Officials weren't sure when the Long Beach Catholic Regional School could reopen after the devastation of superstorm Sandy. The Diocese of Rockville Centre even considered moving the students to a vacant school in Franklin Square.
So when students ventured back Thursday morning for their second day since the storm hit Oct. 29, they got a special surprise: a visit from Bishop William Murphy.
Murphy said he came to help pump up the spirits of students and staff as mounds of discarded household items and smashed cars still lined the streets near the prekindergarten to eighth-grade school.
"You're the brave ones," Murphy told students as he greeted them in the hallways. "You faced it all."
In an interview, he added that besides the efforts of the school staff, the determined "spirit" of the children's families helped reopen the school.
"They were not going to let this thing stop them," he said.
Among those Murphy met was former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, who was dropping off his son, Alfonso, 4, a pre-K student.
"I love him," D'Amato said of the bishop. "He shows real heart to be with the people in distress."
Murphy said the diocese had considered relocating the students to the St. Catherine of Sienna School in Franklin Square if the Long Beach school was unable to reopen. St. Catherine shut in June because of declining enrollment.
But things came together at Long Beach Catholic Regional.
Located on a small hill, it did not suffer structural damage, though basement windows were blown out at a convent and St. Ignatius Martyr Roman Catholic Church. Last weekend, the electricity came back on. Fire and electrical inspections followed to clear the school to reopen.
There is one hitch: Most of the students' school uniforms kept at their homes were washed away or destroyed in the storm. So the school is allowing its 500 students to come to class in street clothes for a few days until everyone can get uniforms again.