Cathedral students back in main building after Ian damage

Damage caused by Ian repaired within 100 days

Patience, teamwork, hard work, perseverance, and faith were all needed to overcome the destructive impacts of Hurricane Ian at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice.

In less than 100 days, repairs to the main school building were far enough along to ensure all students would safely and joyfully return to their original classroom. It was Sept. 28, 2022, when Hurricane Ian tore off the roof of the main building, allowing water to pour into the classrooms. Replacement of the roof, HVAC and other items, as well as the ceiling tiles and floors of nearly every room, were needed before a return to the classroom could take place.

A celebration of this momentous accomplishment occurred during the morning assembly on Jan. 9, 2023. Students, faculty, staff, and parents gathered as everyone cheered the reopening of the building which houses grades one through eight.

“What a wonderful day,” Principal Nicole Loseto proclaimed. “When the hurricane struck everyone rallied together to salvage what we could to relocate classrooms all over the campus in just two days. It was a challenge to move everyone to a new location and it was seamless and beautiful… Now everyone came together to get us back into our main building. Thank you, everyone!”

Loseto singled-out several maintenance and support staff who went above and beyond in their help during the crisis. She also praised Bishop Frank J. Dewane and his Diocesan staff for overcoming many issues since the storm. Also recognized were Cathedral Rector, Msgr. Patrick Dubois, and Operations Manager Wendy Barraso, for overseeing the logistics of the repairs.

Only the pre-kindergarten students were not displaced by Hurricane Ian. The disruptions were extreme as kindergartners were housed in the library; first and second grades were placed in the cafeteria with a divider; fourth and fifth graders were in the Parish Hall; and middle schoolers were split between the Soy Hall and two gymnasium locker rooms.

Loseto said the students and faculty handled the transition well, adjusting and surmounting any difficulties, comforted in the knowledge that mitigation and repairs began within days. While everything was not perfect, Loseto said patience and understanding was shown in all.

She also gave a shout out to the many people who helped support the recovery effort through financial support which helped ease the burden on the school.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, was present for the morning assembly and was quick to acknowledge that Loseto herself led everyone through the storm and its aftermath.

“When we first talked about how we were going to open school, even though you didn’t have the main school building, a lot of good ideas came forth on how to do that, and certainly, most coming from Mrs. Loseto. So, I think we owe her a big applause,” Father Belmonte exclaimed as everyone joined in that acknowledgment.

Msgr. Dubois led a prayer service and blessed the repaired building. A ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony took place before everyone entered the building.

Ahead of the reopening, a team of faculty staff and parents moved all of the desks and other educational items from their temporary rooms to the main building. The upper grades were allowed in the building on Jan. 6, the 100th day since Hurricane Ian struck Venice.

The younger grades, including Nicole Semlow’s second grade class, got their first look at their refurbished classrooms after the morning assembly. They were impressed.

Lots of oohs and wows were exclaimed as they entered the classroom to the smell of fresh paint and newly laid flooring. The smiles were radiant as they returned to their own room, their own desks, a place they had come to love before Ian. Now the classroom, without any outside distractions, was a place of normalcy for the students.

The students, faculty, staff and parents of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School started the first full week of school in 2023 with a celebration they won’t soon forget. It marked an opportunity to turn the page beyond the immediate aftermath and recovery of Hurricane Ian into what is a “normal” routine of a Catholic education, including study, fun and prayer.

If you would like to support Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in their continuing recovery, please visit www.ecstigers.com.

St. Pete Diocese helps with Ian relief

Bishop Gregory Parkes, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, generously made a donation from the faithful of the Diocese of St. Petersburg to the Diocese of Venice for its ongoing Hurricane Ian recovery.

Bishop Parkes met with Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Dec. 21, 2022, in Venice to personally present the check for $250,000. These funds were the result of a special collection following the hurricane.

The. St. Petersburg Bishop said the donation to the Diocese of Venice is directed to go where it is most needed to help rebuild following the devastating Sept. 28 hurricane.

More than 120 lives were lost in the counties of the Diocese of Venice with thousands losing their homes and livelihoods by storm surge, wind or flooding. Ian caused damage to 93 Diocesan properties. The damage was significant enough to 404 buildings to require major repairs which will be ongoing for many months to come.

