BRANT BEACH, N.J. — More than 600 people came to St. Francis of Assisi Community Center on the Jersey Shore last week for a town hall meeting led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Area residents listened to and asked questions of the governor, who focused on Long Beach Island’s recovery after Hurricane Sandy.
Plans for the event materialized a few weeks earlier when one of the governor’s aides called the center asking about Long Beach Island. Shortly after, the center’s staff received another call asking whether the building could be used as a venue for the town hall meeting.
“We are here to bring people together,” said Steven Kluge, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, pictured here with the governor. “I was thrilled when the governor’s staff asked if they could use the center.”
Advocating for Shore Community
Before the event, Steven and some of the parish’s staff members met the governor privately. “I thanked him for being an advocate for the shore,” Steve said. “I said to him that the first words spoken by the new pope were ‘remember the poor.’”
The Oct. 29 storm affected many area residents, especially the poor and the elderly, according to Steve. Many parishioners are still displaced. In one section of the island — Holgate, on the southern end — 30 homes needed to be torn down.
“I think of the longtime residents who are in their 70s and 80s who are being told to raise their homes and now wonder if they can afford it,” Steve said.
Storm erosion has resulted in frequent flooding. The island is very narrow — less than half a mile wide in many areas — and flooding has become “the new normal,” according to Steve.
Flooding was one of the issues the governor addressed at the April 30 meeting, held close to the half-year anniversary of the devastating storm. Christie plans to secure the easements along the Jersey Shore to protect shore communities from future storms, noting that places with dunes had far less damage from Sandy than those with no protection, according to an article from Press of Atlantic City.
“The event was great,” said Connie Becraft, director of St. Francis Community Center. “It was a very productive meeting for the governor. He set up the guidelines for the event, and he asked people to be brief and to the point. That set the tone.”
Rebuilding and Adjusting
St. Francis of Assisi Church will not be ready to be used on Memorial Day weekend. A new tile floor, boiler, and dry wall have been installed in the Brant Beach building, but there is still a massive amount of time-consuming work to be done, wrote Steve in his recent State of the Parish address.
“Work must also be done on the friary, central supply and the convent, as well as the outside pools,” said Steve, who thanked the maintenance staff for their hard work. “The other churches are fine and St. Clare Church will be open this summer.”
Using only the smaller churches of the parish for the past six months has not been a problem, said Steve, because the number of people at Masses is not at large as it has been in the past. “There is no one here,” he said.
As of January 1, all of the St. Francis staff members had returned to work at the parish. While the parish center was closed due to the storm, many employees were not working.
In his State of the Parish address, published in the April 28 parish bulletin, Steve also spoke about the recent move of Sr. Kate Murphy, OSF, to the motherhouse in Allegany, N.Y., after having served the parish for nearly 20 years. “We are getting used to her being gone,” said the friar, who phones Sr. Kate every day.
“This has not been an easy year for any of us, but our faith and our love for each other have gotten us through,” Steve said. “No matter what happens in the future, our past has made us stronger as individuals, a parish, and a community. So, in the words of St. Francis, ‘Let us begin again…’”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this story. The above photo appeared in a gallery on The Record’s website.