Sacred Heart celebrates Easter

By Pauline Liu
As Easter, the holiest day on the Christian calendar approaches, Father Paul Catena of Margaretville’s Sacred Heart Parish takes stock in the dramatic changes occurring there. He estimates that Tropical Storm Irene caused about $1 million worth of damage to the parish. “We’re up to three-quarters of a million dollars (in repairs) right now,” he said. “We haven’t addressed the outside issues yet or all of the contents that were lost and need to be replaced, including books and furniture. Those bills haven’t been submitted yet.”

Fortunately, the parish is insured for the damage. The water-damaged oak pews inside the church were disassembled in January and shipped to a company that restored them, so that they look like new.  The pews were reinstalled last week, just in time for Palm Sunday. Their impact was immediate. “I think people are going to be energized,” he said. “Just the (return of the) pews themselves have given people a shot in the arm. What are they going to say when it’s all fixed up? That will be nice to see.”

Here a short time
Fr. Catena had been with the parish for only a year and a half, when Tropical Storm Irene hit last August. He was in the middle of preparing for a Sunday morning mass. It didn’t take long before he realized that the church was flooding. He described how he hurried back and forth across Academy Street in an effort to rescue as many things as he could from the flooded parish hall, rectory and church. Fr. Catena explained that he stopped, only after the flood waters on Academy Street reached his waist and a firefighter came to help him to evacuate. “I said to myself that I’ve watched the news enough to know that people who wait too long to evacuate can die and I didn’t want to die,” he said.

Among the destruction, was the stage-like platform in the front of the church, where he spoke from during mass. The floodwaters also wiped out floors, furniture and major appliances in both the parish hall and the rectory, where he lived. Fr. Catena has not been able to return home. He is temporarily living in an apartment provided by parishioners. 

Easter parallel
Fr. Catena has been able to draw an Easter parallel to what the parish endured. “Since the flood, we’ve been through a Good Friday-type of experience, a suffering and cleansing sort of experience, but the joy of Easter was always in my sights,” he said. “You can’t get to Easter without Good Friday and we’re really going to rebound well. I think a lot of good is going to come out of this. Everything is going to be relatively new. Things that were growing old are being fixed for free.”

The parish has a total of 300 families and some of them pitched in to help clean up the buildings. Last September, all masses were held at the parish’s other church, Saint Anne’s Church in Andes, while Fr. Catena and parishioners tried to save what they could.

“Since I’ve been involved with it every single day since August 28th, it’s certainly helped me grow in the virtues of patience and humility, because you can’t do it all by yourself and you have to reach out,” he said. “I don’t have a problem doing it, but it forced me to do it sooner than I was comfortable doing it. When you ask people for help, you need to know what general skill they have.”  
According to Fr. Catena, waiting for the insurance company to process the parish’s flood claim was the most difficult part of the recovery effort. “That was the worst period of all,” he said. “You’re in shock mode and survival mode. Everything was cleaned up and ready to rebuild. You wonder, how long is this going to take and you’re exhausted. That was the most stressful period of all. Our community was dispersed. We couldn’t do things as a parish because we lost our parish hall.” 

Contractors arrive
In January, the insurance company put him in touch with a contracting firm called Church Restoration Group (C.R.G.) from Pittsburgh, PA area. The eight-member contracting team, who appear to be in the 20s and 30s, have been here ever since. They’ve been staying in the area. They show up daily from Monday to Saturday to repair and renovate the church.

Once the weather warms up, the team will tackle the damage to the outside of the parish, including the front steps. Concrete was poured to temporarily repair the masonry on the front steps, but Fr. Catena said a more permanent repair will be done soon. While there’s no way to tell when all of the work will be completed, Fr. Catena said it’s his hope that the repairs will be completed by the end of June. “I don’t care how long it takes, but I want it done right and I want it done well.” he said. “I don’t want to be a construction manager for the rest of my life here.” 

Fr. Catena, who was born and raised in Amsterdam, was ordained five years ago at the age of 41. His mother named him, Paul, after Pope Paul VI, who became the first reigning pope to visit the U.S. in 1965, which was the year that Fr. Catena was born. Coincidentally, he is the youngest of six boys in his family. He said he is fond of this area, because it reminds him of where he grew up and it has the same sort of ethnic diversity.

Making plans