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‘Do not lose hope,’ Santa Rosa bishop says; Catholic high school assesses damage

October 12, 2017
Christina Gray

Graham Rutherford, principal of Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa said in an Oct. 10 message that all faculty and staff have been accounted for after the Tubbs Fire hit the campus as it swept through northern Santa Rosa neighborhoods Oct. 8 and 9. The school is in the process of accounting for its students and their families.

After touring the campus with facilities director Eric Parker, Rutherford verified the total loss of the main office building, the library and 19 portable classrooms in a direct message to the school community. Four classrooms have some roof and window damage while 11 rooms have no damage at all. Also unscathed are the school’s chapel, science building, athletic center, tennis courts, wresting and dance rooms, weight room and gym, sports practice fields and field house. The baseball infield and dugouts did sustain some damage.

The school at 50 Ursuline Road off Old Redwood Highway east of Highway 101 also houses diocesan offices including a retreat center, communications, youth ministry, religious education and social justice offices, which were undamaged, diocesan spokesman Chris Lyford told Catholic San Francisco Oct. 11.

School president Laura Held and the school leadership team along with the superintendent and diocesan representatives assessed the situation by conference call the same day to discuss plans for resuming academic life and rebuilding.

St. Rose Catholic School at 4300 Redwood Highway in Santa Rosa also sustained damage in the fire, according to a Facebook post by Principal Kathy Ryan Oct. 10. The preschool facility is a total loss, but the elementary school’s gym and modular classroom were “miraculously untouched” by the fire. The post said the school is expected to be closed for “at least two weeks.”

A community Mass at St. Rose Church in Santa Rosa will be held for families from St. Rose and Cardinal Newman schools on Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. A “state of the schools” meeting afterward will share new information and plans for moving forward, according to the post.

Oct. 9, by coincidence, was the feast day of school patron Cardinal Newman.

Santa Rosa Bishop Robert F. Vasa issued a midday statement Oct. 11 offering consolation to those who have lost loved ones in the fire and hope to those who have lost their homes, businesses or placed of employment. “We pray that you do not lose hope, nor the sense of God’s presence and ultimate goodness. You must know that the hearts of the entire community, though it can neither feel what you feel, nor undo the loss, do go out to you,” he said.

“Our diocese has been hit hard, as you know well, and is in an ongoing state of uncertainty,” he said Oct. 10, reporting that the diocese’s chancery in a severely fire-damaged part of the city was spared, but that because of total power loss and evacuation orders, there is “no possibility” of working from there for the foreseeable future. “I am currently working from my car and trying to visit a few of the evacuation centers.”

St. Eugene Cathedral is an evacuation center and is being coordinated by the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa and local parishioners.

The six-county Diocese of Santa Rosa includes four of the counties hit hard by the fires -- Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. Bishop Vasa called on all Catholics of the diocese to help their brothers and sisters who "have been severely impacted by the devastating fires and are in immediate need of your prayers. Please do not hesitate to offer your help though ongoing prayer, donations, and emotional support."

"You may even be inspired to offer your home to a family who has lost everything. Simply imagine yourself and your family going through what many are experiencing now in reality, and act accordingly," he advised.

Bishop Vasa said he would try to send occasional updates to the people of the diocese. "I appreciate the outpouring of concern and especially prayers. When people ask how they can help, I answer that I really do not know. I do know that prayers are the greatest source of solace and help."

The uncontained Tubbs Fire, which began in Calistoga late in the evening of Oct. 8, had burned almost 29,000 acres, destroyed 557 structures and claimed 11 lives, according to a Cal Fire update Oct. 11. An additional 29,192 structures were immediately threatened.

Overall, 22 wildfires in eight Northern California counties had claimed 23 lives, destroyed more than 3,500 structures and burned more than 190,000 acres as of the morning of Oct. 12.

The Diocese of Santa Rosa is directing those who wish to make an online donation for fire relief to this link on the Catholic Charities website.

Catholic News Service contributed.

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