Editor / The Angelus
BALLINGER — Like a shot in the night — literally — Father Hugh Wade awoke at 11 o’clock Sunday, August 12. And for good reason. His cats were in the air, the hair on his arms was at attention and the cross on top of his church, St. Mary’s, Star of the Sea, was lying in rubble at the foot of the church’s entrance.
Father Wade saw the thunderstorm headed his way at 10 o’clock that night, but decided to go to bed anyway. Less than an hour later, he would wake with a start to a thunder clap and lightning strike recently reminiscent of the one that struck the Ballpark in Arlington during a game in July that forced both teams to scurry off the field in fear of for lives.
The storm not only shattered the top portion of the cross, supported by an iron rod around which the stone structure is mounted, above the transept, but it also silenced the Church bells, and left a crack in the facade of the century-old church building from the roof to the foundation.
Repairs to the carillon have been placed at $8,500 according to insurance adjustors — Fr. Wade is not yet sure if the Church will host a fundraiser to cover the cost — and engineers say that while the crack in the structure is cosmetic, any negligence in repairing the damage might one day lead to a structural issue.
“The one good thing was that we got 1.6 inches of rain,” Father Wade said. Ballinger sits in the middle of some of the most drought-stricken territory in the diocese, where muddy bogs once served as water supplies for many towns in West Texas.
“We were all happy (about the rain until we looked up and saw the cross. There was debris all over the ground. I knew it had hit close. It lit up the entire upstairs, and I live under a metal roof so I am blessed it didn’t get me instead.”
Debris from the fallen cross was propelled as far as 100 feet away; pieces came in varying sizes and filled half a trash can by the time cleanup efforts were completed.
“The power of lightning is just astounding,” Father Wade said.
Fortunately for the 425 families at St. Mary’s, it was the believed to be the first time the 102-year-old structure had taken a direct hit from a storm.
“One of my parishioners said, ‘Father what did you say in your sermon to upset God like that?’ ” Father Wade said. “God called me and I said, ’Yes?” and He said, “That was a lousy collection!”
Father Wade also said the lightning strike was the first time he had prayed for rain since another parishioner had advised him to take out the word ‘favorable’ when he asks for rain.”
“The parishioner said, ‘You keep praying for favorable weather,” Wade said. “Maybe if you just cut out the word ‘favorable’ we’ll get rain.”
Father Wade did, and got a lot more than he prayed for.
“When we pray for rain we take what comes with it,” Father Wade said.
Pictured: The lightning-induced crack is clearly visible next to the left of the doorway of St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Ballinger. This crack runs from the roof of the church to its foundation.