WOODSIDE — Three years ago, St. Mary’s of Winfield Parish had the entire church painted, including the arch above the altar inscribed with the verse, “Behold, I make all things new.”
For these parishioners, that verse from Revelation 21:5 now has greater meaning than a fresh coat of paint. Nearly a year ago, Hurricane Ida swamped the “lower church” with sewage-laced flood water.
But Father Christopher O’Connor, the pastor, recalled on Monday, Aug. 22 how the stench was awful that day, but that he felt a different sensation when he first saw the destruction to the new adoration chapel along with a classroom used for faith formation classes.
“It was more heartbreak than anything else,” he said.
Grief turned to joy Monday evening when Bishop Robert Brennan joined the parish in the rededication of the lower church, which has been remade into a conference center. The celebration capped a year-long struggle to reverse the damage wrought by 10 feet of floodwater.
Bishop Brennan blessed the conference space, classroom and adoration chapel. Then he led a procession into the main church for a Memorial Mass honoring the Queenship of Mary. As he did, the words above the altar grabbed his attention.
“It’s funny,” he said during the homily. “Those words — they’d been on my mind. I didn’t remember they were here. But I was thinking about this today as I was preparing. We shout out with Jesus, ‘Behold, I make all things new!’
“We’re not destroyed by a storm, by a flood. Oh, yeah, it can knock us off our feet a little while. But we make all things new in Christ Jesus. And tonight, we celebrate His presence among us.”
Hurricane Ida was a Category-4 hurricane that killed 107 people as it tore its way north skirting the East Coast of the United States. The storm arrived Sept. 1 in New York City, claiming 18 lives, including three in Woodside.
Word soon spread that the lower church had flooded. New York City firefighters used massive pumps to draw out the water within a few hours. Removing the muddy residue would take much longer. Angel Marengo, a parish trustee, spent the next few weeks assisting the clean-up efforts.
“The clothes that we wore we had to throw away; you couldn’t salvage them,” Marengo said. “We bought some gloves to kind of protect us because, with sewage water, you could end up with hepatitis A. It’s toxic. So you have to be really careful.
“But, the Guy Upstairs — he always protects us. Because of Him, we have what we have now. A year later we are opening the chapel and the conference room. It is all due to Him,” Marengo said.
Father O’Connor described how all the walls were removed and replaced, along with all the electrical wiring, paint, and chapel furnishings. He added that the rest of the project was not without some more setbacks, but parishioners kept reminding each other about the scripture above the altar.
“It became a rallying cry,” Father O’Connor said.
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Brennan solemnly led the full congregation downstairs, where he returned the Holy Eucharist, carefully wrapped in a cloth, to the adoration chapel.
Marengo, an usher for the Mass, stood at the back as the procession passed, filling the air with clouds of fragrant incense.
He grinned and pointed to Rev. 21:5 above the altar.
“See,” Marengo said. “He makes all things new.”