Parishes feeling impact of winter weather

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FOSTER — If you didn’t know for sure where to make the turn into the long driveway leading to St. Paul the Apostle Church, you just might miss it.

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The church’s welcome sign, itself covered by about a foot of snow, struggled to be seen last Friday along Rte. 6 amid dunes of the white stuff, the result of drifting, as well as plowing in an effort to keep pace with the barrage of winter weather impacting the area.

“Our parking lot has shrunk, and everything is iced up,” said Lana Miller, a member of the church’s office staff.

The weather has made an impact on St. Paul Parish, which has had to absorb the cost of having the parking lot cleared of snow for parishioners.

“This year has been more expensive,” said Father M.J. Bernard Dore, pastor of St. Paul.

Fortunately though, a parishioner with a snowplow clears the grounds for a modest cost. And weekend collections have not been adversely affected by the weather.

“Fortunately, it hasn’t been snowing on weekends,” added Father Dore, who traverses a narrow path cut through deep snow—which some parishioners have jokingly referred to as a luge run—downhill from the rectory behind the church to celebrate Mass.

Parishioner June Haapala takes it all in stride.

“How can you beat this beauty? It’s gorgeous!” she says, pointing to the frosty row of icicles gleaming in the morning sun as they hang from the side of her church.

Meanwhile, about twenty miles to the northeast in Woonsocket, Father Edward G. St-Godard is looking forward to an early thaw.

“I’ve got cabin fever,” said Father St-Godard, pastor of Holy Family parish.

Due to the icy conditions, he was forced to cancel Masses on Thursday and Friday as a safety precaution for the many elderly parishioners who make their way each morning to Mass at Holy Family.

The pastor said that despite the severe weather, the budget envelopes have been coming in consistently.

“The weather doesn’t keep them away from church that much,” he said.

As for his snow removal budget, Father St-Godard said he is fortunate to have a dedicated group of parishioners who volunteer their time shoveling the church steps and walkways.

“That’s a big help,” Father St-Godard said.

“I just have to pay for plowing the parking lot,” something that costs about $120 per pass by a snowplow driver.

For the month of January, Holy Family Parish spent more than $700 for snow removal, according to Father St-Godard.

Nearby, although it didn’t snow Friday, Woonsocket’s two Catholic schools—Good Shepherd Catholic Regional and Msgr. Gadoury Primary Regional School—were closed.

The City of Woonsocket had asked that all city schools be closed in order to test the snow load capabilities of their roofs following several area roof and structural collapses under the heavy weight of lingering snowfalls.

By Monday, both schools passed the testing with “flying colors,” according to Linda Keating at Good Shepherd and Diane Lambert at Msgr. Gadoury.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, perhaps every pastor in the diocese should be as lucky as Father Joseph Protano, pastor of St. Andrew Church on Block Island.

“There isn’t a flake of snow on the grass,” Father Protano said Friday morning.

“We have no snow and the ocean is calm,” he added. “You might think that we were in the middle of May.”

Father Protano said that the series of January snowstorms that paralyzed much of the mainland throughout the month had little impact on the small parish. Religious education classes and Masses have continued on schedule and the church parking lot had to be plowed only once earlier in the month when two inches of snow were dumped on the island.

The pastor noted that any accumulation quickly melts because of the constant ocean breezes and high salt content in the air.

Father Protano noted that he was astonished when he traveled to Providence on Jan 31 – a day before the significant snow and ice storm that wreaked more havoc on the state – to celebrate a funeral in Providence.

“It couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. “It was an amazing site. I thought that I had gone to another continent – like Antarctica.”

While Father Protano is enjoying a relatively calm winter, the situation has been quite different at St. Mary Church in West Warwick.

After last week’s snow and ice storm, Father Thomas D. O’Neill, parish administrator, had to have a front-end loader remove the buildup that accumulated from several storms in two parking lots and deposit the mounds in a spot located in an adjacent field owned by the parish.

“It’s also been difficult finding a place to put the snow in the cemetery,” he added, noting that the parish cemetery has been plowed several times during the past month to accommodate several burials. Father O’Neill said that while the parish has not received invoices for these services, he expects that the parish budget will be impacted.

The parish administrator admitted that while he’s done a bit of shoveling this winter, a parish volunteer has been busy cleaning the sidewalks around the church property.

“It’s a huge job,” Father O’Neill said, revealing that the narrow walks have had to be shoveled and deiced several times during the past few weeks to allow worshippers to enter the historic church.

Father O’Neill emphasized that while weekend Mass attendance has not decreased as a result of inclement weather, there have been a few mornings when no communicants arrived for the 8 a.m. daily Mass. Several parish meetings have also had to be rescheduled.

“They (the City of West Warwick) make Church Street passable for the fire trucks,” he continued, stating that throughout the inclement weather parishioners have had no difficulty gaining access to the church.

Father Norman Bourdon, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Church, Cumberland, emphasized that the exceptionally difficult weather has had a significant impact on the parish, which serves 1,600 families.

“The snow looks nice but the cost is something you don’t plan. “ he said. Father Bourdon added that since the beginning of winter, the parish has spent $46,000 for utilities and snow removal, of which $9,000 was used to plow the church parking lot. Last winter, the cost of snow removal for the northern Rhode Island parish was $3,000.

“We’re in the Snowbelt,” Father Bourdon observed, adding that while the snow keeps piling up, so do the costs incurred by the wintry weather.

Father Bourdon said that since the recent storms have not occurred on weekends, religious education classes, which are held on Sundays and Mondays, have not suffered. Mass attendance has been steady throughout the winter; one Sunday last year only three faithful worshippers braved blizzard conditions to attend Mass.

In a bulletin announcement last weekend, Father Bourdon asked parishioners when they submit their weekly offerings to be mindful of the additional storm-related expenses that parish has encountered during the past two months.

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