For Jersey Shore Friars, Displacements and Community Help Abound

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

MANAHAWKIN, N.J. — In the three weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, the friars of Long Beach Island — between Atlantic City, N.J., and Toms River,  N.J. — have relocated their home, rearranged their ministries, and set up contingency plans for managing their lives, running the parish, and helping others.

This week, after several weeks of displacement to the mainland, the friars began celebrating daily Mass at St. Thomas Church in Surf City, on the northern part of the island, because that church has heat. Last week, the parish launched a ministry to deliver hot refreshments to people in need. On Thanksgiving weekend, it will begin a full schedule of five Masses per weekend. These announcements are all “good news,” according to the pastor of the four-church parish, Stephen Kluge, OFM.

Beginning with the weekend following Superstorm Sandy, the friars had offered Mass at St. Mary of the Pines Church, a Roman Catholic church in nearby Manahawkin, the mainland town adjacent to the bridge leading to Long Beach Island.

Since the storm arrived on the New Jersey Shore, the friars — Stephen, Kevin Daly, OFM, and James Scullion, OFM — have been working with parishioners to both tend to the damage in their facilities and to help people. They have banded together to find temporary locations for Masses and for services, to help with cleanup, and to support each other. They also found a house to rent, which is now also holds the parish offices.

Most of the buildings of the parish were affected by the storm. The friary, located on the ocean side of Beach Haven, on the southern section of the island, has water in the basement, Steve said, and suffered exterior damage. “It’s not healthy to be in the building.”

St. Francis of Assisi Church in Brant Beach — the largest of the parish’s churches and the only one used in winter months — experienced flooding. Roughly two feet of water are in the church, Steve said. Across the parking lot, the St. Francis Community Center had “a bit of damage to the building and pool — the heating and cooling units,” Steve said. In addition, the large sign visible to drivers on Long Beach Boulevard was broken by Sandy’s winds.

Making Adjustments 
The residents of this South Jersey community where the friars of Holy Name Province have served for more than 80 years, have been struggling with a variety of challenges since the Oct. 29 storm, ranging from dirt and disruption to loss of power. In some cases, homes and businesses were destroyed.

A week after the storm, members of the U.S. National Guard assisted the friars and staff in moving the community center’s food pantry to the mainland.

“We are here to not only care for the spiritual well-being of our people but also for their emotional health,” said Steve, pastor since 2006. “The two cannot be separated.”

Many parishioners have been displaced, said Steve. “The problem with the island is that no gas lines are running,” he noted. “Only residents who have electric heat can live there. Many people want to help and yet they need help themselves.”

With a skeleton staff, Steve and the other two friars serving the 18-mile island have been offering spiritual guidance, as well as practical help to their parishioners.

“People seem to enjoy my daily words of encouragement,” Steve said. The reflections are distributed by email and are posted on the parish’s Facebook page, launched the weekend after the storm to communicate news.

The St. Francis Community Center, which marked its 40th anniversary this year, is able to run several of its programs – the counseling center, the senior services program and its food pantry. The staff is working out of both St. Mary’s Church in Manahawkin and a nearby gym.

On Nov. 16, the friars started a new ministry, “St Francis on the Go,” delivering coffee, hot chocolate and soup to area residents.

“I wish we could do more for people,” Steve said. “We are exceedingly grateful for all we have. So many people have less.”

Helping One Another
Steve said he is “very impressed” with the parishioners.

“To them, church is not just a place to go, it is a way of being in the world. They are living the Gospel, I’ve heard hundreds of stories about people helping their neighbors.”

Many cannot help but to learn from this experience, Steve said. “I think people are opening their eyes by their experiences with the storm. Many people are displaced, and quite a few are in one of three shelters in the area that are being used by LBI residents.”

The friars don’t know when they can return to the island to live. “Part of the problem is the uncertainty,” Steve said. “The friary still has water in the basement.”

“St. Francis is known for giving help, and now we need help,” he said.

The three friars had evacuated Long Beach Island before the storm. They returned the weekend of Nov. 2 and quickly found that they were unable to live or to minster on the island. The three sisters based at the parish are also in temporary homes. Sr. Patricia Klemm, OSF, and Sr. Kate Murphy, OSF, are living at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J., and Sr. Patricia McNiff, OSF, has been staying with parishioners.

Steve said that though the friars “are hurting,” he appreciates that the LBI friar community is intact.

“We’re back together,” he said. “We’re ministering together.”

“I feel supported by the Province and by the diocese,” he added. “I want to thank the friars, many of whom have emailed support to us.”

Steve said he can relate to the sentiments described in a recent story in The New York Times titled “For Congregation Leaders, Hurricane Is Taking A Toll.”

“The parish will come back,” Steve said, “but we’ll be different.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province. Long Beach Island is where she first met Franciscan friars, while working in Beach Haven as a teenager.

Editor’s note: Monetary donations can be made to the friars and parishioners of Long Beach Island in two ways: by donating to 1.) the Province’s Franciscan Hurricane Relief Fund or 2.) St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 4700 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach Township, N.J., 08008-3926.