Sunday, May 22, 2016

Another update on the flood recovery at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College

St. Joseph Abbey needs $30M to restore flood-damaged campus               

St. Joseph Abbey needs $30M to restore flood-damaged campusSt. Joseph Abbot Justin Brown discusses effort to restore the campus following March flood.
Kim Chatelain, | The Times-Picayune By Kim Chatelain, | The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune 
on May 20, 2016 
St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College will need about $30 million to restore its 1,200-acre campus north of Covington, which was devastated by floodwaters in March. The abbey has raised about $2 million so far through private donations and is hoping that FEMA will help cover some of the damage to the campus, Abbot Justin Brown said Friday (May 18).
All 31 main buildings at the abbey took on up to 2½ feet of water on March 11 when water from the nearby Bogue Falaya River began to rise rapidly and inundated the campus in St. Benedict. The property, including the abbey's iconic church, has been closed to the public since the flood.
After returning from Easter break, seminary students used makeshift classrooms on campus and crammed into second-floor living areas to finish the semester. A record 138 seminarians completed classes and exams on schedule, with 29 of them graduating May 13 at St. Paul's in Covington. The seminary is expecting to break its enrollment record again this fall.
With the semester over, abbey officials are now focused on getting the campus back as close to normal as possible for the beginning of the next semester in late summer. Brown said he hopes to have six buildings that are critical to the educational needs of students back in operation by then.
"We've faced some adversity, but our foundation is strong," Brown said. "We just have to be patient."
Brown said the cleanup phase of the restoration effort, which was done at an estimated cost of $3 million, is virtually complete, and remediation is now underway. Most of the damage was done to walls and floors of the buildings, some of which are historic.
Abbey and its historic church closed to public for extended period

Many of the buildings have been stripped to the studs, with wires dangling and floors taken down to the concrete. Although the main section of the abbey church did not take in water, its air conditioning and heating system was laid to waste when the basement flooded. It will remain out of service until equipment to cool the massive building can be acquired. Brown said he hopes to reopen the church to the public by the end of June.
The acclaimed church, a Romanesque-style structure that is on the National Register of Historic Places, features elaborate artwork painted on its plaster walls. Abbey leaders were concerned that the humidity resulting from the lack of ventilation might cause harm to the work done by Dutch monk and noted artist Gregory De Wit. But Brown said a painting conservator was brought in last week and deemed the artwork unharmed.
As the restoration moves along, abbey officials are conducting a fundraising drive to help cover the cost. Having not flooded since the great Mississippi River Valley flood of 1927, the abbey did not have flood insurance. Brown said the process to acquire flood insurance is underway.
He said he hopes FEMA will help cover some of the repairs. Since part of the abbey is considered an educational institution, the campus may be eligible for some federal help. But even if the help comes through, Brown estimates at least $10 million will have to be raised through private donations.
The flood hampered some of the cottage industries run on the abbey grounds by monks, staffers and volunteers. The abbey also operates a bakery that produces 2,000 loaves of bread a week for poor and homeless people. It was knocked out of operation and remains shuttered.
bee-keeping operation based at the abbey to produce honey also suffered a blow. Beekeeper Jeff Horchoff, who bottles and sells the honey in the campus gift shop and donates proceeds to the abbey, said about 300,000 bees drowned in the flood.
The abbey gift shop, which sells religious artifacts, remains closed. Monks who make and sell soap at the gift shop have taken their operation on the road, selling their "monk soap" at North Shore Catholic Church Masses on Sundays.
St. Joseph's Woodworks, which makes and sells caskets to the public to raise money for the abbey, was knocked out of operation but is back up and running. Brown said the casket business has been good.
Brown said organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and others have held fundraisers to help ease the financial burden. St. Joseph received a $100,000 donation from the Archdiocese of Baton Rouge.
A group of students from a school in Metairie has launched a drive to help Horchoff restore his beekeeping operation. Others community members are making donations through the abbey website.
"People have been very generous, very giving," he said. "So many good things are happening here at St. Joseph Abbey. We're hoping they'll all be operational soon."

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