St. Bridget in north Minneapolis ready to celebrate with neighbors

| July 21, 2011 | 0 Comments

Traditionally, the St. Bridget Summerfest has been celebrated the first week in June at the north Minneapolis parish.

Father Criscitelli

Father Criscitelli

But after Franciscan Father Anthony Criscitelli saw the damage to the neighborhood and heard the insurance assessment on damage to the parish’s school building from the May 22 tornado, the pastor postponed the annual fundraiser and community gathering to Sunday, Aug. 21.

“When we found out the school would be under construction all summer — and we use the school for the Summerfest — we had to rethink it,” he said. “People were trying to rebuild their lives, put a roof over their families, literally, put food on the table and try to keep life as normal as possible, so it wouldn’t be a good time to come together for a carnival.”

As August approaches, Father Criscitelli said he believes it is time to celebrate the rebirth of the neighborhood and the coming together of people.

“The spirit seems to be that it’s time that we do something fun. We spent a lot of time this summer cleaning up and fretting about the future,” he said. “Now, it’s time to come together and give thanks to God for the fact that we are safe and we are here and we are able to do this and invite our neighbors, parishioners and friends to celebrate with us and see that this is not just our event, but their event as well.”

Damage about $1 million

Father Criscitelli said insurance agents arrived shortly after the tornado hit that Sunday afternoon and started to help board up broken windows, sweep up glass and arrange for roofers to start working on the school building, which the parish rents out to a charter school. Damage to the building was estimated at about $500,000. The Sojourner Truth Academy charter school also lost books, supplies, computers and fencing.

“Even the playground mulch and sod had to be discarded because there was glass in it,” he said. In addition, the convent and church had an estimated $250,000 to $500,000 of damage.

“The school was the hardest hit building,” he said. “A part of the roof ripped back . . . like peeling a lid off a can. Consequently, the building got flooded. The gym and first floor were underwater and it leaked from the second floor. It took about three weeks to dry out the building to prevent mold and mildew.”

The strong winds ripped off the limestone capstones, a cross and some gothic tracery work on the main entrance of the school, which was built in the 1920s and closed in 1995 as a Catholic school when it merged with St. Elizabeth Seton School on the Our Lady of Victory campus, he said.

“The masons did a wonderful job of reconstructing all that with pieces that they found and pictures we had,” he said. But Father Criscitelli said he is especially grateful for God’s presence that day, although two deaths were attributed to the storm.

“Our deacon had a baptism that afternoon and they left the church building about 2 o’clock and the tornado hit about 2:15,” he said. “The church had windows blown out above the sanctuary that put a mess of glass throughout the church. . . . I couldn’t believe the damage from those windows being blown out in terms of the glass flying all over the place. It shredded the altar cloth on the altar and took some nicks out of the wood in the sanctuary.”

Fortunately, only one of the stained glass windows in the church was damaged. It was hit by a tree that fell against it, he said, adding that the windows above the sanctuary were not stained glass.

The convent, which had some damage to the chimney and storm windows, “is a tough old building like the sisters who used to live there,” he said.

Seeing God’s presence

“One of the wonderful things to come out of this is the way the neighborhood pulled together and the generosity of people,” he said. People who used to belong to St. Bridget years ago and people from St. Gerard in Brooklyn Park, where he previously served as a pastor, came to help clean up, and many sent checks to help the parish and people in the community.

“If we knew of families in the parish who have been in need, we have been helping pay the deductible on their insurance, get them into some temporary quarters or just providing the basic necessities,” he said. “We have one family with six children under the age of 12. They had a baby the Monday before the tornado. They are living in a motel all summer while their home is being restored.”
In the days after the tornado, people came with saws, rakes or brooms and pitched in wherever there was a need.

“These have all been signs of the presence of God, even in the midst of that horrific incident,” he said. “It boggled my mind when I heard that our tornado was downgraded to an F1 and the one in Joplin [Mo.] was an F5. When I looked outside and saw everything that happened here, I thought, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in an area that’s five times worse.”

Although many trees are gone, houses are still being repaired and work is still going on inside the school, Father Criscitelli expects the neighborhood to be ready for the Summerfest, which he described as being “like a miniature state fair.”

It will begin about 10:30 a.m., after the 9:30 Mass, and continue until about 4 p.m. This year’s theme is “Backyard Barbecue.” It will feature roasted pig, a spaghetti dinner, silent auction, raffle, children’s games and more.

“We will try to create the sense that it is a neighborhood event, not just a parish event,” he said. “We just want people to know that we are here — and we are not only here for the people that worship in the walls of the church but we are a sign and a presence of the kingdom of God and the presence of God for them, as well.”

St. Bridget is especially reaching out to nearby St. Austin, which has been identified for merger with St. Bridget under the Strategic Plan for the archdiocese. That merger was appealed to the Holy See, which has not yet issued a decision.

“We and St. Austin have discussed and decided that whether a merger happens or not — we’re in the same neighborhood, we have the same demographics, we deal with the same challenges — that we would do well to collaborate where we can,” Father Criscitelli said.

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Category: Parish Festivals