Bishop Dewane said he was overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of Bishop Parkes and the faithful of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

“Hurricane Ian left a terrible path of destruction throughout Florida,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is a blessing for a fellow Florida Bishop to recognize the great need in our Diocese and is a testament to his compassion and caring for all our brothers and sisters in Christ who continue to suffer in the aftermath of this storm.”

In a Sept. 30 letter to all Parishes in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Bishop Parkes wrote: “Our hearts are moved with compassion for all those who have suffered damage and destruction due to Hurricane Ian, especially our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Venice.”

A portion of the money received during the special collection remained in the Diocese of St. Petersburg to help with its own recovery as numerous Diocesan facilities there were damaged.

However, Bishop Parkes stated: “This was a tough year for storms here in our area as well as our neighbors in the Diocese of Venice. Thanks to the generosity of our people, not only are we able to assist and help those who sustained damage here in our Diocese, but also to give hurricane relief to those who were affected in the Diocese of Venice. I thank the faithful of our Diocese for their generosity and we pray for all those that have been impacted by the hurricane and storms.”

If you would like to support the Diocese of Venice efforts to recover from Hurricane Ian, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/hurricaneian/.

Welcome Home! Mass returns to Sanibel

The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday or Joyful Sunday, was an appropriate time for the Catholic Mass to return to St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel, after it was forced to close due to damage from Hurricane Ian

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the Mass at 10 a.m., Dec. 11, 2022, expressing his prayers that all continue to recover with the grace of the Lord giving them strength. The Bishop added that since the hurricane passed, “Sanibel, and all in Southwest Florida, have been in my prayers. The church is a building, you are the Church, all of you. What is strong is the people who make up the Church.”

The barrier island and the Parish were overwhelmed by storm surge and wind damage from Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022. During the intervening 74 days it was impossible for the Mass to be celebrated, but due to perseverance as the mitigation and recovery proceeded, the “All Clear” was given to open.

Father Edward Martin, Pastor of St. Isabel, concelebrated and was outside of the church as the faithful arrived, greeting many with a heartfelt, “Welcome Home!”

Bishop Dewane cited the “desert experience” which is a theme of the readings for the day, recounting saints and prophets who lived in parched lands, with everyday things stripped away. This “desert experience” is being lived daily at the Parish and throughout the island as every building has some form of damage and is in different stages of recovery and/or repair while the landscape is only now slowly returning to its glorious splendor. Simple conveniences are sparse with little open and access to the barrier island still restricted.

“This bleak and dry period will end,” Bishop Dewane said. “Though we will all struggle for a time and our energy will be sapped, we have to allow ourselves to know that the Lord will have us bloom once again.  The joy, the energy; all of it will return. It’s an experience that is very Scriptural.”

It is during these difficult times, the Bishop added, that the faithful come to understand and appreciate a radical dependence on God, who gives us the good things in life; the very life we have.

“In that radical dependence, we pay attention, we might get angry, no doubt, but are we grateful for who is still with us and what we still have,” Bishop Dewane said. “Sometimes the healing that takes place following the desert experience takes time. It takes patience to have the desert bloom again around us. It’s only yourselves who can make that happen as instruments of the Lord. It is through the strength I see by your being here this morning as we journey through this desert experience and rely upon the Lord for His goodness and His Grace.”

The smiles on the faces were genuine as many were relieved to have the important faith component as part of the Sanibel recovery.

“It’s so wonderful to be back,” one woman told Father Martin after Mass. “Every part of the world at this latitude is a desert. We are the blooming desert. It was so moving to be here!”

While the parish property is mostly free of debris, evidence of the damage caused by Ian was clear once people entered the church. Mats cover a floor which was stripped bare to the concrete base. The drywall is cut at about the 4-foot level throughout. All the damaged pews were removed, and folding chairs were in their place.

That aesthetic didn’t matter to Phil and Laurie Jansen who were among the several dozen to attend the first Mass.

“We are so pleased to be back,” Laurie Jansen said. “It is a big first step in the recovery for everyone.”

The Jansens, and nearly everyone at the Mass on Dec. 11, had visited the Parish in the intervening weeks, monitoring the progress of the mitigation and cleanup, ever confident the Parish would reopen for Mass in a timely manner. “This is a great day. It means so much,” Laurie Jansen said.

While the number of people present for the first Mass was not large, a large number of islanders lost their homes and are living on the mainland or had not heard of the reopening. Father Martin is confident word will spread quickly and the people will come back.

