Schools recovering from Irma Print this post

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic


St. Francis Xavier Catholic School Principal John Gulley watched the security cameras at the Fort Myers school from his home throughout Hurricane Irma and cringed whenever something flashed before on several of the cameras.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School Principal John Gulley stands in front of part of the roof that ripped off the Fort Myers school during Hurricane Irma. The damage caused water to pour into the school’s new media center.

It was not until the next day when Gulley went to the school and found debris strewn everywhere and saw up close what Irma had wrought. While surveying the exterior, he found solace in what he considers a miracle. “Despite the damage to the school, the Blessed Mother survived a tree branch falling and destroying her case. Hail Mary!” he posted online.

The statue of Our Lady of Grace withstood the onslaught of Irma and held strong. “That was really wonderful,” Gulley said a few days later. “I knew when I saw Mary, everything was going to be ok.”

Damage from Hurricane Irma to St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples was extensive.

The roof to the new Learning Commons Center was peeled away causing water to pour in. The water damage was extensive but did not spread to other classrooms. “It was a shock to see damage here after all of the work that went into getting it open.”

A parent who owns a roofing company helped remove some of the debris off the roof and then seal it so no more water would get in. A few days later huge numbers of students and their parents showed up to help clean the property as best they could. Because of the lack of power, St. Francis Xavier will remain closed for the time being. The same is true at other locations which had damage.

This Statue of Our Lady of Grace survived Hurricane Irma in front of St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers even though an oak tree destroyed teh case it was in.

Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota had water in many of the classrooms and work was being done to rip up carpets and make the building safe for students as quickly as possible. There was also water damage at St. Catherine School in Sebring and in the cafeteria at St. Andrew School in Cape Coral.

Diocesan Director of Education and Superintendent of School Dr. Kristy Swol said the schools that had damage are working hard to reopen as quickly as possible with the need for power and clean drinking water the first priority. All schools, except St. Ann and St. Elizabeth Seton in Naples, St. Francis Xavier and Bishop Verot in Fort Myers and St. Catherine in Sebring were opened by Sept. 20. “We want everyone to bear with us in this difficult situation. Safety is first and foremost on our minds.”

St. Ann Catholic School in Naples has water damage in the building that serves the elementary school and some in the building which serves the middle school. There was also water in the gymnasium and Jubilee Center which is where the school holds assemblies, concerts and other activities. It is hoped that some reorganizing of classrooms will allow the school to open sooner while other repairs are complete.

Damage caused by Hurricane Irma in a classroom at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples.

At St. Elizabeth Seton School in Naples, the damage was more extensive with roof damage as well as windows shattering and water and debris getting into many classrooms.

Swol said that the damage was such that it is too soon to speculate when the school would reopen. “They were the hardest hit, and we are working with contractors to access the damage and move forward. Parents will be kept informed every step of the way.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane has personally surveyed the damage at each of the schools and has pledged his commitment to get each school repaired as quickly and safely as possible.

At nearby St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, there was minor damage but power and water restored by Sept. 17 and the school reopened Sept. 20. Of note, while the religious sisters who serve at the school were surveying the damage after the storm, a generator was stolen from their home.

Students at Bishop Verot Catholic High School help clean up the Fort Myers campus following Hurricane Irma.

Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers had water in a number of classrooms and work has already begun to help limit even more damage and to make initial repairs. To help clear the debris from the property, Verot Principal Dr. Denny Denison offered double community service hours to anyone who volunteered. Expecting a few dozen people, Denison expect the work to take most of the day. When more than 170 students showed up, the work was done within three hours and aside from the massive pile of debris piled in a vacant lot across the street the school property and that of neighboring St. Cecilia Parish and Clare House of Catholic Charities.

Students St. John Neumann and at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota also received service hours to help clean up, but most admitting to helping because they wanted to assist in cleaning their home away from home.

Dr. Denny Denison, Principal of Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, shows Bishop Frank J. Dewane some of the water damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

Another school, St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota, opened their doors to those in the community and in the neighborhood without power and water for a hot meal, cold A/C and electricity. The staff served from the cafeteria, which never lost power.

Schools were closed in the days before and at least a week after the storm, but Swol said plans will be put into place to ensure no student is left behind in their studies. “We are still working out the coordination for those schools who will miss more time.”

Swol said she feels the Diocese was very blessed to be spared more damage to schools as the forecast storm surge could have destroyed many schools and is thankful that things were not much worse.

On a personal note, Swol said she was uplifted by the news that the Our Lady of Grace statue was spared at St. Francis Xavier in Fort Myers and another was spared at Incarnation Sarasota. These facts reinforced her personal devotion to Our Lady. “She is a favorite of mine ever since I was a teacher. She certainly looked out for our schools and will help us recover.”

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