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Rebuilding delayed for Wyandanch church hit by arson

When a large part of the poorest Catholic parish on Long Island was destroyed nearly two years ago in an act of arson, church leaders figured the complex in Wyandanch would be rebuilt and functioning by now.

Instead, they have not even broken ground.

Zoning requirements, bureaucracy and inadequate fundraising have combined to delay the rebuilding project at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church.

"It's frustrating, to say the least," said the head of the parish's outreach program, Noelle Campbell. Clients are "still saying to us, 'Where's your building?' "

Campbell and her team of workers are operating out of two temporary trailers in the church parking lot. The trailers are so cramped it is difficult to keep clients' conversations with staff members private when they come in for help with needs that include clothes, housing, electricity bills and medical referrals.

There are no bathrooms in the trailers, so in the winter workers don their coats, walk outside and head to the parish offices.

The parish's dream is to construct a permanent building to house the Gerald J. Ryan Outreach Center. That will cost about $1.5 million, said the Rev. Bill Brisotti, the church's pastor. So far, the parish - aided by a sizable contribution from the Diocese of Rockville Centre - has raised more than $750,000, some of it in pledges.

"All these numbers are kind of staggering," said Bob Magee, a parishioner who is heading the rebuilding project.

Meanwhile, it takes money just to keep the temporary operation functioning, Campbell said. One month's utility bill, for instance, was about $1,600.

Part of the problem with fundraising for the rebuilding, Brisotti said, is that Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal has one of the poorest populations in the diocese, who at the same time have some of the greatest needs. "The place of highest need is going to have the least resources, by definition," he said.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre is financially assisting the rebuilding effort, and is also helping to design a fundraising campaign, said diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan.

"This is an outstanding example of how we are one Church on Long Island," Dolan said. "The diocese sees the value of this center and how it carries out the gospel message."

While insurance will cover much of the cost of rebuilding the parish's damaged rectory, it will cover little of the costs of rebuilding the outreach center, since it was being run out of donated trailers and an old converted garage, Brisotti said.

Zoning laws and bureaucracy have also played a role in the delays - clarifying whether the outreach center should be classified as an office or a residence, for instance, and how big a septic system it will need, Magee said. He added that final approval should be soon.

The fire on Dec. 30, 2007 - started by a local man who later was convicted - destroyed the outreach operation and damaged the church and the rectory. The church has been repaired, but the rectory remains uninhabitable. Green tarps meant to be temporary still cover the charred roof.

For most of the time since the fire, Brisotti has been living in a small, nearby house the parish owns. It's been broken into twice since he moved in.

He remains optimistic the rebuilding project will take place, even if much later than he hoped. "We have to ask people to join us in this," he said. "It's an effort of a big heart and dramatic needs."

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