Weekly updates have been sent to parishioners with photos to show the progress of the mitigation as well as prayers and words of encouragement as each person deals with their own recovery.

“Knowing we all face a long recovery ahead, it is important for our wonderful community to have a place of worship on the island once again,” a Dec. 6 announcement about the reopening stated.

Weekend Masses will continue while work at the Parish moves forward.

Progress made in Ian recovery

In the two months since the devastating winds and waters of Hurricane Ian struck the Diocese of Venice the monumental work to clean up and rebuild have been going strong.

Ian struck on Sept. 28, 2022, with winds up to 155 mph and storm surge measured at 15 feet swept across Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach. In all, the wide impacts of Ian caused damage at 30 Parishes and 10 Catholic schools, as well as at many other Diocesan properties.

 

Two of the most dramatic impacts in the Diocese were to St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel, as well as to Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare Monastery of San Damiano on Fort Myers Beach.

At St. Isabel, the Parish church and hall suffered severe storm surge damage and contractors hired by the Diocese have worked non-stop to mitigate against further damage since Oct. 25, the first day access was granted to the island for contractors after the causeway was rebuilt.

A visit to the Parish on Nov. 12 revealed a team of 30 contractors chiseling out the tile floor and cutting out moldy drywall in the church after already doing identical work in the neighboring hall.

The approach to the Parish on Sanibel-Captiva Road revealed a pile of debris at least six feet high and approximately 75 yards long, obstructing the street view of the Parish property. This pile of debris included the contents of the hall and church, including flooring, drywall, ceiling tiles, furniture, and other built-in materials which were all beyond salvage. In addition, there was the debris that was scattered across the property by the surge and wind, such as trees, branches, pieces ripped from the Parish buildings, as well as various detritus scattered by the wind and water from nearby properties.

One of the lead contractors on Sanibel said the damage was severe but could have been worse as the walls of the church and hall both withstood the force of the wind and rain. The roofs of both buildings held up well, although there was water intrusion through the soffits and impacts to the roof. The drying of the building interiors was completed by mid-November, with clearing out the remaining debris from the grounds, the final step yet to be completed.

A message to parishioners on Nov. 18 stated “The first steps have begun toward the restoration of our Parish… Each building faces substantial restoration.”

The cleanup at Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare monastery on Fort Myers Beach started sooner but the destruction there was more complete. Contractors have been on the property since two weeks after Ian’s landfall dealing with what was left over after the storm surge blasted through the church, hall, rectory, and monastery.

By Nov. 12, all of the main debris, including the contents of all the buildings, had been pushed to the curb. The first part of this monumental task was clearing access to the property as there was rubble from at least nine destroyed homes piled as high as 15 feet. The debris was so deep that crews used front-end loaders and bulldozers to do the heavy work. The result was that most of the vegetation was scraped away, leaving bare dirt and sand in most areas. The final part of this process was draining and clearing out two large ponds which were overflowing with various wreckage.

In each building, the work crews also cut out the drywall and floors. Fortunately, the walls of the church and monastery were made of concrete, meaning no structural damage occurred. Part of securing the property from any further damage included putting plywood over each of the blown-out windows and doors as air blowers were helping with the final drying out process.

A sign of hope on the property was that the larger trees survived, and the stripped leaves are slowly returning.

Before reconstruction can begin on Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach, additional contractors and supplies need to be accumulated and brought to the barrier islands.

Joe Rego, Diocesan Buildings Director, who is overseeing the response to Hurricane Ian, explained that the Diocese is actively working to hire contractors to repair damage to all properties, but that the extensive damage at St. Isabel and on Fort Myers Beach will require an unknown amount of time to complete. This is because the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in each building need to be assessed and either completely replaced or require extensive repairs after being exposed to storm surge inundation of salt water.

While it is hoped that reconstruction work can begin immediately, there is a shortage of workers and key supplies, such as drywall, plywood, flooring, and roofing materials, throughout the disaster zone.

“These issues are not unique to the barrier island properties, this is across the region,” Rego explained. “That part of the rebuilding effort is out of our control. The contractors have been up front in explaining the challenges and will expedite work wherever possible.”

All options are on the table, Rego added, meaning work at St. Isabel and on Fort Myers Beach might be done in phases to ensure some buildings are operational faster than others versus doing everything all at once.

