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When Life Gives You Lemons

Disastrous hail storm becomes opportunity to refurbish St. Paul Church

10/18/2019 | Comments

COLORADO SPRINGS. Under the tightly attached black shroud that served as a roof, Deacon Dick Bowles was preparing for the 5:30 p.m. Mass on June 16 inside St. Paul Church. A new roof was scheduled to be put on the next day, but this evening, it consisted only of paper-thin tarps and long felt strips. 

“All our roofs had been destroyed by hail already,” Deacon Bowles said. “(Previous) storms caused almost $2 million in roof damage, and the church, the gymnasium, administration building and school — all of it was being renovated.” 

Now though, Deacon Bowles heard the wind snapping at the tarps, causing noisy ripples above the sanctuary.  As he gazed upward the ceiling seemed to be crawling. Outside, charcoal-colored clouds gathered grimly overhead; YouTube video clips show them emerging from the mountains around the Broadmoor Hotel and descending on the church like a bony hand.

“About 5 p.m. there was a popping sound,” Deacon Bowles recalled. He came out of the sacristy, near the altar, and looked up. Weather was beating the tarp above the nave — the area where everyone sat. The racket grew louder and suddenly sections gave way as large white hail stones punctured holes, sending icy balls straight down into the church and striking wooden pews with loud, sacrilegious splats. Rain blasted downward, exploiting the gaps as wind ripped the tarp further and further back, exposing more and more of the church inside.

“The combination of rain and hail in such a short period of time overwhelmed some of the urban drainage systems and several intersections around I-25, and South Nevada Avenue looked more like rivers as flash flooding occurred,” reported Fox 21 news. YouTube storm chasers reported “insane accumulations of hail and water damage everywhere” for June 16. Hail stones 1¼ inches in diameter piled up in small mountains at the nearby zoo. Animals and humans alike were endangered. 

“Rain was running down the walls,” Deacon Bowles recalled. Parishioners arriving for Mass began using social media to alert friends and others. Some texts said “turn back” but others, the ones that counted now, read “Come save the church!”

Msgr. Robert Jaeger, pastor of St. Paul Parish, took one look and realized, “This is horrible!” He soon had parishioners removing the books and other items.

“Anything small that was movable was gathered and taken to the parish hall,” Msgr. Jaeger said. “Vestments, books, even pews were eventually removed. Luckily, the owner of the roofing company was in the assembly the night of the storm. He knew where there were huge rolls of plastic and got that to cover the piano and pews.”

“The community really came together,” commented Deacon Bowles. “Luckily the sanctuary remained protected and the cross was all right.”

Things had gotten bad enough, however, that the 5:30 Mass was cancelled entirely.

With a bit of rearranging of the open areas, future Masses were held without any real problems. During the weeks that followed, Msgr. Jaeger walked the halls, watchful of further damage or intrusion. But he says being in surroundings not normally associated with church and the functioning of the Mass took a bit of getting used to.

“There was a lot of moving around. It displaced people, and there were weddings, funerals and events all tied in to that movement. We went to the gym first, and when school started, we moved into the Julie Penrose Hall, moving the books. You get into the rhythm,” he mused.

Repairs were underway almost immediately. Insurance coverage allowed for the old carpeting to be replaced after serving 20 years or more. The sacristy near the altar was given new tile; there are new acoustic tiles on the great inwardly reaching sides of the roof. Outside, there are hail-proof tiles chosen to blend with the surroundings.

Pews have been refinished, and the church was returned to better-than-new appearance at a cost of about $300,000, Msgr. Jaeger said. 

“I am grateful; the refurbishment is beautiful and done well,” he said. In all, the assembly was out June, July, and August, returning to the church in mid-September.

 “It’s a big shock to be out of the church. In the end it worked out, but it’s not been easy. You don’t realize how important the church is, until something like this happens,” Deacon Bowles said.

“We were blessed,” said Msgr. Jaeger. “People were patient.”

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