PANAMA CITY, Fla. — When Hurricane Michael tore through the Panhandle, the Category 5 storm left a trail of destruction.
- St. Dominic Catholic Church still recovering 1 year after Hurricane Michael
- Father Michael Nixon fundraising to help Panama City recover
- Nixon said storm clarified his purpose, impacting his sermons, prayers
- Get more Hurricane Michael coverage
One year later, locals are still picking up the pieces, including making repairs to a church decimated by the storm.
“People say life’s a marathon, not a sprint," said Father Michael Nixon. "And definitely rebuilding from a Category 5 hurricane is a marathon."
The priest said that only recently, St. Dominic Catholic Church, located in Panama City, celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Now, Nixon finds himself praying that church repairs, which could take "potentially years," will progress.
In the meantime, he's training daily for an upcoming marathon, fundraising for Catholic Charities to pour money right back into Panama City. So far, he's raised $11,000 towards his goal of $15,000.
“I am not what you would call a runner," he said with a chuckle. "I recognized I can run and run through these really damaged neighborhoods and share pictures."
Along the way, Nixon stops to snap photos of the devastation, sharing with followers.
“You get used to devastation. It’s amazing how quickly you acclimate to it," he said.
That is, until Nixon finds himself running down an unfamiliar street.
"You get surprised all over again how bad it is,” Nixon said.
"Goodness in the midst of chaos"
Huddled together with other church leaders and his dog Domingo, Nixon said they rode out the storm in the rectory. They knew the parish of about 1,500 families — not to mention the greater Panama City community — would need help in the days to come.
But as the storm worsened and winds howled, they watched the carport collapse, all cars underneath totaled.
Then, they lost their parish hall and religious education building.
“We ended up moving up to the stairwell, being there, praying. And that’s why we heard the sound of the roof getting torn off," he said.
After the storm moved on, Nixon said they emerged to survey the damage, spying the church roof peeled away and a broken stained glass window, leaving a barren back wall.
But another large, colorful stained glass panel in the front of the church, dubbed The Resurrection, was spared.
“It’s kind of the last beautiful work left here in the church," he said.
Soon Nixon found himself leading services in a massive white tent set up on the church lawn, air conditioning blasting into the space.
The storm, he said, clarified his purpose, impacting his sermons and prayers.
“What’s really important is people and our relationships and faith," he said. “All we had left was the mission. And in a sense, that’s all you really need."
His parish was also collectively moved by a kind, unexpected gesture, as the tent rental company made a replica of their remaining stained glass window on vinyl, tacking it to the front of the church's temporary sanctuary.
“We came in that next morning and were crying and just amazed," he said. "I think it's a great, continuous sign of where our hope really lies. It was so touching and encouraging. Goodness in the midst of chaos.”