Sister Judith Zynda, OP, Recalls Personal Experience of Hurricane Ida

While many Americans watched the furor and aftermath of Hurricane Ida from their television sets or computers, Sister Judith Zynda, OP, experienced it firsthand – from the home in New Orleans that she shares with Dominican Sister of Peace Jeanne Moore, OP. But Sisters Judy and Jeanne experienced not only the fury of Ida but the care and concern of neighbors and the people they encountered in the aftermath. 

Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans and areas of Louisiana on August 29, 2021, and went on to wreak havoc on the Northwestern part of the United States. Sister Judy shared her experience in an email to Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates and during a September 3, 2021, telephone interview.

Sisters Judy and Jeanne decided to ride out the storm after hearing earlier predictions that Ida would be relatively mild. At the last minute, however, forecasts changed: Ida was predicted as a Category 4 hurricane, edging on a Category 5. In the end, Sister Judy said, Ida was probably a Category 3 edging 4.

“The winds started about 8 Sunday morning, and the worst was overnight [into Monday],” Sister Judy recalled. “I woke up at 4 in the morning and what woke me up was the silence. [Ida] was moving so slowly that it had a lot of chance to do a lot of damage because it sat on us.” She said the winds were high, but their house was sturdy and on high ground, only sustaining damage to the roof, a leak through one of the ceiling receptacles in the kitchen, and several downed branches. Areas to the west of New Orleans suffered worse damage, she added.

Although they lost power – and it isn’t expected to be restored for two to three weeks – Sisters Judy and Jeanne at first did fairly well at home. With their gas stove and water heater, they were able to cook and take hot showers. They worked for two days, clearing the yard and emptying the refrigerator and the freezer. 

In the end, however, the heat became too much. “If the temperature had been 20 degrees lower, it would have been okay,” Sister Judy said. But the heat index reached 108. “People can get by, but they have to be able to take the heat.”

At the invitation of a friend, Sisters Judy and Jeanne left their home to stay at Sacred Heart Monastery, the home of the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama. They share one of the monastery’s three guest houses – an 11-bedroom house normally used by retreatants – with three other Dominican Sisters of Peace. Four Sisters of Notre Dame share a second guest house. She said they will stay there as long as they need to – at least until their power is restored. “Once they tell us it’s safe to go home, we’ll go home,” she said. 

Although she feels she is still in some form of shock from the experience of the hurricane, Sister Judy is inspired by the care and concern shown by the Benedictine Sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery. “We could not have asked for a better place to come,” she said. “The Sisters seem to know that we kind of need to be left alone to process things,” but they also invited their guests to Mass and opened their laundry to them. “It’s total hospitality.” 

Sister Judy also feels that hospitality and kindness from the people in the surrounding community – from the people she encountered when she was running some errands in town. One woman at the pharmacy told her that they took in 12,000 people from New Orleans at the time of Katrina. “All you have to say is you’re from New Orleans and they can’t do enough for you,” Sister Judy said.

That same sense of concern and care for people in need was evident during their drive to Cullman, Sister Judy said. “The parade of linemen coming down I-59 was so moving,” she recalled. “We saw trucks with generators and trucks with telephone poles; 25,000 electrical workers are on their way to New Orleans.” Each time they passed a truck with electrical workers, she said a prayer for them. “I think God wants us to know that community and watching out for one another is really important,” she said. “God took care of us.”

Asked what people could do to help and support those affected by Hurricane Ida, Sister Judy said, “First of all, pray for everybody.” She also suggested donating to organizations that offer relief efforts for those affected by the hurricane:

  • Catholic Charities USA, headed by Adrian Dominican Sister Donna Markham, OP, is the official domestic relief agency of the U.S. Catholic Church.
  • The Saint Bernard Project offers relief services and community resiliency training in communities throughout the nation and beyond. Originally established in New Orleans six months after Hurricane Katrina, the organization started a response fund for those affected by Hurricane Ida.

A native of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, Sister Judy first ministered in New Orleans in 2011 as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Saint Bernard Project and was moved by the experience of the people trying to rebuild their homes and their lives. She currently ministers on the pastoral team for Christopher Homes, a senior housing ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. After her personal experience of Hurricane Ida, Sister Judy said she feels a kinship with the people who suffered from Hurricane Katrina.