A series of wildfires on the West Coast of the United States have raged in recent weeks, burning millions of acres, killing dozens, forcing many to flee from their homes and putting thousands of firefighters at risk as they battle the blazes.
Some Catholic parishes and facilities have been threatened, as local parishes, dioceses and Catholic Charities organizations mobilize to help.
On Sept. 8, at 12:30am, an automated phone call warning woke the staff of the St. Benedict Lodge Conference and Retreat Center, a 70-acre site along the McKenzie River 50 miles east of Eugene, Oregon, within the Archdiocese of Portland. The facility offers retreats and welcomes residents in the sparsely populated forest area for Sunday Mass. The call ordered residents to evacuate the area immediately, as the nearby Holiday Farm fire was threatening their lives and property.
Two elderly Dominican priests who staffed the facility quickly left, while a third younger man opted to stay and care for the lodge and two golden retrievers the Dominicans owned. Father Kieran Healy and another elderly priest with Alzheimer’s made their way to Bend, Oregon, to take up residence at St. Francis Church, an archdiocesan parish. Although safe from the fire, they still experience its effects. “The sky is full of smoke; the air quality is terrible,” Father Kiernan said. “The sun is just an orange spot.”
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