‘Superstorm’ Sandy Slams East Coast Ministries

Maria Hayes In the Headlines

The Provincial Office is working to keep friars and their partners-in-ministry informed about the status of churches, people and properties in our ministry areas after last week’s hurricane. The round-up below is an overview based on what the HNP Communications Office has learned this week. The Province is setting up a relief fund for the parishioners of Long Beach Island and other affected areas. Those wishing to contribute should contact the HNP Development Office, attention David Convertino, OFM, 144 W. 32nd St., New York, NY 10001.

As Hurricane Sandy whipped across the Northeast last week, she drastically altered the lives of millions of people in her path, including some HNP friars and their partners-in-ministry.

The largest Atlantic hurricane on record, Sandy is estimated to have caused damage of at least $20 billion, making it the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane in history, behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The Oct. 29 to 30 storm affected over 20 states, destroyed thousands of homes, left millions without electrical power and killed more than 100 people.

Across the northeastern region of the Province, friars did what was necessary to take care of their ministries during the storm. The most affected were those on the New Jersey shore.

South Jersey
The situation continues to be dire for St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island. On Oct. 28, a mandatory evacuation was ordered for all LBI residents, including the friars at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Brant Beach, N.J. All Masses were cancelled.

During the storm and for the days following, Stephen Kluge, OFM, pastor, stayed at the Poor Clares Monastery in Chesterfield, N.J., roughly one hour inland from LBI. James Scullion, OFM, stayed with his mother, and Kevin Daly, OFM, stayed with friends.

St. Francis of Assisi Church reportedly has two feet of water in it. The friars and friends have been sharing information both in person at provincial gatherings and through phone and email. Detailed information about the island is available in the SandPaper newspaper.

As of this week, the friars remain unable to return to the island, except, like most residents, to visit properties to assess damage. “The friars may not be able to move back to the island for weeks, if not months. They have rented a house on the mainland and have set up temporary parish offices there and worship space at a parish on the mainland,” said Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, in an update emailed to friars on Nov. 6.

The flood waters did not prevent the friars from holding Sunday Mass, however. It was celebrated at St. Mary’s of the Pines in Manahawkin, where services for the next few weeks will be held.

The friars are also connecting with parishioners through what they call a “virtual church.” Every day, Stephen emails reflections to the pastoral staff and parish council members, who in turn email them to other people.

The parish has also set up a Facebook page, through which people can find news and photos about the parish and the community.

Steve is grateful for the many people who are offering to help the parish. Financial donations are the most useful, he said. “We have no space to store supplies. Our problem is where to put food and other items.”

Donations can be sent directly to the parish using its standard mailing address: 4700 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach Township, NJ, 08008. Checks can also be sent to the HNP Development Office. Monetary donations will be used to buy gift cards for businesses such as Home Depot and Walmart. “That will be the most help to people,” Steve said.

The hardships caused by the storm reminded staff member Michele Beck of how much she appreciates St. Francis of Assisi Parish on LBI.

“I appreciate how everyone cares for each other at church and through the St. Francis Center,” she said. “I know of people from our parish that have eight to 10 other people from our parish staying at their home right now. The friars are deeply connected to all of us. They are truly our brothers. You can see that when we hurt, they hurt, and this is what genuinely makes us family. Our parish is rooted in love and with love you can weather any storm. We will come back from this stronger than ever.

“St. Francis of Assisi is my home,” Beck added. “It is where I have ministered for almost 15 years. It is where I met and married my husband, baptized our two boys and met my extended family of faith,” she said. “Our parish — the friars, sisters, deacons, lay ministers and parishioners — understand that church is not a building. We are the church. I see them live the Gospel every day through their acts of charity, and this storm and being displaced from their homes hasn’t stopped them from being Church to one another. This is what the Franciscans of Holy Name Province have inspired in each and every one of us.”

Loss of power also disrupted the Mass schedule at St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J. “We have no power, but that is the only issue. It probably will be out for days. We can only celebrate Mass during the day,” saidChristopher VanHaight, OFM, pastor, on Oct. 29 before the electricity was restored Saturday night.

The Province’s house in Margate, N.J., south of LBI, suffered moderate damage, according to John Capozzi, OFM, curator, who stayed in the house when the electrical power went out. The basement was flooded and one of the windows in the sunporch was broken. The house is closed until further notice.