“This is going to be a long process and we know we are not alone in facing these challenges,” he said. “We ask everyone’s patience as we work our way through this complicated process. In the end, we will build back better; it just might take a while.”

If you would like to support the Diocese of Venice efforts to recover from Hurricane Ian, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/hurricaneian/.

Nicole brushes by Diocese, minor damage

Winds from Hurricane Nicole peaked at 57 mph at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and gusts were reported higher through the region still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Ian 43 days earlier.

Those winds on Nov. 10, 2022, were enough to cause tarps at several sites to be ripped, allowing more water into buildings which were damaged during Ian on Sept. 28.

Incarnation Parish and Catholic school in Sarasota both had damage and water intrusion during Ian and the winds from Nicole penetrated the tarps. Parish and school staff reported new water intrusion and teams were quick to come out to mitigate any further damage.

This type of tarp damage and water intrusion also occurred at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice, the rectory at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte and the hall at Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. Each of those locations also had water intrusion during Ian with tarps that were compromised.

Diocese of Venice Buildings Manager Joe Rego said it was disappointing that the tarps failed, but thanks to quick action at the Parishes and schools, the additional damage was negligible and is unlikely to delay any scheduled repair work.

“It happens. We cannot control the weather,” Rego said. “This adds some more mitigation work we had not planned on at a time when we are starting to ramp up our work to get repairs done.”

At sites where damage to the buildings was extreme due to storm surge, such as Ascension Parish in Fort Myers Beach and St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel, the winds from Nicole added to the debris needed to be cleaned up.

One worker in Fort Myers Beach explained that there are many large piles of debris all over the island which meant even wind gusts of about 40 mph during the storm were enough to carry roof tiles, insulation, and other small items onto the grounds, adding to the cleanup process.

During Hurricane Ian damage was reported at more than 30 Parishes in the Diocese, 10 Catholic schools, as well as to other Diocese-owned and operated buildings. Teams have been doing mitigation work, such as putting tarps on roofs, removing damaged equipment and furniture and much more. Other work includes the removal of drywall where necessary.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” Rego said.

Check back in the Nov. 25, 2022, e-edition of The Florida Catholic for the latest in the recovery and rebuilding in the Diocese following Hurricane Ian.

Sanibel church damaged as work to recover begins

The lush tropical setting of St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel Island is now a stark landscape that has lost its colorful and tranquil beauty in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. It was on Sept. 28, 2022, when the Category 4 storm, with winds of 155 mph and a massive storm surge, inundated the entire island.

St. Isabel Parish, which is located on a high point toward the east side of the island, had major damage. The church and parish hall are intact but had extensive water damage. Unfortunately, the Parish rectory was not so lucky. There is extensive damage with holes in the roof, as well as impacts from the surge which filled the entire building.

Father Edward Martin, Pastor of St. Isabel, evacuated to a home on the mainland and visited the Parish property on Oct. 24.

“It was shocking to see the devastation on the island and then to the Parish property,” Father Martin said. “The church and hall are intact. There was no damage in the sanctuary and the roof is intact. So, we might have to remove some pews that were sitting in water and a few other things, but otherwise we are going to leave everything. This means they can be fixed, and we will be back.”

The water intrusion to the church and hall was from the pressure of the surge, but no actually flowing water came into these buildings as doors and windows held fast even though water on the sides of the building reached 3 feet. The height of the surge was actually much higher as the church and hall are 5 feet above the grade of the nearby road.

Father Martin said he expects to either set up a tent outside for Mass in the coming weeks, or that the hall can be repaired quickly to accommodate the Liturgy.

Inside the church and hall, even a month after the storm, was standing water and muck (a congealed mix of water, sand, dirt and other debris). Contractors hired by the Diocese to dry out both buildings were working in the church and hall by Oct. 25.

The challenge for recovery on Sanibel is that the causeway, a three-mile bridge and island system from the mainland, was destroyed and only recently reopened. Traffic is being limited to residents, first responders and contractors. However, there is no power or running water on the island and no clear estimate as to when it will be restored.

Parish Business Manager Khristy Sheer, who has been a resident on Sanibel for 33 years, also evacuated and returned to the island by boat, once to see her home, which had surge through the second floor and roof damage allowing water into the top floors. Her personal losses are extensive and heartbreaking.

