knights of Columbus insurance program for Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and a small part of Virginia.

He has his pilot's license and Piper Archer plane, and did a similar flyover blessing for the Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee, after tornadoes struck the region in early 2020.

One of his field agents, Leonard Walther, belongs to St. Joseph Parish in Bowling Green.

"Daniel called me and said, 'Hey, do you want to see if we could do this for the Owensboro Diocese with the bishop?'" said Walther in a Dec. 22 phone call with The Western Kentucky Catholic, Owensboro's diocesan newspaper.

He talked with his pastor, Father Ryan Harpole, who contacted Martha Hagan, the diocesan vice chancellor and assistant to Bishop Medley.

The bishop agreed to the idea immediately, and the flight was scheduled for the following week.

The plane took off around 11:15 a.m. from MidAmerica Jet in Owensboro as Bishop Medley led a prayer for a safe flight, asking for the intercession of Our Lady of Loreto, one of the patrons of airplane pilots and aviation.

Coincidentally, the feast of Our Lady of Loreto is Dec. 10 — the date of the tornado outbreak.

They flew over Madisonville first, where parishioners and volunteers at Christ the King Parish and School had set up a community resource center in the gym to help the displaced and suffering.

Lifting the monstrance to his window, the bishop prayed aloud that "our holy Mother would watch over them and guide them in the ways of goodness and truth."

Father Harpole said the monstrance was borrowed from Gasper River Catholic Youth Camp and Retreat Center just outside of Bowling Green, since the small size was better for traveling in the small private plane.

The harsh paths of destruction were evident from the air. Often the first sign of a tornado touchdown was a thick column of smoke from debris being burned. After the smoke, either lines of flattened trees and buildings, or rows of roofs covered with bright blue tarps, indicated that a tornado had come through the area.

The bishop gave a eucharistic blessing while flying over Dawson Springs, Princeton and Mayfield. He also led a benediction for the inmates while flying over the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, because "those men deserve a blessing too."

Bishop Medley held the monstrance against his window and prayed "may God bless them and give them grace."

The plane returned to Owensboro around 2:30 p.m.

Schachle, who resides in Dickson, Tennessee, said a tornado had passed near his family's home but the house was fine. (Besides hitting Kentucky, the tornadoes also dragged across Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois.)

"There are no words that can cover" helping Bishop Medley bless the diocese in this unique way, said Schachle.

Schachle himself is no stranger to powerful spiritual experiences. His youngest son, Michael, was miraculously healed in utero from the fatal condition of fetal hydrops through the intercession of Knights of Columbus founder, Father Michael McGivney. That approved miracle paved the way to Father McGivney being beatified in October 2020.

"It is surreal every time I do this," said Schachle of the eucharistic flyover. "I think bringing Christ to the people is the best way I can help."

Walther said this was a "great opportunity," not only for Bishop Medley to "see" his people from above, but to also "bless his people that way."

He added that he is thankful for all the people who have reached out from across the country to help Kentuckians, but "I hope that it continues when all the media has gone."

"We've got a lot of immediate needs met, but people are still going to be hurting in one month, two months, six months and beyond," said Walther.

He pointed out that the steeple and cross — destroyed by the 2020 Tennessee tornadoes — were only just reattached to the top of the Church of the Assumption in downtown Nashville Dec. 16.

"This is not a short-term thing," he said.

A tornado came through just a mile from Walther's home, which was unscathed, but he said some friends were not so fortunate and lost their houses.

"We don't know what's going to come of this all," he said, but "as Catholics, we need people to see that this is what we believe — that we can take from the tragedy and turn it into a blessing."

Barnstead is editor of The Western Kentucky Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Owensboro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021