Coming back to a church that was relatively intact after Hurricane Ian has left Father Jerome Carosella a happy man.
“The church, thank God, is fine, except for the roof,” said Fr. Jerome Carosella philosphically. “It is a happy outcome.” That roof exception is a pretty big one, according to most people’s standards, and would not be considered happy, but Fr. Carosella operates on a heavenly standard.
It turns out the church had a new roof installed after Hurricane Charlie and it was put on over the existing shingles. Those old shingles held through Hurricane Ian, and protected the church from severe damage. “So old is good!” Father declared.
No water got into the church, he reported, although the wooden doors and other wood in the church is swollen from the dampness, and is in the process of drying out.
“This church is a treasure,” he said. “as all churches are, but this church is unique, not only on this Island. It is special.”
Fr. Carosella stayed on the Island during Hurricane Charlie, but he gave in to everyone’s urging – including a deputy Sheriff – to leave before the storm hit. He took the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated Communion hosts, to St. Francis of Assisi church in Grove City, near Rotonda, for safekeeping. Then he went to stay with parishioner-friends in South Gulf Cove.
Father claimed Ian “outstayed his welcome, but, like many people, he was reluctant to go. Everyone loves Boca Grande, and Ian, like others, did not want to leave!”
The rectory, where Father lives, also serves as the church office. The roof of this building was damaged, as well. The house is livable, however, so he has returned home and has been saying Mass since the weekend after the storm. He said there are only about a dozen people coming so far, but he expects more to be returning soon. He usually has about 30 people at each of his three weekend Masses at his time of year.
He noted that he said a special prayer for the couple who were supposed to be married at Our Lady of Mercy the Saturday after the storm. He hoped they would be able to come back and still have the wedding on the Island, since they were so happy about doing it in Boca Grande. “Another reason I hope they can come back,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “is because I already wrote my homily for the wedding, and I never like to waste a good homily!”
He is also offering special prayers for those who were injured or suffered great losses, and added that he is also praying for those who have gone out of their way to help others. He recounted that a stranger came to his door on Friday morning, shortly after he had returned from South Gulf Cove. As he opened his door he asked what he could do for the man, expecting that he was in need of food or shelter. To his surprise, the man said, “I have come to do something for you.”
The man had gone to the fire station to see if there were people in need of help. He was asked if he were Catholic, and the man said he was. So the deputy sent him to Fr. Carosella. The man, Gary, helped him by putting a tarp on the roof, cleaned up branches strewn throughout the property, brought food, and more. Gary is from St. Petersburg, and returned again Saturday and Sunday, attending Mass and then getting back to work around the property.
“He was a stranger who became a friend,” Father said, adding that “these are moments of special grace – moments of great devastation, but also of great joy.”
Fr. Carosella has a picture on his wall of the church under a beautiful double rainbow that perfectly sits like a heavenly umbrella over the old building and its surroundings. He says the picture helps him remember that rainbows can come out in so many different ways in our lives. Then he quoted from Genesis, chapter 9: This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth … this is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and every mortal being that is on earth.”