Storm Cancelled Many Masses – Local Parishioners Hunkered Down as Storm Unleashed Its Power

by Marie Elena Giossi and Antonina Zielinska

The wicked winds of Tropical Storm Irene took down this tree on a Bay Ridge street.

Downed branches and trees, extensive flooding and scattered power outages were seemingly the worst effects of Hurricane Irene in the Roxbury, Breezy Point and Rockaway communities on Monday morning.

“We weathered it all very well.  All three churches were spared damages of any kind,” said Msgr. Michael Curran, pastor of Blessed Trinity parish, which includes St. Thomas More, St. Edmund and St. Genevieve churches. However, on Monday morning, there was no power at St. Edmund’s Church.

As the storm approached, the parish churches fell within the city’s mandatory evacuation zones and Msgr. Curran said that most people did leave the area. Some, like the parish secretary, sought refuge at McManus Funeral Home, which opened its doors to the community. Msgr. Curran and the other parish priests, namely Father Michael Gribbon, Father Francis Obu-Mends, CSSp, and Father John Cullinane, were invited to ride out the storm at McManus’ and also at St. Kevin’s parish, Flushing, but they decided to stay in the rectory just in case parishioners needed them.

They only sustained about a 10-minute power outage in St. Thomas More rectory and the priests were grateful to be there to answer parishioners’ telephone calls about mass schedules and not having to fulfill their Sunday obligation.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio earlier had suspended the Sunday Mass obligations for those in the evacuation zones.

“We had a grand total of 10 people for Sunday Masses,” Msgr. Curran said.  Three were in attendance for 11:30 a.m. Mass and seven were present for 7 p.m. Mass, both held in St. Thomas More Church.

Msgr. Curran expected a difficult week ahead for local residents but he was hopeful.

“A lot of our people are bailing out from floods with trees down and power outages. It’s going to be a trying few days as people figure things out but it’s a community where everyone helps everyone,” he said.

And as people return to their homes, he hopes that whomever left their Harley Davidson motorcycle on the church grounds Saturday afternoon would kindly come and retrieve it.

In Sheepshead Bay

Father Joseph Grimaldi, pastor of St. Mark’s parish, Sheepshead Bay, which includes St. Margaret Mary Church, Manhattan Beach, reports that both worship sites, which fell into hurricane evacuation Zone B, made it through the storm very well.

Except for some ripped mesh on the scaffolding surrounding the tower, which is undergoing renovations, there were “no problems,” he said.

Rockaway Park

“We closed completely and cancelled all of the weekend Masses,” said Father Richard Ahlemeyer, pastor of St. Camillus-St. Virgilius parish, which has worship sites in Rockaway Park and Broad Channel. He was grateful to Bishop DiMarzio for lifting the Sunday obligation though many parishioners were away, having evacuated to higher ground.

“It could have been worse,” he said, noting that there was some flooding in St. Camillus’ basement “where we always get flooded in heavy rain storms.”

He chose not to evacuate and said the neighborhood “was eerie because it was so quiet” Saturday night when the only cars on the street were police patrols.

On Sunday morning, flooding and power outages were the biggest concerns around Broad Channel. One home on 15th Rd. had as much as 20 inches of water in the basement. “There are a lot of people pumping water out. Property can always be replaced. Thank God no lives were lost,” he said.

As he drove around after the storm, he noticed the boardwalk on Shore Front Pkwy. literally split in half and there was noticeable beach erosion. Along Cross Bay Blvd., there was scattered debris that washed up, including a jet ski, which he said had been removed by Monday morning.

“The mayor did a good job and our first responders did a good job. I hope the next time people realize this wasn’t a case of crying wolf. We were prepared more than we had to be and it’s always better to be prepared,” he said.

Long Island City

“We had some water damage at St. Margaret Mary,” said Msgr. Sean Ogle, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Astoria, which includes St. Margaret Mary Church, Long Island City.

Water flooded the classrooms used by a Head Start program on the top floor as well as the church hall and chapel.  Msgr. Ogle discovered the damage on Sunday morning when he arrived to setup for 10:15 a.m. Mass, which he subsequently cancelled. He’s grateful to his hard-working custodians and the contractor who came in to start cleaning the building on Sunday. Diocesan insurance representatives were assessing the damages on Monday.

This steeple atop St. Augustine’s Church, Park Slope, was seen swaying in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

“It’s a little discouraging because we’ve been working to upgrade the building. We have to work hard to get this ready for the little children next week,” he said.

Prior to the storm, Msgr. Ogle had cancelled Masses in the lower church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which occasionally gets flooded.  Sandbags were placed around doorways to prevent water seepage. Mass attendance, he added, was larger than normal both Saturday night in anticipation of the hurricare and on Sunday evening once it had passed.

Rockaway Beach

At St. Rose of Lima, Rockaway Beach, Msgr. James F. Spengler, pastor, said he cancelled all weekend Masses after Bishop DiMarzio’s statement.  He was able to reenter the church on Sunday evening and found no damage to the building. The next morning, the regular schedule resumed with 8:30 a.m. Mass.  “It was a normal Monday morning,” the pastor said.

Msgr. Spengler said it was the first time, as far as he can ascertain, that St. Rose’s Church was closed down.

Far Rockaway

At St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Gertude parish, Far Rockway, Carmen Macfie, a part-time employee, was answering phones on Monday morning.

She said there was no major damage to the church building.   Weekend Masses had been cancelled but the regular schedule resumed on Monday morning, with 8 a.m. Mass.

Park Slope

St. Augustine Church, Park Slope, was closed on Sunday afternoon.  Residents of the neighborhood noticed the green steeple which sits atop the middle of the church was swaying in the harsh winds and called 911.

As a safety measure, firefighters at the scene closed off the streets surrounding the church. The Office of Emergency Management, the city Dept. of Buildings, the N.Y.P.D., F.D.N.Y. and diocesan buildings managers were working together to determine if the tower can be secured or if it needs to be removed. Father Thomas Ahern, pastor, said he is waiting for the recommendation of structural engineers.

“Thank goodness it didn’t fall,” he said. “It looks stable now and it looks like nothing is wrong, but it’s just too treacherous. Another wind storm and that could be it.”

Father Charles Keeney, who resides in the parish rectory, said no one was hurt and at least one business across the street from the church opened its doors on Monday morning.