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Leadership: Making Decisions During Hurricane Katrina

The Stories of Four Nuns from Holy Angels Congregational Center

Leadership: Making Decisions during Hurricane Katrina


Hurricane Katrina was a devastating disaster that drew out leadership and decision making capabilities from countless people - many of who we might not ever envision as leaders and decision makers.  Four such examples are brought to life in the stories of four nuns from Holy Angels congregational center in New Orleans, LA who lived through the experience of Hurricane Katrina.  


Sylvia Thibodeaux tells the story of a contract ambulance driver reluctant to lead elderly and frail nuns, many of whom were in nursing home care, any farther than the New Orleans Superdome emergency shelter that was being set up by the Louisiana government.  Thibodeaux saw it was clear that the storm was headed for the Superdome and wanted to take those she was in charge of transporting out of harms way.  She explains that she is not an “aggressive person” by nature, but was able to muster the courage necessary to decide to speak up on behalf of her ailing Sisters, threatening to contact their attorneys if the driver would not take them to safety.  The driver led them on and the Sisters avoided the tragedy and suffering that took place at the Superdome in the days after the storm.


Mary Kay Kinberger talks about returning to the congregational center buildings two weeks after they were forced to evacuate from them.  Upon returning, Kinberger found that their convent complex was being used as a military command post.  She was greeted with open arms and asked to lead the soldiers in prayer to help those who were the first responders of the search and rescue efforts in New Orleans.  Since then, the military has become a ministry for the Sisters.  


Beth Fitzpatrick explains how the hurricane was a “great equalizer”.  Everyone, including herself and her Sisters, were experiencing the same suffering, regardless of who they were.  Fitzpatrick describes that virtually all functions of normal everyday life were not available – no cars, no telephones, no mail.  This tremendously hindered the Sisters’ ability to perform the services they normally would.  Fitzpatrick says that there is generally two choices in situations such as these – just jump in and fix it, or give up on it and be happy with what you have.  Many will choose one of these as an easy solution, but Fitzpatrick says that you must not move too quickly.  Through tenacity and tremendous effort, they were able to find housing for over 50 Sisters who were no longer able to reside in New Orleans, and they now have their preschool back up and running.


Dorothy Trosclair says she always knew a storm could come along and destroy New Orleans, but never thought it would be during her lifetime.  She says that leading during this time was extremely difficult as most of what she learned was essential for leadership was no longer available.  For example discernment, which Trosclair says is at the heart of leadership, takes time and they did not have time.  The decisions that would ultimately be life and death decisions concerning evacuating and who would go where were made by their leadership team in a matter of five minutes.  They also had no facilities for communication, no time to gather necessary resources such as books, records, or financial records, but were forced to lead with what they had – “the resources within”.  


Often times, we are forced to make decisions under critical conditions and these four women exemplify leadership in decision making under extreme conditions of duress.  We can see through their examples that it is ultimately our choice whether to overcome our situations or crack under pressure.  

Answer the following questions on the next pages                                                                               

1. What model of decision making did the Sisters of Holy Angels have to rely on to guide them through the hurricane tragedy? Explain with good examples.

2. What part do you think intuition and creativity played in each of the Sisters’ stories?  Explain with good examples. 


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