Flood victims comforted by God’s love, community’s generosity

William Patenaude
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This may sound odd, but I was delighted last week when I heard a team of college students discuss how a flood can wipe out a lifetime of memories.

Well, let me put it this way: I found it …

This may sound odd, but I was delighted last week when I heard a team of college students discuss how a flood can wipe out a lifetime of memories.

Well, let me put it this way: I found it comforting that these students (a team from all over the globe) thought to include the detail of peoples’ memorabilia among the losses from floods that hit Rhode Island last year.

The students were with Brown University’s Center for Environmental Studies. Their job was to assess various elements of the Great Flood of 2010—the one that devastated so much and so many, including Sacred Heart Parish in West Warwick, which, thankfully, is up and running full throttle for Lent.

I attended the roll out of the student’s reports because I had helped with interviews and because those floods consumed my professional life for all of Holy Week last year, as well as for many months thereafter—even until today. Those floods hit close to home in other ways. They put my neighborhood on national television and I know many who lost much of their past, but thankfully not their lives. Still, peoples’ personal losses can never be undone. And so it was refreshing to hear those Brown students add a human element to their impressive studies.

Scientists can sometimes be a cold group; sometimes they think they have no choice but to operate thus, and so twist objectivity into isolation. I remember fellow college students in the 1980s acting as if the suppression of their humanity was the best way to be a good engineer.

But science is at its worst when it is merely a dispassionate study of data—of statistics, databases, and end notes. Scientists and engineers are first and foremost servants of the common good—of the human person.

When floods consume communities along a usually quaint river, the damage can be impressive, expensive and the stuff of future study by people who’ve never walked the streets or spoken with the lifelong residents affected.

But in often small and unnoticed ways, these events bring heartache to widows who watch the home their husbands built gutted by soiled, surging flood waters, or to low-income renters who didn’t have much to begin with, or to a veteran, parent or coach whose lifetime of memorabilia in the basement became so much soggy stuffing for a dumpster.

In reflecting on such realities, the words of our Holy Father come to mind. In his first letter to the church, he wrote that “love — caritas — will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable.”

With the one-year anniversary of the Great Flood of 2010 upon us, we must remember that much good came from it: generosity, support, and, often, a new-found appreciation for what is truly and only permanent in this fallen world—the love of the Triune God.

In an important way, these students at Brown reflected that love in noting that suffering sometimes comes in small but piercing ways. To me, this indicates that their futures may bring an abundance of good to a world that, of late, has become forgetful of the dignity of the human person. May God keep them safe in their lives and careers.

William Patenaude is an engineer specializing in environmental regulation and is completing his graduate studies of theology at Providence College. He is a parishioner of SS. Rose and Clement Church in Warwick. Visit his blog at:

catholicecology.blogspot.com, or visit Catholic Ecology on Facebook. To read the Brown report, visit http://envstudies.brown.edu/