Long Beach's St. Mary of the Isle church reopens after Sandy flooding
Nearly 10 months after superstorm Sandy, a Catholic church in Long Beach that suffered extensive flood damage has been repaired, rededicated and reopened.
St. Mary of the Isle celebrated its rebirth with a Mass Thursday night attended by a standing-room-only crowd, including leaders of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
"It's beautiful, it's open, it's airy," said a longtime parishioner, Joan Edelman of Long Beach.
The ceremony was led by a former St. Mary pastor, the Most Rev. Robert Brennan, now auxiliary bishop of the diocese.
The Rev. Brian Barr, who became pastor of the church just two weeks before the Oct. 29 storm battered the coastal city, was officially installed by Brennan.
Brennan reconsecrated St. Mary, a blessing necessitated by the extensive renovation.
While the exterior of the 88-year-old church on East Walnut Street looks the same, much of the interior suffered major damage in the storm, which sent 11/2 feet of floodwater into the sanctuary. Floors, walls, carpets, pews and the altar all needed to be replaced or repaired.
The project enabled the diocese to discard less attractive 1970s-era renovations in favor of a more traditional appearance modeled after the original Lombard Romanesque design.
Along with new lighting, more resilient materials were used in the construction, which officials said should help St. Mary better withstand future storms.
Despite the extensive damage, services were still held, using the neighboring parish hall. The 2,500-member congregation continued to offer hot meals and other assistance to people in need in the weeks and months after Sandy.
Parishioner Frank McQuade said the reopening is another sign of Long Beach's slow rebound.
"We always believe God is where the people are," he said. "There's nothing like having your own home to come back to."
"It's a place we always came to adore God. It means everything to us," said Ligia Ospina, who has attended services at the church for two decades.
Gloria Febrizio, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said the church also has a food pantry and provides clothing and furniture to the needy.
Barr has said that one of his goals is to bolster youth groups, improving the church's ties to the families it serves.
Insurance and the diocese's capital fund paid for many of the repairs, said Brennan, although federal reimbursement through FEMA is being sought.
No cost estimate for the repairs was available Thursday.
Barr said the experience served as a life lesson.
"It's a reminder to people that dark days are a part of life," he said. "If you go through those days with faith, you realize you are not alone and those dark days will brighten again."