St. Joseph Seminary — training ground for Fort Worth diocese seminarians — devastated by floods

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

March 23, 2016

Saint Joseph Abbey and Seminary College was flooded with at least two feet of water on March 11. (Photo courtesy St. Joseph Seminary College)

Editor's Note: This article was updated on March 26 with a statement by Bishop Michael Olson and new damage estimates.

FORT WORTH St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary — a place that helps prepare young men from the Diocese of Fort Worth for the priesthood — is now in desperate need of help from North Texas Catholics.

A devastating March 11 flood damaged every building on the 1,200-acre campus in southern Louisiana, including the library, dormitory halls, cafeteria, and gym. The cost of recovery, cleanup, and reconstruction to date is estimated to be in the millions. Roughly $3 million is estimated solely for cleanup. The Benedictine monks who operate the Abbey and seminary have no flood insurance.

Donations to the Abbey’s flood relief efforts can be made at the secure website www.helptheabbey.com.

 “We had about 20 to 24 inches of water on the entire grounds of the Abbey,” said James Shields, St. Joseph’s manager of communications. “It’s been 90 years since the last great flood (of 1927), and this one surpassed that.” According to the Clarion Herald, newspaper for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the March flood surpassed that benchmark event by two feet.

Apostolates that support the Abbey — like the gift shop and retreat center — were also affected.

“One volunteer, who raises bees for honey sold in the gift shop, lost many of his hives,” Shields added. “He has to start all over again with honey production, and that will take a couple of years.”

A view of the flooded library at St. Joseph Abbey and College Seminary near Covington, Louisiana. Fourteen men from the Diocese of Fort Worth are enrolled in the seminary. (Photo courtesy St. Joseph Seminary College)

Several rows of books in the library were ruined and a dormitory, Hannan Hall, was damaged to the point that it is uninhabitable. The administrative and business offices housed in the ground floor of St. Pius X Hall were also affected. Located on higher ground, the church was not flooded, but water did seep into the basement where it damaged the heating, air conditioning, and electrical systems.

Fourteen young men from the Diocese of Fort Worth are among the 138 seminarians currently enrolled at St. Joseph. Following a scheduled spring break, students remained at home during Holy Week as crews evaluated the damage and worked to make repairs.

When seminarians return to campus March 28, “They will see a lot of equipment on site working to stabilize the buildings and make them safe for re-entry,” Shields says. “We’ll be focusing on restoration and education.”

Father Gregory Boquet, OSB, the seminary’s president-rector, said the school year will end as originally planned, and graduation will take place May 13.

The Benedictines hope to apply for grant money and will seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to help the Abbey and seminary rebuild. FEMA funding is projected to provide up to 75 percent of expenses with the rest of the burden falling on St. Joseph’s.

Two feet of floodwater damaged almost every building at the seminary and abbey. (Photo courtesy St. Joseph Seminary College)

“It’s essential to get our campus back to a place where we can focus on education,” Shields explained. “The Abbey is very dear to many in the community and the outpouring of support has been overwhelming.”

St. Joseph Seminary has trained diocesan priests for many years. Helping them continue that mission is important, said Diocesan Vocations Director Father James Wilcox.

“Their ability to prepare men to follow Jesus Christ is a real strength, and we want them to be able to do that in the best manner possible,” he explained. “We want our men, and others in formation, to have the facilities that allow them to grow deeper in love with Jesus Christ every day as they look forward to serving Him in the Church.”

Fr. Wilcox and Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson ask the Catholics of the diocese to prayerfully consider helping the Abbey and seminary return to full strength. 

“St. Joseph Seminary, which is the seminary that forms the college seminarians of our diocese, has suffered significant damage from the floods that struck Louisiana recently,” Bishop Olson said in a March 25 statement. “I am asking the faithful of our Diocese to find it in their hearts to assist St. Joseph Seminary in this time of need.”

FORT WORTH -- St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary — a place that helps prepare young men from the Diocese of Fort Worth for the priesthood — is now in desperate need of help from North Texas Catholics.

Published (until 12/25/2037)
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