RELIGION
12/19/2014 01:31 pm ET Updated Dec 19, 2014

Joplin's New Catholic Church Replaces Building Destroyed By Deadly Tornado

Mario Tama via Getty Images

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Members of a Joplin parish whose church, rectory and elementary school were destroyed in the May 2011 tornado have celebrated the first Mass at their new building.

Hundreds of residents packed the new St. Mary's Catholic Church on Wednesday for a dedication service and its first Mass, The Joplin Globe reported. The service was led by the Most Rev. James Johnston, bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese, and the Rev. Justin Monaghan.

Parishioners applauded as Johnston was presented with the key and blueprints of the new 750-seat church. He then blessed the church.

"It's like Christmas," Joplin resident Glenn Damaso said. "Losing the church and trying to be guided and looking for a place to call home — now we have this place."

A multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign, insurance proceeds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations funded the construction of the new church. St. Mary's held its services temporarily in an old hardware store while the new church was being built.

The entire process took "a lot of faith and a lot of tears," said Tina Longnecker, a parishioner of about 30 years and president of the Parish Council.

"This is a blessing, and we are so thrilled to be here," she said. "It's a new beginning, and I honestly believe it's a sign that when you're faced with this type of devastation, with enough faith, you can overcome anything."

The tornado killed 161 people and destroyed several schools, dozens of churches, two parks and hundreds of homes and businesses. Many of those structures have been rebuilt.

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