The Greatest Loss: Gravesend Parish Mourns Teacher Who Died as Victim of Hurricane

by Marie Elena Giossi 
Bishop DiMarzio celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for Our Lady of Grace School teacher, Nancy Sorenson.

Wife, mother and Catholic schoolteacher Nancy Sorenson, who tragically lost her life during Hurricane Sandy, was laid to rest following a funeral Mass at Our Lady of Grace Church, Gravesend, Nov. 8.

Sorenson, 50, died Oct. 30 in her Rockaway Park home when water surged into the family cellar, causing a shard of glass to fatally injure her. She is survived by her husband of 23 years, Thomas, and three children, Patricia, a senior education major at SUNY Cortland, Cortland, N.Y.; Gregory, a senior at St. Edmund Prep H.S., Sheepshead Bay; and Erika, a sophomore at Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst.

Sorenson has served as a physical education teacher in the Brooklyn Diocese since September, 2003. She taught at St. Mary Mother of Jesus, Bensonhurst; St. Rose of Lima, Parkville; Flatbush Catholic Academy, Flatbush; St. Francis Xavier, Park Slope; and Our Lady of Angels, Bay Ridge.

For the last six years, she had worked at Our Lady of Grace part-time. This fall, she was hired as a full-time physical education, art and resource room teacher.

“She was wonderful with the children,” said Joan McMaster, Our Lady of Grace principal. “They liked her very much.”

McMaster and the entire school faculty attended the funeral. Children were dismissed early and invited to attend with their parents. Many mothers put their arms around their sons and daughters as the cream-colored coffin was guided down the center aisle to the hymn, “Be Not Afraid.”

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio presided at the Mass. Concelebrants included Father Thomas Leach, pastor; Father Dominick Cutrone, pastor emeritus; Msgr. David Cassato, pastor, St. Athanasius, Bensonhurst; and Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, diocesan vicar for development.

Assisting on the altar were parish Deacon Philip Siani, Deacon Ron Rizzuto of St. Edmund’s and Deacon Jaime Varella, the bishop’s assistant.

Sister Thomasine Stagnitta, C.S.J., principal of Bishop Kearney H.S., and John Lorenzetti, principal of St. Edmund Prep H.S., were both in attendance, along with faculty members and students who were friends of the family.

“Hurricane Sandy will long be remembered in the Diocese of Brooklyn for the great human suffering it has produced,” the bishop said in his homily.

While many lost their homes and vehicles, undoubtedly, the greatest suffering was endured by those who lost their lives and loved ones, like Nancy Sorenson and her family.

“Jesus told us whoever lives in Him dies in Him and finds new life,” the bishop told the congregation. “Nancy’s life has gone back to the Lord. Her life has been transformed, not ended.”

Calling Sorenson a “great mother and teacher,” Bishop DiMarzio said, “she inspired young people to want to learn.”

Addressing the Sorenson family, he said, “Love never ends. Your love for your mother, your wife, it doesn’t end. It strengthens.”

Debbie Tasso, the late woman’s cousin, believes the family will find strength in their love for Sorenson and each other as they comprehend the reality of her death.

Tasso, who grew up with Sorenson in East Flatbush, was grateful she and another cousin visited Sorenson at her Rockaway Park home for a weekend in July. The cousins enjoyed reminiscing about their childhood and hanging out on the beach. Tasso said Sorenson shared how happy she was to be teaching at Our Lady of Grace and how excited she was to start teaching art.

Tasso heard from the family that she would stay up all hours of the night researching art because she felt children should not only learn how to draw but also the history of art. “She put 200 percent of herself into teaching,” she said.

Our Lady of Grace eighth grader Jamie Bianco and seventh grader Jessica Mercuri attended the funeral Mass with Jessica’s mom, Diane.

“She wasn’t like a teacher,” said Bianco. “She was fun. She was close to us, like a friend.”

“She was my favorite gym teacher,” shared seventh grader Gabrielle Capobianco. “She was a very nice person.”

Maryann McMahon’s son Robert, a fifth-grader, made a sympathy card for the family and wrote inside that Sorenson “was the joy of art.”

Students said Sorenson shined the brightest on the school’s annual Field Day, which she organized each spring. She’d set up games and have ices for the boys and girls. She invited parents to help her blow up water balloons so children could have fun throwing them at each other. 

“The kids really enjoyed that,” McMahon said.

“They really loved her,” Diane Mercuri added.