“Considering their location, Margate and many Province sites were very lucky,” said Dominic.

North Jersey
In Pompton Lakes, N.J., St. Mary’s Church had power, but the friary did not. As a result, the friars have temporarily relocated to nearby Butler, N.J., where the St. Anthony friary lost power but had use of a generator.

“I checked with Richard McFeely, OFM, guardian of St. Anthony Residence, who told me there were enough guest rooms to accommodate the friars of Pompton Lakes,” said Frank Sevola, OFM, guardian and pastor of St. Mary’s.

A few miles north, the director of environmental services at Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, N.J., began preparing for the storm days before it hit, according to Francis Soucy, OFM, guardian and director of the skilled nursing facility.

“We were prepared as much as possible for the storm with vehicles filled with gas, several containers filled in reserve, flashlights, battery-powered lamps, etc.” Francis said. “Anything that could fly in the wind was brought into the building or secured outside. Our trusty five-plus days generator stood alert, though we never lost power.”

Francis said his principal concern was the staff and whether enough of them would be able to get to work safely. “I formed an interdepartmental staff with all due caution to maintain infection control and licensure regulations. It worked. Some staff members slept here for a night or two and others were able to travel back and forth from their homes because they lived close by. When gas for their cars became an issue, we had extra in storage.”

Unfortunately, the friary lost four conifers and some limbs off the last of its six original flowering pear trees. “The conifers will particularly be missed by the friars who found comfort in their winter lights that towered above the friary roof,” said Francis on Monday, when the Ringwood area was rocked by a 2.0-magnitude earthquake that fortunately did not do any damage. “But the multiple tales I hear of people without water, lights, and heat, and with spoiled food in warm refrigerators reminds me and the friars that we were fortunate.”

Friars at Assumption Parish in Wood-Ridge, N.J., lost power for three days. However, “parish life was able to go on,” according to Paul Keenan, OFM. “During the vigil Mass for All Saints Day, the parish worshipped by candelight. It was a beautiful experience for those in attendance. Our power came back on later that evening.”

This Saturday and Sunday, the parish will be hosting a collection and donation drive for two local towns whose schools were seriously damaged by the storm. The East Rutherford Education Association will hold its drive at the parish, and parishioners and friars will be involved in the collection process. All proceeds will go directly to the schools affected by the storm.

Two friars of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden — pastor Jud Weiksnar, OFM, and Karl Koenig, OFM — drove to Buffalo, N.Y., on Oct. 28 for a previously scheduled visit to Jud’s hometown. On Oct. 31, as they drove back to the southern Jersey city, Jud said with a smile, “As usual, Buffalo had the best weather in the East.”

New York City
“Our three places in New York City — on West 31st Street, East 82nd Street and West 96th Street — did not suffer much, at least with no loss of power, other than the loss of Internet in the Provincial Office,” said Provincial VicarDominic Monti, OFM. “Our nearly four-day loss of Internet connection happened because we are served by the big Verizon center in Lower Manhattan, which lost power.”

Because it follows what New York City schools do during weather emergencies, the Provincial Office was closed from Oct. 29 through Nov. 2.

Farther north in Central Harlem, Neil O’Connell, OFM, reported no loss of electricity or heat at the Church of St. Joseph of the Holy Family.  All of the CUNY system colleges — including the Borough of Manhattan Community College and Herbert H. Lehman College, where Neil ministers — were closed Monday through Thursday, meaning Neil “got a lot of work done.”

The St. Francis Friends of the Poor residences scattered throughout the West Side of Manhattan were not as fortunate. The three buildings were without power, heat and light from Oct. 28 to Nov. 2, when the power returned at 9 p.m.

“Most of our staff could not get into the city to help,” said John Felice, OFM. “John McVean, OFM, Thomas Walters, OFM, and I did the daily medications and money management, and saw to breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week. I cooked pasta Friday in the dark for 90 people at Residence II. They survived my cooking.”

Though residents usually aren’t provided with a meal at night, Tom made sure all needs were met during the storm. John McVean tracked down doctors and pharmacies that were open and filling out prescriptions. The residences also “had desk clerk service and security 24/7 because some of the management staff took 12-hour shifts and slept overnight in the residences.”

