All that's left from Joplin church is the priest & the cross

Site has become a place of gathering

JOPLIN, Mo. - Father Justin Monaghan thought it was his time to die.

"I heard this noise," he recalled, eyes obviously filled with memories. "I just prayed and said 'Let me accept Your will God."

Father Monaghan was in a bathtub. What would end up being the worst tornado in 60 years was barreling through and wiping his church, his school, and his home off the face of the earth.

The priest took cover in the bathroom of the rectory, a building which housed both his living quarters and the church office. There wasn't another person on the church grounds, which was hardly ever the case.

Father Monaghan was stuck in his bathroom; everything else around him had crumbled. A pile of debris 10 or 12 feet high was surrounding him in all directions.

It was raining, there was no electricity -- rubble and destruction for as far as the eye could see -- but those who could get out were searching for survivors.

Somebody came looking for the man they were sure had been on the grounds of their neighborhood church.

"They came over and saw my car totaled and they hollered out, 'Father! Father!' and finally they heard me."

He remembers it vividly.

They heard him, but couldn't see him - didn't know where he was.

"They asked me if I could give them any indication of where I was, and I think it was the side of a bed or something that I pulled up," he explained.

The searchers saw the board moving. Thank God. Two young men who happened to be passing by started digging. Finally, they got to a man they didn't know, a priest.

A doctor, who also happened to be nearby, came over to help. Father Monaghan was obviously shaken, but still completely aware of his surroundings. The doctor asked him if there was anything he needed to look around for right away.

"I was just in my T-shirt and shorts," he recalled, "and I said, 'Well, I'd love to find my trousers, and the keys."

The doctor told him he wouldn't need any keys. Every building was gone.

The realness of the devastation started to sink in, but as Father Monaghan climbed from his hole in the rubble, he caught sight of something which gave him peace.

The 30-foot cross, which had always stood in the entrance of the church, was still standing.

One year later, the rubble is cleared. The sounds of construction equipment can be heard from sun up to sun down - sawing, and beeping, and hammering.

A quiet cross still stands.

People come from miles around just to see it, to stand by it, and to touch it.

Many who stop aren't quite sure of any denomination. There is no sign clearly stating this is a Catholic site. There is no sign making anyone feel as if this is not their cross.

The area around the cross is being turned into green space so people can visit for years to come. To see it. To touch it. To pray.

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