The Resilience of the Holy Cross Tornado Destruction Transformed Into Sign of Hope
by Mark Danis
The one thing the six elderly priests considered more difficult than carrying a wheelchairbound man down a flight of stairs was attempting to do so against his will. The 89-year-old Father John made it clear he was not going to be moved to the basement of Tabor Lodge. The lodge houses the chapel for retired priests living at the Melchizedek Village north of West Milton. Despite the warning of a nearby tornado, Father John would not move; he remained in his apartment. The other’s made their way to the safe space in the basement below the chapel.
The Village is part of the former Lange Estate, a 160-acre property willed to Transfiguration Church by Kathryn Lange in 1997. It stands on the edge of a quiet country lane called Calumet Road. The property includes the Tabor Lodge, Melchizedek Village, the Elijah House and the Transfiguration Center for Spiritual Renewal. It is a place of solitude, silence and peace. But on May 27, 2019, at 11:30 p.m., the local news reported an EF 3 tornado heading directly toward Calumet Road. At that time, the Miami Valley was under assault from no fewer than 15 tornadoes. Shortly after the Calumet Road warning, a tornado tore through the heart of the Lange Estate.
At 5 a.m., Dennis Hile, business manager for the estate, received a call from the local chief of police. “Dennis, you better get over to the Retreat Center as soon as you can.”
When he was finally able to navigate the debris cluttered roads leading to the estate, Hile drove into what looked like a war zone. The tornado destroyed more than 100 trees, tore away roof shingles and even uprooted and deposited one tree onto the southwest corner wall of the retreat center. Despite the extensive damage, Hile was immediately consoled by the fact that neither Father John, nor anyone else was injured.
Hile, along with the Transfiguration Center Director, Ron Mills, and the Chairman of the Lange Estate Advisory Board, Andy Hummel, immediately decided to convert one of the property’s wounded trees into a symbol of God’s protection and dominion over the estate.
The three men enlisted the assistance of Bob Liames, the estate’s horticulturist, who selected both fallen and some remaining portions of an 80- The Resilience of the Holy Cross Tornado Destruction Transformed Into Sign of Hope foot Black Locust. The tree was torn in half from the top and found lying just behind the Tabor Lodge. Liames chose the Black Locust because of its strength and durability; farmers often use it for fence posts because of its resilience against the weather.
With the generous help of local businesses and neighbors, the best pieces of the Black Locust were moved, milled and ultimately pieced together into a cross.
According to Hile, “The cross is now the centerpiece of the ongoing work of restoring the prayerful and meditative beauty of the property.”
The storm significantly damaged the aesthetic beauty of the Lange property, but with deep conviction in his voice, Hile said, “We will restore it, and with the over 100 trees we are planting, it will be even more beautiful than before.”
He added that none of the work would be possible without the support of the parishioners from Transfiguration Church and St. Patrick’s in Troy, not to mention dozens of local residents, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
The cross was installed on the property on Dec. 3, 2019. Today, its 9-inch square limbs tower 18 feet over the entrance of the estate and stretch 12 feet across horizontally. The cross symbolizes Christ’s presence, and it humbly acknowledges the One who commands the winds (Luke 8:24) while continually restoring and redeeming our fallen world. Accordingly, the cross bears a bronze plaque with the Scripture verse from Revelation 21:5: “Behold, I am making all things new.”