Constable: Priest says tornadoes are not acts of his God

  • AUG. 28, 1990: A tornado destroyed Plainfield High School, but 130 kids at football practice escaped injury when coaches moved them to a part of the school that wasn't razed.

    AUG. 28, 1990: A tornado destroyed Plainfield High School, but 130 kids at football practice escaped injury when coaches moved them to a part of the school that wasn't razed. Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

  • The 1990 tornado that hit Plainfield tossed a trash bin into a tree.

    The 1990 tornado that hit Plainfield tossed a trash bin into a tree. Daily Herald file photo

  • Plainfield firefighters look for survivors after a tornado ripped through the town on Aug. 28, 1990.

    Plainfield firefighters look for survivors after a tornado ripped through the town on Aug. 28, 1990. Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

  • A man recovers his golf club from his Plainfield apartment that was destroyed by a tornado on Aug. 28, 1990.

    A man recovers his golf club from his Plainfield apartment that was destroyed by a tornado on Aug. 28, 1990. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/24/2021 6:14 AM

The randomness of tornadoes is difficult to explain, says a priest who ministered through one of our state's deadliest storms in 1990. He heard the questions then. Why does a twister devastate some lives while bypassing others? Some label a tornado an "act of God," but is it?

The tornado this week disrupted thousands of lives and damaged more than 130 homes in Naperville and another 100 structures in Woodridge Sunday night, while leaving many neighbors' homes intact. Some in nearby suburbs heard the sirens, but saw no funnel clouds, experienced no strong winds and were disappointed there wasn't more rain for their parched gardens.

 

I remember how the Aug. 28, 1990, tornado in Plainfield ripped away most of an apartment's kitchen and tossed the refrigerator into a field while leaving a ceramic cookie jar untouched on the remaining countertop. That tornado killed 29 people, while 130 football players practicing on an open field found safety at the last moment in the only part of their high school that wasn't destroyed. I talked to a woman who wondered why the dozens of miniature ceramic animals she had on shelves in preparation for a garage sale didn't get a scratch, but her neighbor's home was leveled.

Why?

"I can't answer that," I remember the priest telling me 31 years ago, as he worked with the cleanup crew while wearing his volunteer firefighter T-shirt and carrying a large portable phone. "I have a teenager to bury first."

Ryan Glaser, a 15-year-old Boy Scout and accomplished trumpet player, was impaled by a piece of flying wood as he and his younger brother were delivering newspapers. They rode together in an ambulance. The younger boy had a gash that required stitches. But while doctors hoped surgery could save Ryan, the damage to his lungs was too severe and he lost too much blood. His body was placed in a shiny black coffin carried by pallbearers wearing Scout uniforms. Because his Plainfield church was destroyed, his service had to be moved to St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Naperville.

Still coping with the losses of that day, the priest says he generally doesn't talk about it.

"I'm not done with it. I can't go there," says the priest, who is pastor at a different church today and agrees to talk as long as we don't identify him by name. He's spent half his life living with those memories, and added more tragedy on top of that.

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"I've seen tons and tons of things happen to really good people," he says, noting he started his religious service at a children's hospital. "How can I call God loving when he gave kids cancer? I can't preach a loving God if that's what happened."

People often call a tornado "an act of God," but that doesn't mesh with the priest's way of thinking.

"Maybe we're understanding it wrong," he says. "I don't think God is pushing all the buttons. God doesn't do these things."

When a young relative died, well-meaning people told the priest that he now had a new angel in heaven watching over him. "I don't want an angel in heaven. I want to play ball with the kid," the priest remembers thinking.

But tornadoes and other tragedies don't mean that life is "worthless" or that God doesn't exist, he says.

"I do believe there is randomness that happens. I just believe there are things that are messy, and God gives us the strength to carry on," the priest says, recounting all the loving help that arrived in the wake of the Plainfield tornado. "I found God among the people."

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