Santa Clara University

“Where is everyone? ”

By Michael Colyer, assistant director of SCU’s Ignatian Center

“Where is everyone?”

That simple question became the chorus of our time in New Orleans.

Thirteen Santa Clara University students and I spent the first week of 2006 working with Catholic Charities of New Orleans. While we had attempted to prepare ourselves for all sorts of foul smells and insidious molds, we had no way of knowing that it would be the scarcity of life, the disappearance of community, that would trouble us most deeply.

We were greeted in the airport by emptiness. The unusually easy walk to baggage claim immediately called the question: Where is everyone? It was eerie; perhaps we had landed in a different country. Certainly we were in the wrong place.

We spent our first day gutting homes in the neighborhood known as Gentilly. As we listened to the homeowner, a woman named Veronica who had lived in her home for 58 years, our hearts ached with the sorrow of her loss, a sorrow multiplied by the thousands across the once-crowded city.

At the end of the long day, we drove into the Ninth Ward to see with our own eyes the drama and terror that had called us to come and see. Block after block, mile after mile, houses lay in rubble. More alarming still were the lots where the water had swept the homes away completely, leaving behind nothing more than the outline of a concrete foundation. It looked like the levee had broken and the water had come just a day before. The lack of people was incomprehensible. Where was everyone? Why wasn’t someone doing something about this?

While the memory of the deserted landscape continues to disturb, we did find what we went searching for: signs of hope. Of these, the most memorable came one afternoon when a first year SCU student named Caroline asked a long-time resident, “Do you think New Orleans will ever be the same?” With a mysterious sparkle of joy in her eyes and absolute conviction in her voice, she said: “Honey, it’s going to be even better.”

NOTE: The Ignatian Center at SCU sponsors short-term immersion experiences for faculty, staff, students, and alumni to develop relationships of solidarity with the poor and marginalized. Click here for more information