How to deal with flakes

Friday 13 February 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Good Luck/Bad Luck Day

You may be surprised to know, dear readers, that there is no seminary course teaching future priests how to deal with flakes. I mean, of course, how to keep a parish church operational and parishioners safe during major snowstorms, howling blizzards, and, for that matter, hurricanes, floods and other “acts of God’ (as the insurance people call them). A pastor must learn from experience how to weather the storm. 

As a curate, my first experience of a major snowstorm occurred while my pastor was on vacation. There was such an accumulation of snow that it caused the roof of the five-year-old parish center to fail. Water from the melting snow began flooding though the ceilings into the classrooms. Water was flowing down the walls. The electric light fixtures were dripping. (This, I speculated, could not be good.) I ran around putting barrels everywhere.

I was eventually able to get through to headquarters. “Bishop, this is Tim. The pastor is away and the roof fell in!” I exclaimed. “Now Tim,” the bishop answered, “Just calm down and tell me exactly what’s going on.”

“The roof fell in,” I repeated. “Oh, Tim, don’t be so overly dramatic. Get a hold of yourself. What specifically do you mean?” 

Again I answered calmly, “The roof has fallen in.” “You can’t mean that literally,” the bishop stated incredulously. “Oh, but I do,” I assured him.

The dean arrived for an onsite inspection. He reported back to headquarters that the roof had indeed fallen in. Then the vicar general arrived to assess the dean’s observations. He reported back to headquarters that the dean was correct. The roof had fallen in. 

Then, the bishop himself arrived at my door to get a first-hand look. “Oh no, Tim,” proclaimed the bishop, “The roof has fallen in!” “Yes. Yes it has,” I answered with all due respect. 

Then there was the Blizzard of ’78. Everyone around at that time has a story. Here is mine. The snow came down so quickly and unexpectedly that I was trapped in an office in Fall River. “Big deal,” you might say, unimpressed. Well, hold on. It wasn’t just any old office. It was the office of the bishop. I had gone there to be formally sworn in as an officer of the Diocesan Tribunal. The prospect of spending three days stranded in the bishop’s office inspired me to throw caution to the wind and take my chances on the highway. I got as far as New Bedford before my car gave up the ghost. I then walked 10 miles through the howling wind and blinding snow in order to hitch a ride back to my rectory. In hindsight, I made the right decision.

Then there was that hurricane. My church was close to the water. The tides were washing across Main Street and water was sweeping back and forth over the bridge. I magnanimously telephoned the local fire department and offered them the parish’s large hall as a place of refuge. “Thank you very much, Father,” the fireman responded politely. “But better pack a bag. You are in the flood plain. Prepare to evacuate, should it come to that.” Fortunately, it never did. Well, it’s the thought that counts. 

Then there was another hurricane. I lived a few miles from the church. I secured myself safely in the rectory to wait out the storm. After the hurricane, I wanted to get to the church and check for possible damage. I got as far as the little bridge over the river. It was out. I backtracked through the woods and found that one rural bridge had survived. I eventually made it to the church. There was six feet of water in the basement, but otherwise the place was undamaged. Alone in the church, I thumbed through the prayer book and found special occasion Mass prayers entitled, “For an End to the Storm.” I figured better late than never.

Another time, I was a curate living in the rectory’s converted attic. It seems bargain-priced replacement windows had been installed. The winds blew. The rains came. The windows at each end of my apartment crashed onto the floor. The hurricane rushed through my living quarters, taking with it everything that wasn’t tied down. Try as I might, I couldn’t shove those cheap windows back in place. Then I watched as the giant oak tree outside the bedroom cracked and toppled over — fortunately in the opposite direction. I went downstairs and waited out the storm in the rectory parlor. 

 I really don’t care if the groundhog saw his shadow or not. I don’t pay much attention to weather forecasters, especially if they are rodents. I must say though, that I do like this new-fangled democratic way the television forecasters have of offering three possible scenarios. Option one: 30 inches of snow. Option two: one inch of snow. Option three: cloudy and breezy. 

I just can’t figure out how to cast my vote for the storm of my choice.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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