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Nativity director of ministries Tom Garbach (left) and Knights of Columbus members load the heavy ambo onto a truck bound for Joplin, Mo. The ambo, along with other altar furniture, was donated to St. Mary Parish in Joplin, which was destroyed in a tornado.

Nativity director of ministries Tom Garbach (left) and Knights of Columbus members load the heavy ambo onto a truck bound for Joplin, Mo. The ambo, along with other altar furniture, was donated to St. Mary Parish in Joplin, which was destroyed in a tornado.

Nativity donates altar furniture to church destroyed by tornado


by Sheila Myers
Special to The Leaven

LEAWOOD — Tom Garbach  of Church of the Nativity here didn’t complain when Hurricane Isaac dumped nearly three inches of rain on the metro area Aug. 31.

Like everyone, he welcomed the much-needed moisture after one of the hottest and driest summers on record.
But he did laugh at God’s timing. The deluge hit just as Garbach was delivering some altar furniture and supplies donated by Nativity to St. Mary Church in Joplin, Mo.

“We got soaked loading and unloading,” said Garbach. “It rained the entire drive down and the entire way back.”

Garbach and his helpers, including Knights of Columbus members from both parishes and volunteers from Catholic Charities of Southeast Missouri, didn’t let the rain dampen their spirits. It was all for a good cause.

The donated goods went to the same St. Mary destroyed by the EF5 tornado that rolled through Joplin on May 22, 2011.

“It was an honor and a pleasure to bring them some peace,” said Bill Oades, one of the Nativity Knights who helped with the move.

Finding a home

Over the summer, Church of the Nativity completed a major renovation of its church interior.

The extensive makeover included refurbished pews, a new tile floor, enhanced lighting and a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Before demolition in June, the presider’s chair, ambo, and other sanctuary furnishings were transferred to the school gym, which served as a temporary church. But they would not be making the move back into the refurbished church — Garbach, Nativity’s director of ministries, had to find a home for them.

“We didn’t want to just discard it,” said Garbach.

An Internet search led Garbach to St. Mary in Joplin. St. Mary pastor Father Justin Monaghan was interested in using the items for St. Mary’s temporary location — a 17,000-square-foot Joplin storefront with enough space for worship, religious education classes and offices until the parish can plan and construct its new campus.

There was one surprising coincidence.

“Turns out, the architect they are using to design their campus is the same one we used for our renovation,” said Garbach.

In fact, in order to get ideas for the new campus, the architecture firm brought a group of St. Mary’s parishioners to Kansas City this past summer, where they stopped in at Nativity to check out the furniture.

Instead of the small group of visitors Garbach and Nativity pastor Father Francis Hund were expecting, a busload of 20 people showed up.

“Father Francis got really excited,” said Garbach. “We started looking around for other things to help them out in their temporary space.”

At the end of the day, Nativity’s donation expanded to include Stations of the Cross, an Easter candle stand, a processional cross, and glass decanters for holy oil, in addition to the ambo and presider’s chair.

“Father Francis was very gracious,” Garbach said. “He said they didn’t even have to come here. He offered to deliver the items to them.”

Scrambling for cover

Rain was the least of Garbach’s worries as moving day approached.

He had arranged to borrow a parishioner’s truck but, at the last minute, the truck was no longer available. Garbach scoured the city for something that would work.

“It was the last day of August, the beginning of Labor Day weekend, so getting a truck was challenging,” said Garbach.

He finally found someone with a 20-foot truck, but it came on one condition.

“We could have it if we returned it by 9 a.m. the next day,” said Garbach.

Garbach had to move quickly. He couldn’t load the furniture until 11 a.m., after the last Mass in the school gym. Then, he had to drive to Joplin, unload the furniture and return to Kansas City the same day.

But volunteers from both parishes sprang into action — despite the short notice and the rain. About six Nativity Knights of Columbus helped Garbach load the heavy furniture on the truck.

“We were worried about slipping and [about] protecting the furniture,” said Nativity Grand Knight Joe Falco.
Garbach said he could never have pulled it off without everyone’s help.

“We were laughing because it was refreshing to have the rain, but here it’s been dry as a bone and the one day we’re going to be outside moving, it’s raining,” Garbach said.

In Joplin, the moving crew consisted of two Knights from St. Mary three volunteers from Catholic Charities of Southeast Missouri, and an unidentified passerby who saw the moving and offered to help. Their precious cargo delivered, Garbach and his wife headed back to Kansas City and made it back with the truck in time.

The St. Mary’s storefront has now been transformed into a proper place of worship, thanks to the Nativity donation.

“We’re getting close to getting back together as a community,” said Father Monaghan. “The Stations added something special. We have so many things from Nativity, it feels like we have a relationship now.”

St. Mary will use the items until they can complete their new church. Father Monaghan estimated that could take about 18 months.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could use some of those items in our new church?” said Father Monaghan. “If we can’t, we can find someone like us who needs them.”

The quick trip didn’t afford Garbach and his wife an opportunity to visit the site of the former St. Mary Church with the cross that survived the storm.

That’s a trip for another day.

A sunny one.

About the author

Shelia Myers

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