Giving a blessing of books

Overlea church ships library to Louisiana

July 31, 2006|By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTER

He preached yesterday about God's harvest and the faithful journeys for which people must prepare. This morning, the Rev. J. Thomas Foelber of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Overlea will live that message when he begins a 1,100-mile journey to New Orleans - taking with him a bountiful harvest of books for a Lutheran school that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

He blessed the gift of books from the church's former school, which closed in 2000, as members of the congregation gathered around the pulpit at yesterday morning's worship service and joined him in prayer: "Oh God ... bless this library. Grant that in its sending it may reflect our love for you ... and bring joy to the students and teachers of St. John Lutheran School."

Bethany Gonski, the principal at St. John Lutheran School in New Orleans, said that the books will not only bring joy but will ensure that the school maintains state approval when it reopens Aug. 18.

The Louisiana school's 3,000-volume library was destroyed by floodwater, Gonski said in a telephone interview yesterday. Shelves buckled, sending books into 3 feet of water, and mold grew on tables, chairs and walls.

Everything was thrown out.

Electricity was restored six weeks ago, and the school has been cleaned, renovated and made ready for the first day of classes.

"We are pleased and appreciative," Gonski said of the gift of books. "We would have had to start off with a small, sparse-looking library and build it back up, but that would have taken quite a while."

The New Orleans school, which was founded in 1854, had about 150 pupils in prekindergarten through eighth grade before Katrina, but for now it will go up to the first grade. Gonski said the school will expand in the next year and grow into the new library.

It took church volunteers in Overlea about a week to pack up the 5,000 volumes of picture, reference, nonfiction and fiction books that made up St. James' school library.

This morning they are to load the books in a truck and Foelber and his wife, Debbie, will begin the drive to New Orleans.

They are expected to arrive Wednesday afternoon. Gonski said she and volunteers will greet them with a New Orleans gift basket packed with Louisiana hot sauce, Creole mustard and beignet mixes.

Thomas Foelber said he had been looking for a way to support Lutheran congregations in New Orleans and that donating the library was a "wonderful opportunity to share what God has blessed us with."

"There's sadness about the closing and joy about sharing our resources," he said. "It may inspire others to do similar things."

At its peak, the Overlea school, which opened as a kindergarten in 1956, had about 150 students.

Emily Kursch, now 14, was a third-grader when the school closed.

While she couldn't quite recall what lessons Merry "Miss Merry" Schminke taught during weekly library sessions, she said she is happy that the library will be put to good use.

"It's a good thing to help people down there," said Emily, now a rising ninth-grader at Parkville High School. "We'll miss it and it has some sentimental value, but ... it can help people down there."

Susan Pullen, who was principal of the school from 1989 to 1992, added: "I feel a great sense of peace. We want these books to be a blessing."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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