A freak October snowstorm that left millions without power for a week, spared most Province ministries in the New York tri-state area, where several were in the dark for only a day or two.
Several churches and friaries are cleaning up downed limbs that broke from the weight of wet snow on leaf-laden trees.
The most affected ministry was the Holy Name Friary skilled nursing home in Ringwood in northern New Jersey, where generators kicked on after power went out late on Oct. 29. The Internet and phone systems remained out until Wednesday of the following week, making communications impossible except by cell phone.
The facility’s generators provided power, but could only provide limited heating capabilities, so the building was only “half warm,” according to guardian A. Francis Soucy, OFM. When the storm began on Saturday afternoon, Francis was enroute from an outing in New York City, driving in blizzard-like conditions after a bus dropped him off in Pompton Lakes, approximately 10 miles from Ringwood.
“During the ride from NYC to Pompton, the weather became increasingly bad,” he said. “In the city, there was only rain, with a little slush mixed in for fun. By the time I got to Pompton, the snow was 1 foot deep. I drove to Ringwood at 20 miles per hour. I arrived at the friary to discover we had no electrical power from the electricity company, but most lights, alarms and appliances were functioning because of the generator.”
Francis praised the nursing home staff members, who pulled together to remain after their shift was over, or stayed onsite because they couldn’t get home on snowy roads.
“With extra blankets, heavy sweaters, coats, hats, and other supplies, we managed,” said Francis. ”My maintenance crew plowed all night. By 3 a.m. Monday morning, we had electricity. The computer system and the telephone system were not functioning until Wednesday.”
“Because of my remarkably dedicated staff, a situation that could have resulted in severe pain became only an inconvenience.”
“A painful reminder of the storm will always be the last of our six flowering pear trees that was split in half due to the weight of the heavy snow on the leaves that remained attached to the branches,” Francis said. “I’m sure friars and staff will miss its elegant blossoming panache in the spring.”
The scene was a bit better in nearby Butler, where guardian Richard McFeeley, OFM, said the St. Anthony Friary experienced only some downed branches. Richard said the building grounds crew was working to clean up the property.
Frank Sevola, OFM, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Pompton Lakes, said that while the church did not lose power, the town was not as lucky.
“Many people were not able to get to church over the weekend,” Frank said. “Many of our parishioners were without power for days and some were still without power almost a week later. Our school was one of the few in the area that was able to open on Monday since we had power.”
Shelter After the Storm
In Connecticut, where virtually 90 percent of residents were without power, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford, had electricity. The parish and urban center opened its doors as a shelter for some parishioners whose homes were without power. In addition, 12 residents and staff of a local group home spent the night on air mattresses in the urban center.
The church, where Thomas Gallagher, OFM, is pastor, was also open to anyone who needed to recharge a cell phone or plug in a computer. The parish hosted a pasta dinner and movie night on Nov. 4. Some 150 showed up for dinner and to watch “The Sound of Music.”
The parish was glad to be able to hold its regular Mass schedule on Oct. 30, inviting people from other parishes where power was lost.
The storm also did not keep people from attending the icon display at the parish’s Clare Gallery by Robert Lentz, OFM, of Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md.
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. Her home and office were without electrical power for five days.