Her next trip to Sanibel was to visit the Parish with Diocesan Building Manager, Joe Rego, and insurance adjustors. They found the devastation there to be extensive but were feeling blessed that it wasn’t much worse.

One of the reasons the damage wasn’t worse was attributed to the fact that the church had a major renovation and upgrade after Hurricane Charley ripped the roof off in 2004. A similar upgrade took place in the Parish Hall in 2016. All this held back the worst of the winds and most of the water.

The landscaped grounds are a jumbled mess, but the main bronze statue of St. Isabel as well as a statue of St. Bernadette and Mary next to a cross, were unscathed.

“God was sitting with us,” Sheer said.  “This Island and this Parish are important in my life. Just like the island we will get the Parish up and running as a place of peace for everyone.”

While seasonal visitors and residents are reaching out to come and help right now, Sheer explained that now is not the time, as the recovery of the Island and the Parish will be a big job that takes time.

“We are determined to move forward, shoulder-to-shoulder and we will come back strong,” she said.

The Parish has set up a Rebuilding Fund for the church, hall, rectory and grounds which can be supported at https://www.wesharegiving.org/app/giving/WeShare-2150.

All Diocesan Catholic schools open

Bishop celebrates Mass in two hardest hit areas

Just three weeks after Hurricane Ian left destruction in its wake on Sept. 28, 2022, students at all 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic schools had returned to the classroom.

The coordination necessary to get each school opened in a safe and timely manner was the work of countless staff and volunteers who banded together, focused on a singular goal. The final four schools to reopen were in the hardest hit areas of Lee and Charlotte County – St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte, St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, and St. Francis Xavier Catholic School and Bishop Verot Catholic High School, both in Fort Myers.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, both complimented the outstanding work of the schools’ faculty and staff to get the schools open. While many schools had damage, some of the delays included a lack of electricity or drinkable water, as well as allowing time for families in some areas time to recover from the destruction of their homes. Another factor caused by the storm was the issue of space. Diocesan enrollment is at an all-time high at many schools, meaning where there was damage, a reimagining of the use of remaining space was necessary. With the first phase of hurricane recovery completed, all schools were open by Oct. 18.

At Bishop Verot Catholic High School, where awnings were torn away, portable classrooms damaged and bleachers twisted like pretzels, the return to school on Oct. 17 was met with joy and sorrow as many students and faculty had severe damage to homes, some losing everything to Ian’s wrath.

On the first day back, Bishop Dewane celebrated Mass for the school. The Bishop acknowledged everyone had been suffering through a difficult time in some way or another. This suffering varied greatly from destroyed homes or the total disruption of lives as whole neighborhoods and businesses became unrecognizable while there was an ongoing struggle to attain the basic necessities of food, power and drinkable water.

“We need to keep them in our prayers,” Bishop Dewane said. “To lift up these individuals to the Lord; so that He place His healing hands upon them.”

The Bishop called upon the Holy Spirit to enter into the people of Bishop Verot, particularly those who suffered the most from the hurricane. “Let us be united with them in the difficulty they face.”

Mass was also celebrated by Bishop Dewane on Oct. 19 for St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte, the day after their return to the classroom. The school had some roof and fencing damage, but the region had extreme impacts. Again, the Bishop spoke about the impacts of Hurricane Ian, stressing that the tragedy and difficulty many have faced is something that we can recover from and must not let it deter one’s faith and trust in God.

Schools helping schools

As impressive as it has been to get the schools back open so quickly, Bishop Dewane and Father Belmonte have also said the schools are reflecting their Christian core by their continued outreach into the community, helping not only their own school communities but others who have been in need.

Teams from nearly every Catholic school in Collier, Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties have helped families clear out debris from wrecked homes. Others have brought emergency supplies into neighborhoods.

Bishop Verot served as a temporary clearing house for getting donated emergency supplies to impacted families for the three Catholic schools in Lee County. More than two dozen faculty and staff lost homes, and more than 150 student families had similar destruction; so, the need was great. Donations from other Diocesan Catholic schools, as well as from Catholic schools from across Florida and beyond have flowed into the region. Since some families lost the entire contents of homes, the donations did not go to waste and were much appreciated.

