BRANT BEACH, N.J. — Approximately 400 members of the Long Beach Island community gathered here on June 14 to celebrate the reopening of St. Francis of Assisi Church, nearly eight months after Hurricane Sandy damaged the structure and much of the area.
“Since Hurricane Sandy, we have been a pilgrim church,” wrote James Scullion, OFM, in the parish’s June 16 bulletin. “Unable at first to return to LBI, we gathered as church in front of St. Mary of the Pines in Manahawkin, N.J., where we hugged, cried, and supported one another. We experienced what it means to be Church as the pastor, Msgr. Ken Tuzeneu, and St. Mary’s Parish welcomed us with coffee and hospitality and opened up their church to us so that we could celebrate Eucharist together as a parish.”
He continued: “When we returned to the island, we were still pilgrims, unable to return to St. Francis Church. We gathered at St. Thomas of Villanova Church, Surf City, N.J., where we celebrated Christmas and Easter. As pilgrims, we experienced in a new way the Christmas massage of the advent or coming of Christ and the Easter message of death and resurrection. … As we return home to St. Francis Church, our experience as pilgrims teaches us once again that the Church is not a place, but all of us, the People of God.”
The St. Francis Parish and Community Center maintenance department workers led the procession to begin the opening Mass, celebrated by pastor Steve Kluge, OFM. The maintenance department is credited with most of the renovations, according to Lori Dudek, communications coordinator.
“The atmosphere was euphoric. It felt like ‘coming home,’” Dudek said.
Throughout the Oct. 29 storm and its aftermath, the parish and community center staff strove to meet the needs of the community despite struggling with their own situations. Among those who exceeded the call of duty were Connie Becraft, executive director of the center, and Angelo Samartano, director of maintenance, who were recognized for their service with the Province’s Francis Medal. (Details about the presentation will be included in an upcoming issue of HNP Today.)
“In October 2012, our business as usual shifted to what we currently call ‘the new normal,’” wrote Becraft in the bulletin. “Sand and sea are no longer where they once were! The St. Francis Center building was closed for two months due to clean-up and repairs, but we were able to conduct abbreviated business in St. Mary’s Parish Center.”
Becraft listed some of the many services the center continued to offer despite obstacles that arose following the storm, including senior service outreaches, counseling, educational support, and family support services, and the food pantry. The center also hosted several important dialogues, including a meeting in March 2013 with New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadango and LBI business owners regarding future commerce on LBI and a town hall meeting with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the first on LBI since the storm. The center has also distributed $300,000 in emergency assistance to storm victims and restored several community programs held at the center.
“I want to assure you we are moving as quickly as possible to have everything completed in time for our summer programing,” she said. “In summary, we are doing the work as stated in our mission. St. Francis Center is to be a community focal point which offers a wide range of services and programs aimed at meeting the needs of Ocean County residents regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or religious affiliation.”
St. Francis Church still needs renovating in some areas, including the church hall kitchen, the St. Francis Gift Shop, the sanctuary, and finishing touches throughout the church. The center’s children’s playground and the two outdoor pools will be opening soon.
The parish has planned several upcoming events, including a fish and chips dinner on June 29, a Red Cross blood drive on July 18, an antique show on July 27 and 28, and its annual Festival of the Sea from Aug. 7 to 11.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.