Hurricane Ida swept into St. Vito-Most Holy Trinity parish in Mamaroneck last month and unleashed a torrent on the church—rendering it unusable at this time—and numerous homes in the community. But what it didn’t take, according to the pastor, is the prevalent virtue of hope of the faithful there.
“This is where the virtue of hope comes in,” Father Joseph P. Tierney told CNY in a phone interview Oct. 4. “We talk about love and we talk about faith a lot—and this is faith and hope at work—but hope is that we are here. We are going to be here to help you, that there is a tomorrow and the tomorrow is going to be better than yesterday was.
“And God willing, through the help of others and through the help of the community of our parish, we will help our parishioners get back on their feet and get back to some sense of normalcy.”
The deluge by Hurricane Ida at St. Vito-Most Holy Trinity Church Sept. 1 has resulted in the celebration of weekend Masses at St. Gregory the Great Church in nearby Harrison for an undetermined period of time. Father Tierney also serves as pastor there. Daily Mass resumed Sept. 13 in the parish chapel of St. Vito-Most Holy Trinity.
“Our church is now gutted,” said Father Tierney of St. Vito-Most Holy Trinity. “The pews had to be removed. There was over 7 feet of water in the church so it covered up and over the altar.”
A contractor is due to come onsite to restore the walls, the pastor explained, because the walls along the church had to be cut after being infiltrated with water. The area under the altar will also be inspected, including for mold. “The altar is three steps higher” than where the congregation assembled, he said.
Confessionals in the back of the church as well as the organ and sound system were also affected.
Damage in the sacristy was also significant. “Thankfully, my associate and some people who were at the church that evening just before the flood were able to get the (clerical) vestments out of the sacristy,” Father Tierney said. However, neither the altar server vestments nor the choir robes were able to be retrieved.
Although the chalices and the monstrance were also unable to be retrieved before the flood, the pastor is grateful to women in the parish who “were able to polish up and make new all of the chalices and ciboria and patens, and the monstrance itself. All of that was saved afterward.”
Father Tierney’s sadness about a number of liturgical losses was apparent. “Who knew where the water’s going to come? Books that were in cabinets, books that we use for Mass—lectionary, sacramentary, the Spanish, the English—all soaked, all just have to be discarded.”
“There is a lot of work that still has to be done in the church,” Father Tierney said.
He acknowledged his appreciation “first and foremost” for all that the archdiocese has done. “We’re moving ahead.”
Additionally, there was “over 9 feet of water in the school building, in the gymnasium,” Father Tierney said. “That has been dried out, but we have to see what the effects of the water damage to the floor of the gym will be like. That just will take some time.”
That building, he said, is ordinarily rented to a French-American school. “They had to disperse their students to other French-American schools in our area, for the time being, before we can get them back in the building.”
A silver lining is the outreach to and by the people “who were so terribly affected by this,” Father Tierney said, specifically those whose homes and apartments were under water, and cars lost.
The first three weekends after the flood the parish held a community barbecue on Sunday in its parking lot. Cardinal Dolan came Sept. 12 to view the damage and devastation of the church and to comfort and encourage the people.
The day after the flood, the parish delivered food to the local neighbors, parishioners and non-parishioners, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, Father Tierney said. “They were just so grateful for our outreach and other churches’ outreach.”
St. Vito-Most Holy Trinity, namely Joseph Comblo, the parish business manager and a number of volunteers, continue to travel the neighborhood to distribute food that has been cooked by parishioners or donated by area establishments.
Father Tierney cited as an example the generosity of neighboring Winged Foot Golf Club, which did “a magnificent job in donating food and clothing and gift cards; an extraordinary amount of money was donated” by them. He credited the club’s general manager, Colin Burns, who “spearheaded all of this for us and got the members knowing about what the devastation was.”
He also acknowledged aid given by the Knights of Columbus both of Mamaroneck and Harrison, and the Columbiettes, as well as by the Knights of New York State, the last of which “dropped off a 26-foot truck of clothing, food and water to us two weeks ago,” along with a check of “a sizable amount” to benefit those in need.
The people of St. Gregory the Great, who have also been affected by the flood, have also stepped up to help St. Vito-Most Holy Trinity in the outreach. So has Resurrection parish in Rye, whose pastor is Msgr. Donald Dwyer. The day CNY spoke with Father Tierney, Resurrection had just donated 40 backpacks stocked with school supplies for children, with “40 more ready to be picked up tomorrow.”
In addition to feeding affected parishioners and others in the community in need, St. Vito-Most Holy Trinity is concentrating on the cooler weather that is approaching and outfitting children of all ages with suitable warm clothing for fall and winter. “A lot of them have lost everything that they possessed and owned” through the flood “and they don’t have insurance,” Father Tierney said.
The parish community has been ramping up the outreach. “Our parishioners and friends of St. Vito’s-Most Holy Trinity have donated thousands of dollars to help us to do this by the gift cards, cards to local supermarkets” and more.
“We’ve been blessed with the amount of donations we’ve been given,” the pastor said, “to help these people get through these days and particularly the nights, because a lot of them still don’t have electricity, some of them have been displaced from their homes.”
The bottom line, Father Tierney said, is about love of God and love of neighbor.
Auxiliary Bishop Edmund Whalen will serve as principal celebrant at an outdoor vigil Mass Saturday, Oct. 16, at 4 p.m. in the parish parking lot of St. Vito-Most Holy Trinity. Father Tierney and Father Absalom Fernandez, parochial vicar, will concelebrate.