Students from St. Ann Catholic School in Naples have been very busy. First, they held a food and emergency relief drive, which was combined with an effort by St. John the Evangelist Parish to benefit the St. Vincent de Paul Society Naples food pantry. The school then collected thousands in gift cards to give to needy families. Finally, the students sent handmade “Thank You” notes to local first responders, including the Naples Police Department, in gratitude for their work in protecting the community during and after the hurricane.

The girls’ basketball team from Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota took advantage of a day off to do service work at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula on Oct. 14. The players organized the food pantry and cleaned the property of debris. They are making a difference on, and off, the court!

Student and parents from St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota used a day off from school on Oct. 17 to volunteer at All Faiths Food Bank, the regional supplier for food pantries in Sarasota and DeSoto counties.  The volunteers filled 160 boxes of food and 1,500 backpacks for local families and students.

At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, where the storm impacts were relatively less severe, Oct. 14, a day usually used for training for teachers, turned into an opportunity to volunteer at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia. The community was hard hit by the hurricane with severe wind damage and later river flooding. The faculty and staff volunteered at a Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. Disaster Response Distribution site helping to load vehicles with disaster relief.

These are just a few examples of the ongoing outreach and service being done by Diocesan Catholic schools in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Small Boca Grande church stands tall

The people of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island are no stranger to hurricanes, so when Hurricane Ian approached, they prepared and prayed for the best.

Father Jerome Carosella, Pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande, stayed at the rectory during Hurricane Charley in 2004 and thought about staying this time until a deputy Sheriff told him to leave. So, Father Carosella put the storm shutters in place and took the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated Communion hosts, to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grove City for safekeeping. Then he went to stay with parishioner-friends in South Gulf Cove.

He returned to Boca Grande on Sept. 30, 2022, two days after the storm struck, having to wait until the waters on the island receded enough to allow passage of trucks.

Unsure what he would find, Father was saddened to see widespread damage on the island but was relieved the church made it through Ian okay.

“Not too bad,” Father Carosella said, recalling that day. “Lots of roof damage and some water, but we were blessed.”

The interior of the small church, built in 1950, is reminiscent of Spanish missions erected in the 17th Century with interior artwork dating to as early as the 15th Century. Nothing inside suffered irreparable damage, even though half of the roof was peeled back. Fortunately, part of the old roof, which was damaged during Hurricane Charley, was left on the building, and provided enough protection to avoid catastrophe. The howling winds of the storm forced water around the old wood doors at the front and rear of the church, but the damage was limited.

The hurricane winds of Ian did shred part of the rectory roof, along with three storm shutters, and water poured into three rooms there. In addition, a section of the roof of the Boca Grande Pre-School, operated by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., had similar roof and water intrusion, while the newly built Parish Hall had only superficial damage.

Father Carosella said friends and strangers were quick to assist in cleaning up the property, putting temporary tarps on the damaged roofs, mitigating against further damage from the water intrusion.

“It’s hard work, but it has had a good benefit; I’ve lost 7 pounds,” Father Carosella said.

Father has celebrated Mass every day since Sept. 30, and the congregation has slowly increased from two the first day to several dozen by Oct. 16 as access to the barrier island improved and coincided with the restoration of power and water on Oct. 11.

A wedding, scheduled for Oct. 15, was relocated to a “distant second-option,” St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “She was baptized here 30 years ago, and it would have been beautiful. I guess the back-up had to do in a pinch.”

Carol and Laurence Hall, who have been on Boca Grande for 60 years, had damage to their home, but nothing that cannot be fixed. When the couple returned to the town after evacuating, Carol Hall said Our Lady of Mercy “was one of the first things we checked up on. Not too bad. So blessed that it wasn’t worse, and we were able to be here for Mass this morning.”

Father Carosella knows the Parish was fortunate as no storm surge inundated the island. Others had severe damage with some losing homes. Within a block of Our Lady of Mercy, a cellular tower collapsed and cut a bakery in half, while a Baptist church had its roof, steeple and a wall blown out, and nearly every home in view had tarps or other obvious damage.

Father credits the lack of damage from Ian to the repairs done after Hurricane Charley and pointed out two olive trees which were trimmed way back not long before the storm.

“Who knows where they would have ended up or what damage that huge tree would have done. Unfortunately, we did lose the best mango tree on the island; it and its two companions are no more.”

While sorry to see the damage, Father Carosella pointed out that the leaves on the hibiscus were coming back fast, a sign that eventually, everything will come back, and the island paradise will be restored again.

