Kathryn Lopez: Resilience and love in Louisiana

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 2021

LAFAYETTE, Louisiana — Mattresses waiting for sanitation pickup. Downed trees. Trees pruned by nature. Bags and bags and bags of garbage. On the way from the airport into New Orleans, I see all this outside homes. Refrigerators, too — people discarding them because they didn’t get a chance to empty the freezer before the storm hit and the power went out.

Arriving in the Pelican State just weeks after the latest hurricane struck, I didn’t know what to expect — I was even worried I would be in the way of recovery. Sure enough, the local family-owned hotel I stayed at was still getting its roof fixed — a ceiling collapsed in one of the rooms during the storm. But the last thing I felt like there was an imposition.

I saw the gymnasium at St. Stephen School in New Orleans, which had sustained water damage — layers of the roof coming off, filling the room with water, cutting it off for use. By the mercy of God — and a high location and solid construction — the classrooms were largely unharmed, and an impressive number of children were back in school, albeit in hybrid form, when I visited. The pastor of the church plans to begin rebuilding as soon as possible.

In storm-damaged Louisiana, there is not victimhood, but resilience and gratitude. I asked an Uber driver — a single mom of two who had to quit her job as a schoolteacher during the height of COVID to stay home and help her children — if it’s hard living in Louisiana. “Not at all,” she said. “Life always has its challenges, but God is good, and our lives are gifts, and we must live them in love of and trust in Him.” Now there are some words of wisdom we can all use.

My hosts, the founders of the Witness to Love marriage mentoring ministry, had already had COVID-19 twice. But they’re moving forward, doing the work of raising and supporting families. They are full of trust and love, and they are doing the Lord’s work.

Back at St. Stephen’s, one is reminded of why education is some of the most important work there is. When we celebrate frontline workers, parents and teachers surely should be among them. The school is 90% Black — most of the students coming from poverty and failing public schools. “They have experienced things that as an adult, I can’t imagine,” St. Stephen’s principal, Rosie Kendrick, tells me. There are also some middle-class students from the neighborhood. “Everyone plays and learns together regardless of where they come from. They are great and innocent and funny and resilient. Every day I’m reminded just how good God is!”

“We focus on not only taking the best, but creating the best,” Kendrick says. “We embrace the idea that all students can learn. We create a safe learning space, where students are not judged, but loved; they are not ridiculed, but praised; not punished, but taught.”

Before the storm, she remembers, there was an unmissable sign in the school’s foyer that read: “When you enter this loving school, consider yourself one of the special members of an extraordinary family.”

That pretty much sums up the approach of the school, which begins and ends its day with the proclamation: “God is good.” It seems to capture not only the character of Louisiana, but what the rest of us ought to aspire to as well. Their work there saves lives and souls — giving children a chance, equipping them for life in this world. (If you care to donate, any money received beyond the reconstruction needs will go to the school’s endowment, an investment in ensuring the school will remain to serve the children in need of a solid foundation. Go to ststephencs.org/donate-today.)

That’s the St. Stephen’s family approach, and the approach of most of the New Orleans residents I encountered. It’s the only way to move together.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. Contact her at klopez@nationalreview.com.