Some diocesan properties damaged after Ian

Oct 6, 2022
Overflow from the rising of Little Lake Fairview floods the Bishop Moore Catholic High School campus in Orlando after Hurricane Ian drops torrential rain in the early morning hours of Sept. 29, 2022. (COURTESY)

ORLANDO  |  As Little Lake Fairview rose behind Bishop Moore Catholic High School, it overflowed onto the campus, submerged the track, breached the Bishop Moore Center for Excellence, and spilled into the parking lot. The deluge caused by Hurricane Ian toppled trees, damaged roofs, knocked out electricity and soaked classrooms.

Thomas Doyle, Bishop Moore’s president, estimated Little Lake Fairview rose three to four feet. The persistent rain compounded the “unprecedented” calamity. He said staff is still assessing the damage. But in the midst of the drama, Doyle found a silver lining.

“We are so inspired by the number of people who reached out and offered to help. Current families and alumni who own businesses have offered to help in the recovery of damages,” said Doyle, who also reflected on the two years of remote and hybrid classes due to the COVID pandemic. “Our experience over the past few years has shown me the resilience of the (school) community. Our Catholic faith and trust in God’s plan are what sustains us.”

No matter the challenges faced recently and in the past few years, Doyle said he has witnessed how students want to be on campus and want to learn. Faculty and staff support one another.

“No matter what we go through we are here to achieve, learn and serve our brothers and sisters,” Doyle said, adding faith makes all the difference. “Every day is an opportunity for us to improve and move forward. As human beings, we grow and learn more from challenges. It is in the face of adversity that we are able to demonstrate our Catholic faith. Having the ability to exercise our Catholic faith through serving others and the community is a gift.”

Erika Wikstrom, Bishop Moore’s principal, is also grateful for her staff, students and parents who have offered an “outpouring of love, support and prayers from so many.” She said the current challenge is temporary. Quoting Philippians 4:13, she said she is reminded, “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”

“We will get through this with God’s help,” she added.

Across town, the peaceful campus of San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in Winter Park has stood since 1960, along the banks of Lake Howell. During Hurricane Ian, nature displayed its strength as the body of water that most often inspires peace, provides fun for canoeing campers and serenity for those on retreat, rose several feet, seeping into cabins.

Randall Pinner, San Pedro’s executive director, arrived on the scene at 6:30 a.m., Sept. 30. “I couldn’t believe the amount of water that Hurricane Ian delivered,” he said. “I have been through three hurricanes at San Pedro, and we have never experienced this level of flooding.”

Despite his astonishment he said, “The presence of God at San Pedro is palpable, and I know God has a purpose for each of San Pedro’s team members to share in the ministry of this campus. Every employee chipped in,  whether surveying buildings and property damage to grabbing a rake for cleanup.”

Staff is still waiting for the water to recede to fully assess its implications. According to Seminole County officials, it may take more than a week before the water level is back to normal.

“I know God is in our midst while we make decisions and repairs to this campus. I pray for His guidance and my awareness of His will while making these restorations,” he said.

Meanwhile, St. James Cathedral School, one of the diocese’s oldest schools at 95 years, sustained minimal damage. Jayme Hartmann, principal, arrived on campus to find less damage than expected, also mostly caused by the rising of nearby Lake Eola. Water caused power to go out, crippling the sump pump found in the basement.

“Luckily, families came to help clean up our campus and ready it for school to start on Monday (Oct. 3),” Hartmann said. “The dedication of our families and the help from them demonstrates our motto, ‘Come to Learn; Leave to Serve.’ Our motto doesn’t have a ‘but’… there is not an exception for hard days, hurricanes, or exhaustion, but there is always prayer and hope … because we do not stand alone.”

At press time, Kevin Casey, chief financial officer for the Diocese of Orlando, said approximately 50 parishes, missions and schools have reported damage and the list continues to grow. Henry Fortier, superintendent of schools who also oversees San Pedro, affirmed most schools experienced some form of damage, mostly minor leaks and debris that was cleared quickly. He said few schools experienced more serious damage, allowing them to reopen safely and quickly. His assessment of the situation did not overlook the personal strife of many who minister within the schools and retreat center.

“There are many who work within our schools who lost their homes due to flooding and wind damage, and yet they are in school serving our students while confronting their own losses,” Fortier said. “As a community of faith, we surround our brothers and sisters in prayer as we examine ways we can help those who suffered much — even the loss of life.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, October 06, 2022