Ascension Parish and monastery clean-up begins

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.

More stories from Hurricane Ian

Making progress

Just a few days after the Myakka River receded from record flooding, work crews were at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice doing mitigation in each of the buildings. By Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, just days after the waters receded enough to allow access to the property, crews had emptied the contents of each of the Villas and were working on removing the flooring in the St. Joseph Chapel.

During the river flooding after Hurricane Ian, at least 18 inches or more of river water entered each building. Because the waters remained high for more than a week after the buildings were breeched, more damage occurred. In fact, the cleanup crews were forced to cut about four feet of dry wall in the Chapel as the water had made the bottom parts unsalvageable.

While OLPH is closed for repairs, some of the activities and retreats have been moved to new locations. For a complete list and more updates, please visit www.olph-retreat.org.

Cross straightened

The cross on the roof of St. Cecilia Parish church in Fort Myers was knocked askew and left dangling by the fierce winds of Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022. On Oct. 14, a large cherry-picker lifted workers up to straighten the cross and make it stand tall once again. The church property had other minor damage, but the restoration of the cross was a symbol of progress toward a full recovery not only for the Parish but for the entire Fort Myers community which suffered great losses during the hurricane.

 

Roof sealed

A long strip of the high-pitched roof of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers was peeled off during Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022. This and other roof damage caused by the winds allowed water to enter into the church, causing extensive damage in the narthex, chapel and main sanctuary. Contractors for the Diocese were able to place sealing tarps over the holes in the roof by Oct. 10 which will be in place until repairs can take place preventing any further damage.

 

Pine Island Parish open for Mass

Daily Mass returned on Oct. 17, 2022, to Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Parish in Bokeelia, Pine Island, an area hard hit by Hurricane Ian. Mass is being celebrated although there is still no power, internet or phones at the church. Daily Mass is at 8:30 a.m., and the weekend schedule (4 p.m. Saturday, and 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday) remains the same. The buildings on the property suffered damage, with major water into the Parish Hall and some into the church. Many trees were knocked down and there was water intrusion in the church and Parish Hall, but otherwise the church had no damage from storm surge which impacted the southern section of the island. Parish staff is posting updates as needed, please visit http://www.miraculousmedalch.org/.

Knights feed 1,000

Members of the Knights of Columbus from multiple Councils converged on Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, to host a cookout for the Fort Myers community which was hard hit by Hurricane Ian. Many parishioners lost homes while others lost work. The Knights grilled up more than 1,000 hamburgers and hot dogs so everyone had a hearty meal. Whatever food that was leftover was sent home with the parishioners.

The Knights were primarily from Collier County, including from Parishes such as Ave Maria, St. William, St. Agnes, St. John the Evangelist and St. Elizabeth Seton as well as others representing the Knights Florida State Council. Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblates of St. Frances de Sales, said the food was greatly appreciated by the many families at this Spanish-speaking Parish. Many were hit doubly hard by the storm with home damage and those in the service industry being thrown out of work for an unknown length of time.

Community rallies after Ian brings winds then flooding

DeSoto County took a double hit from Hurricane Ian. First, the hurricane brought battering winds that tore roofs off and caused a great deal of damage causing many to lose their homes and business. Then, two days later, the Peace River, normally a tranquil strip of water that meanders through the heart of the county, overspilled its banks and kept rising to an all-time record crest. The flood waters rose so fast that many fled with what was on their back.

St. Paul Parish in Arcadia was not immune to the wind damage, suffering losses of the offices, classrooms and hall and leaks in the church. “Blessed be God we are alive!” said Father Luis Pacheco, St. Paul Administrator. “Despite the devastation that we all have encountered with Hurricane Ian, some more than others, we have a lot to be grateful for. It could have been much worse.”

St. Paul has become the epicenter of the recovery effort for the region with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., setting up a Disaster Response site to give out, food, water, tarps, blankets, and cleaning supplies. Many other organizations have rallied at the property to offer clothing, bedding, diapers, medical check-ups and free hot meals. Among the supporting organizations were several from Diocesan Parishes, such as the Emmaus group from St. Joseph the Worker Parish in LaBelle, or a team from Our Lady of Grace in Avon Park, seminarians from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, and many more.

“We will continue to strive and come out stronger,” Father Pacheco said. “I hope this hurricane has centered us and given us a new perspective in life. It is all about our relationship with God and with one another.”

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