It is still not hard to witness and experience the immense devastation that Hurricane Irma brought to Saint John the Evangelist just about one year ago. We sit in the Ballroom, able to see the repairs and renewal, but we witness the damage of our church building both when we enter and leave our campus. The massive construction projects we have been executing for the past year span the 14 acres of Saint John were planned to be completed over the next three years once the Life Center was open. Unfortunately, God had a different design. I want to thank each and every member of our Parish Family, as well as countless members of the community for your constant and consistent support and encouragement. We have been working non-stop to repair, renew, and revive our church, and we still have a significant amount of effort to go. Your flexibility, patience (especially in the parking lots), and support is tremendously appreciated, and your continued prayers are essential.
There are a few stories from our Parish’s experience through this storm that I thought might interest you. Did you know that Father Bob was the champion of St. John during the storm? Not only did he serve the final Mass on Saturday, September 9, at 5:00 PM, with about a dozen people in attendance, he took our Blessed Sacrament home and protected it through the entire storm. He returned it to us for the first Mass back, when the campus was finally safe for the public, held in what is now called Alexandria (by the intrepid Father Paul). We were one of the first churches back to Masses that Thursday, September 14, even given the sheer volume of damage we had incurred.
Irma’s eye barreled down directly over the cross above our church. The skylight cracked. The roof tiles flew off as projectiles and plywood bent back as our buildings swayed under the power of that huge storm. Those tiles were rocketed off the building so fast, they were imbedded in the Air Conditioning units for the church building like bullets from a gun. The cross that used to sit on the top of our bell tower was so loose after the wind ended, there was only a single bolt still holding it in upright. Water seeped into the organ pit. Every square inch of our campus was damaged in some way, but we are blessed that no individual was hurt or killed. One of the large trees in our Memorial Garden lost a branch, and it buried itself seven feet down in one of the plot areas. By a miracle, it did not even scratch a single headstone or urn. This was the first part of our campus we focused our clean-up effort on, respecting every family and person who rests eternally here with us.
This colossal destruction of our buildings and grounds did nothing to dampen the spirit of our Parish Family to serve the community. We mobilized the largest food, diaper, clothing, water, and sundry donation drive in our history, with over 45 truckloads of material, along with numerous vans and pick-ups, and distributed it to Immokalee, Golden Gate, East Naples, and right here in Naples Park. The Knights of Columbus in particular heeded the call of the church, with weeks of support and dozens of volunteers each day gathering, sorting and sending out the vital items to the community. Bill Warvel even celebrated his birthday by moving cases of water. We even distributed Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s) to the families of Naples Park Elementary when school was back in session. My wife, Donna, became known as the Diaper Lady, with her daily runs to St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, where FEMA had set up a distribution node. There are so many other stories of support, encouragement, and selfless service that come from our Parish Family. Thank you all for what you have done to live our faith even during this trying time.
So, now we are ready to face Year 2 of Recovery from Hurricane Irma. There is some exciting news I am looking forward to sharing with you next week, showcasing the renewal of our campus that will serve us for decades to come. Stay Tuned!