STUDENTS FROM ST. JOSEPH'S Academy help with flood recovery in Baton Rouge and St. Joseph Sisters Mary Anne Hebert and Chris Pologa collect needed items at St. Joseph's Academy in Baton Rouge, where Sister Chris teaches theology.
STUDENTS FROM ST. JOSEPH'S Academy help with flood recovery in Baton Rouge and St. Joseph Sisters Mary Anne Hebert and Chris Pologa collect needed items at St. Joseph's Academy in Baton Rouge, where Sister Chris teaches theology.
Massive flooding in Louisiana damaged between 60,000 and 110,000 homes in recent weeks. That includes the homes of about half of the students at St. Joseph's Academy in Baton Rouge, where Albany native Sister Chris Pologa, CSJ, teaches theology.

The Red Cross is calling Louisiana's devastation the worst natural disaster since 2012's Superstorm Sandy. Sister Chris told The Evangelist that St. Joseph's, an all-girls college preparatory high school, is banding together to help those in need.

Growing up in Albany, the teacher attended St. James School and Cardinal McCloskey High. Her family still lives in the Diocese; she comes back for Christmas each year.

"My roots are in Albany," she said. "I'm still a New Yorker. I miss my apples [and] good Italian food. I still have my accent."

Southern hospitality
But for the eight years she's served in Louisiana, Sister Chris has enjoyed southern hospitality. She said it's helping residents overcome the current crisis.

"We're still going block by block to check the houses," she said, since many people were unable to get out of their homes when the call for evacuation came before the storm.

"People are still in shock and dismay," she said. "It's heartbreaking. These are people who have been hard-working Americans, and now they have nothing."

A Catholic News Service story quoted Baton Rouge Bishop Robert Muench: "The severe flooding in many areas of our diocese has dramatically affected the well-being and livelihood of countless people."

The article notes that donations have been coming in from all over. Sister Chris can vouch for that: She said many people whose homes weren't destroyed went through their closets and donated items to people in need.

High ground
At St. Joseph's Academy, families are taking in students who no longer have houses so all of the girls can still attend school. Because of the different schedules in the south, students have been in school for a few weeks already, though they had about a week off because of the flooding.

Sister Chris lives on a hill. Her home had "minor flooding," she said. "I had to pull the rug up."

The school is also situated on high ground, so its worst effect from the flooding was a power surge that came after the electricity came back on, which damaged technology equipment. Now, instead of laptops, the girls are using pens and paper.

President Barack Obama traveled to Baton Rouge to inspect the damage and told the people of the state, "You're not alone in this. We are heartbroken by the loss of life." He offered prayers for victims of the floods.

Sister Chris appreciated the president's visit, but noted that the extra security it required meant police officers were pulled from regular duties to assist: "That takes away the police officers who could be saving people from their houses."

Please help
The floodwaters are now receding from Baton Rouge -- but rising in communities south of the state capital. Donations and volunteers are needed, Sister Chris said. People are without basic needs. Medical records have been washed away, leaving people unable to fill prescriptions for necessary medication.

She noted that her religious order, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, has helped. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is present, too.

"I believe the wider Church will respond," she said. "Our faith gives us great hope. We believe that death is not the end, that there is hope."

(Donations for Sister Chris' students in the form of gift cards to Lowe's, Home Depot, Costco, Target, Sam's Club, Walmart, Walgreen's, CVS, Rite Aid, Academy Sports, JC Penney, Family Dollar, Dollar General, Dollar Store and Bed, Bath and Beyond are accepted. Checks made out to SJA Disaster Relief can be mailed to Sister Chris Pologa, CSJ, c/o SJA Disaster Relief, 3134 Hundred Oaks Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808. To donate online for St. Joseph's Academy, go to https://apply.sjabr.org/advancement/advancement--disaster-relief. Donate for flood victims in general at www.diobr.org, https://catholiccharitiesusa.org or www.kofc.org/flood.)