Come rain or come shine, parishes weather the seasons

“The last time we opened this lectionary, it was the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Times,” announced Father Jaromir Michalak, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Clayton, at this weekend’s liturgy.

In this past June’s sweltering heat wave, the church’s air conditioning system died. After a couple of heat-related health incidents, the doors were closed and parishioners were invited to worship at Nativity Parish, Franklinville. This weekend’s re-opening of St. Catherine’s Church was a welcomed event, and gratitude was expressed for the dedication and perseverance of the team who oversaw the installation of a new air conditioning and heating system.

Across the Diocese of Camden, the past 12 months have not been ordinary times. The extreme weather conditions have tested faith as parish resources and resourcefulness are stretched to undo the damage from felled trees, flooded basements, and heavy snows.

At St. Catherine’s, it wasn’t just the heat of summer. Spring brought flooded basements in the church and rectory. Winter dumped snow; removing it added another expense.

June was a tough month for Assumption Parish, Atco. Father Tom Barcellona, pastor, said that, even though the destructive winds that tore through the parish grounds were not declared a tornado by the National Weather Service, the damage was staggering. He counted 47 downed trees and a light pole that crashed down on a statue of St. Joseph. Fortunately, no buildings suffered structural damage from that storm. Still, the cost of tree removal was a huge expense, adding to the burden of extra fees for snow removal and high utilities.

There was structural damage during that same storm when a tree toppled on a parish building at St. Rose of Lima, Newfield. The house, formerly the convent, was set up for use by Notre Dame Regional School’s Pre-Kindergarten classes. In the storm, the chimney was knocked off its base and a dormer and part of the roof were damaged, explained school principal Mary Alimenti. The three-year olds will now be attending classes in the main building of Notre Dame’s Newfield campus.

Cumberland County was caught in the grips of that summer storm as well. Father Bill Pierce, pastor of St. John Bosco, Millville, agreed that it was rough going with high winds and an extended power outage. This hit after the weekend’s schedule of Masses. But the timing wasn’t so lucky during winter snowstorms. St. John Bosco Parish, like many other parishes through the diocese, adjusted Mass schedules and parish activities, encouraging people to stay home and stay safe until roads and parking lots were cleared.

From Our Lady Star of the Sea, Cape May, to Our Lady Queen of Peace, Williamstown, there were a few handfuls of people at the weekend’s liturgies during the thick of the snowstorms. And there were teams of dedicated volunteers that showed up to shovel sidewalks and keep paths ice-free. It was a long winter, said Ron Fralick, plant manager at St. Mary Magdalen, Millville, as he recalled shoveling mounds of heavy snow from the flat roof of the church sacristy. “But we were lucky,” he said, explaining that this year’s weather damage was minimal at the Cumberland County parish and school.

Father Pierce said that he witnessed real generosity as parishioners pitched in to keep the grounds cleared and safe. But the real hurdle comes in recouping the money that usually comes in the weekly collection. “Many parishioners did come in the next weekend with their missed envelope offerings,” said Father Pierce. “But that usually amounts to less than half of the normal collection.”

As in many parishes, that becomes a real burden to the budget. Especially during the wild weather conditions that blew over the Camden Diocese this year.

Father Pierce illustrated the point: in the heat waves of this summer, one recent electric bill to St. John Bosco was a thousand dollars more than a bill from last summer.

Many parishes have had to add second collections or other fundraisers to help offset the costs of this year’s extreme weather conditions.

But that hasn’t seemed to dampen the spirit of the faithful throughout the diocese. “I cannot tell you how generous our families have been,” said Alimenti. She said that, thanks to volunteers, damaged gutters were repaired. Aluminum car ports were set up in the pre-school play yards. Pool umbrellas provided shade for summer camp activities. “I can’t tell you how much money, time and labor has been donated,” Alimenti said.

These kinds of stories might not show up on AccuWeather, but they certainly help parish and school communities weather the storms.

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