After the Storm, Church Offers Support, Solace to Parishioners


Catholics and Church agencies in the archdiocese came to the rescue, with $3 million and counting, for those adversely affected by Hurricane Sandy as they solemnly buried the dead, aided the injured, cleared debris and prayed for their displaced and distressed brothers and sisters.

Contributions from a second collection taken up in parishes of the archdiocese following the Oct. 29 storm, along with funds designated from the Cardinal’s Appeal, garnered approximately $2 million. Additionally, the board of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation pledged $1 million in immediate aid to hurricane victims.

The Staten Island Catholic Schools Office has established an account to accept monetary donations for tuition assistance for storm-afflicted families who wish to keep their children in a Catholic school while also attending to their material needs of lodging, clothing and food in the storm’s aftermath. See page 18 for how to contribute.

Cardinal Dolan said the message of Jesus, “Be not afraid,” was proclaimed throughout the storm and now, “as not even the winds and the waves can destroy our hope in Him.”

The cardinal’s remarks, and an update on the archdiocese’s response to date, appeared in a Nov. 13 post on his blog, “The Gospel in the Digital Age.”

“In all of this, the Church has been a leader, a partner, a servant, a refuge,” the cardinal continued.

“Catholic Charities of the archdiocese has been on the front lines, providing not only relief, but coordination of aid, helping as well to renew the spirit by providing counselors for those hit hard by loss,” he said.

“Our parishes, particularly on Staten Island, became sanctuaries of welcome and assistance,” the cardinal added.

Among those parishes is Our Lady Help of Christians in the borough’s Tottenville section. On Nov. 12, the parish buried two of its own, George Dresch and his 13-year-old daughter, Angela.

Patricia Dresch, George’s wife and Angela’s mother, who is a parish catechist and a secretary to the coordinator of religious education, attended the funeral as she continues to recover from injuries received in the storm that washed away her home, husband and youngest of two children.

The Dresch family, whose grown daughter lives in Tennessee, made the difficult decision to remain in their Tottenville home on Staten Island during Hurricane Sandy because their house was robbed when they fled Hurricane Irene last year.

“People have come out of the woodwork to help this family in need,” said Father D. Francis Dias, pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians. “They have been supportive with financial aid, material aid, moral support. I see them all the time around her.”

The Dresch family, Father Dias said, was renowned for its involvement in the affairs of the parish: the parish feast, the Christmas pageant and the Good Friday play, just to name a few.

Cardinal Dolan visited Mrs. Dresch at Staten Island University Hospital South. He had also made a pastoral visit to the school gymnasium at Our Lady Help of Christians where parishioners were sorting clothes and preparing food for hurricane victims.

To those who have difficulty reconciling such sudden deaths, Father Dias directs them to the dignified demeanor of the Blessed Mother when her son Jesus was crucified. “Jesus said, ‘Take up your cross and follow me.’ Here, we question God but still, in faith, we go back to Him and say, ‘Let your will be done.’ We cannot argue with God; we can only submit to His will,” the pastor said.

The selflessness of hurricane survivors also serves as a reminder of what Jesus expects of his followers, “to share what you have, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and to grieve with those who grieve,” Father Dias said.

According to the Office of the Governor of New York, Hurricane Sandy has claimed 51 lives in the state of New York. Forty-three of the fatalities were in New York City.

From Staten Island to the vicariate of South Manhattan, the swath of the Hurricane Sandy was wide.

Roofs on at least two churches were damaged in lower Manhattan, according to Msgr. Kevin J. Nelan, regional vicar of South Manhattan who is also pastor of Immaculate Conception parish.

The two churches are Immaculate Conception on East 14th Street and St. Joseph’s on Monroe Street. Additionally, one of the domes of St. Joseph’s was broken, the vicar said.

The cafeteria at St. James-St. Joseph’s School sustained severe water damage. At Immaculate Conception School, about eight inches of water collected in the cafeteria.

Many of the churches in lower Manhattan had flooded basements, Msgr. Nelan said.

Despite the darkness of stairways and streets from the power outage, Msgr. Nelan was not aware of any fatalities or serious injuries. Cars owned by many lower Manhattan residents also flooded.

“Basically, it became like we were living in a cave for five days,” he said. “We had to walk to 39th Street to get food or transportation because the buses were just too jam-packed.

“It could have been far worse,” Msgr. Nelan said.

“It’s a great challenge, how we respond to natural disasters” and “a great opportunity for Christians to come forward with Christian virtue, and I think they did,” the vicar added.

“Certainly, neighbors have been helping neighbors, making sure that water got to the elderly people” where needed, often by young people carrying it by the gallon.

Cardinal Dolan, in his blog post, also commended the Catholic schools for their stalwart recovery efforts. “Our schools and programs rose up and were back in service in remarkable time.”

Among them was Guardian Angel School in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, which sustained significant damage after approximately 13 feet of floodwater swelled its basement, which housed the pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and Title I classrooms as well as the boiler, meeting, maintenance and storage rooms, auditorium, gymnasium, cafeteria and candy store. Despite the destruction, the school reopened Nov. 5.

In addition to Guardian Angel School, the hurricane particularly impacted the archdiocese’s 24 Staten Island elementary schools as well as, to varying degrees, its seven high schools, faculty, staff and families on the island.

Dr. Timothy McNifff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, acknowledged his appreciation to those from across the country who have stepped forward to help the elementary and highs schools harmed by the hurricane.

“The Catholic school community in the Archdiocese of New York has been blessed to receive offers of assistance from around the nation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy,” he said in a recent letter. “The outpouring of prayers and support bolsters our spirit incredibly during this trying time.”