Though the power went out for a short time in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, St. Francis Inn continued to serve meals on both Monday and Tuesday.

“As the hurricane approached and the winds started blowing and with the rain pouring down, we had 166 people who came to St. Francis Inn for supper,” said Michael Duffy, OFM. Because schools and highways were closed and public transportation was shut down, people came to the inn on foot. Transportation limitations also meant only resident staff members were available to accomplish routines, according to staff member Karen Pushaw.

“At 10 p.m. on Monday there was a tremendously loud and very eerie noise, and a bright blue light filled Hagert Street. It was a transformer that blew up as dancing wires crossed each other. The lights went out, but surprisingly, after a minute or two the power came back on to our relief. But 15 minutes later, that same loud blast with the blue light happened again and again. All three transformers had blown up, leaving the street in total darkness.”

Fred Dilger, OFM, and Karen began to plan the inn’s meals without electricity. The staff lit candles and kept refrigerator doors closed as they worked without lights to prepare bagged meals. They distributed breakfast on Tuesday morning with hot tea prepared on the inn’s gas stoves.

“People continued to arrive during the hurricane, so we were glad we could serve them,” said Michael Duffy, OFM. “If we had had no power, we would have made and served peanut butter sandwiches.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, two PECO trucks arrived to repair the transformers. After watching staff members walk back and forth all day, the PECO crew made a monetary donation to the inn.

Power was restored later that day, but not early enough for the staff to prepare a hot meal. They passed out a bagged meal instead.

“Still with the wind and rain, 391 guests came for supper,” Michael said. “Almost 400 people during a hurricane! St. Francis Inn kept its record of never missing a meal through wind, rain, snow, power outages and the like since the Inn opened Dec. 16, 1979. Thanks be to God.”

Both Province-sponsored colleges quickly rallied to help victims of Sandy. Five days after the storm hit, St. Bonaventure University’s disaster relief group Bona Responds arrived in Rockaway, Queens, N.Y., to assist in the recovery effort. With more than fifty volunteers — including current students and alumni — the group was able to gut 10 houses in two days, including one home that belonged to a senior at Bona’s. The students returned to Bonaventure Sunday evening because of academic responsibilities, but the group plans to return as soon as it can.

Efforts to help the student who lost his family home during the storm can be found on a website created by his roommates.

On Oct. 31, the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy at Siena College began organizing a Hurricane Sandy relief program named the Siena for Sandy Project. Donation tables will be set up Nov. 11 through Nov. 16 in the dining hall on campus. Proceeds will be sent to the American Red Cross.

At the Midday Mass on Nov. 7, the Siena community is offering prayers for relief works and people who are struggling, said Gregory Jakubowicz, OFM, the campus chaplain. “Many of our students are from New Jersey, Long Island and Staten Island, the areas hardest hit by the storm. Everyone knows someone who was affected.”

Support and Prayer
The Province’s Development Office offered some words of encouragement in a Nov. 2 letter from David Convertino, OFM, addressed to “Sisters and Brothers in the Franciscan family.” It includes “A Prayer in a Time of Disaster.”

We often say the prayer: God is our refuge and strength, always present in times of trouble and distress. As we watch and witness the pain and loss of so many people with the utter devastation and destruction of our cities, towns and harbors by Hurricane Sandy, it may be difficult to really believe in that prayer even as we say it. In any natural tragedy, we can be quick to blame this as an act of God. I believe it is not an act of God, but rather an act of nature. The act of God is what happens afterward, when women and men come together to rescue, save, feed and comfort those who are suffering because of this terrible storm.

As part of the “act of God” taking place all over the East Coast and our entire country, we can join together and pray for the survivors and for those who died in the wake of this hurricane.  As Franciscans, we not only stand in awe of creation for its beauty, we also know the fear of its power and destruction.

Please join us, the friars and our Franciscan Family around the country, in prayer for all those who are suffering in so many ways because of this storm. Thank you, as always, for your support  of the friars and of our work.

May the Lord bless and ease the pain of our suffering sisters and brothers in this time of great tragedy.

— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this article. A photo from the Star-Ledger appears behind the photo above.