With Hurricane Ian long gone, the cleanup is only just beginning on Fort Myers Beach at Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare Monastery of San Damiano.
Until Oct. 15, 2022, access to the property was by foot from Estero Boulevard, the main road which passes in front of the property. A parishioner who lives on Fort Myers Beach was able to clear a path onto the property, pushing debris and sand into piles, similar to how plows move snow.
This access will allow Diocesan contractors to come in and clear the larger debris, such as the wrecked contents of the Parish church, Parish Hall, rectory, and sheds, as well as the monastery offices, garages, and Chapel.
The debris removal includes nine homes, and their contents, that ended up on the property due to storm surge. Some of the debris lays scattered next to the church, in the driveway and in front of the monastery, as well as inside the 8-foot walls of the monastery compound.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane remarked on the plight of the priests and nuns on Fort Myers Beach who were stranded for three days before they were rescued.
“The Sisters and Father (William) Adams went through a harrowing time with Hurricane Ian and are now dealing with its aftermath, like so many in Southwest Florida and in the Diocese of Venice,” Bishop Dewane said. “In the midst of total destruction, the Sisters are already worrying about how to get their next monthly shipment of hosts out! Their faith comes first, and they are thankful to God for their safety.”
Bishop Dewane went on to state that the safety and well-being of all in Southwest Florida is the first concern of the Diocese, and to address this issue Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. has established many Points of Distribution (PODS) throughout the region “to assist with basic human needs like food and water. The Diocese is working to assess the possibilities of repairing and rebuilding churches and schools, and we continue to ask for your prayers for all who have lost so much.”
Father Adams, Pastor of the Ascension Parish, first returned to the property on Oct. 10. Although he had been there for 72 hours following the destruction brought by Ian, the return was heartbreaking. He spoke about the property on Oct. 14.
“Everything is gone,” Father Adams said. “Seeing the destruction in person is nothing like seeing it on TV or in pictures. The Diocese had people out inspecting the damage… and my thought is that if they can get the Parish Hall fixed – that is the original church – we can have Mass for whoever is left on the island. That will be quicker to fix than the church because everything in the church needs to be repaired and replaced. We are starting from scratch.”
Father Adams said the monastery ground floor is gutted, and the Chapel is a mess. “But the building is three stories and sturdy. I know because when the surge breached the walls the building didn’t move and everything above the surge is fine. So as soon as we have power, we will be back.”
Abbess Sister Mary Frances and the three other nuns have also returned to the property several times as well to salvage a few personal items, do some minor cleaning and take inventory of what needs to be replaced.
“Everyone is being so helpful but there is only so much we can do right now,” Sister Mary Frances said on Oct. 15. “We’ll pick up the pieces.”
Ever with a positive outlook, Sister said, the nuns “want to go back. We have to go back and clean it up and go on… We will take it one day at a time. It’ll be okay.”
Members of the Knights of Columbus trekked to the property on Oct. 19 to retrieve missing monastery items from under some of the debris before the heavy equipment arrives. This included a large statue of Mary which stayed in place but was surrounded by several feet of metal, wood, glass, and other items from two homes.
Father Adams is currently staying at his sister’s home in Lee County, while Parochial Vicar Father Grzegorz Klich is staying at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte. The Poor Clare nuns are temporarily staying at a home in Ave Maria and are looking for a place to stay closer to their monastery to save time as they go back each day to clean up a little bit more.
With the prayers of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, and to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Her Son, Jesus Christ, there is no doubt the Parish and monastery will return to their former glory as a beacon of faith for an island community that is working to rise from the ruins of destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian.
A Go Fund Me page has been set up on behalf of the Poor Clare Nuns on Fort Myers Beach.
To read the previous story about Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare Nuns, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/news.