[StBernard] Archdiocese of New Orleans now plans to use FEMA money to build community center in the 7th Ward
westley at da-parish.com
Tue Jun 16 01:22:01 EDT 2009
Archdiocese of New Orleans now plans to use FEMA money to build community
center in the 7th Ward
by Bruce Nolan, The Times-Picayune
Monday June 15, 2009, 8:32 PM
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has changed plans and hopes to use federal
storm-damage money it had once slated for the suburbs to build a new
community center at the former Corpus Christi school in the 7th Ward.
Archbishop Alfred Hughes disclosed the change in a letter read at all Masses
on Sunday at the new Corpus Christi-Epiphany parish.
The change of heart pleased residents in the hard-hit 7th Ward
neighborhoods, who wanted FEMA compensation for storm damage in their
communities to stay close to home.
"We feel blessed. It's justice served, " said Demetric Mercadel, the head of
the Corpus Christi-Epiphany parish council.
Until last week, the archdiocese wanted to collect $8 million offered by the
Federal Emergency Management Agency for storm damage to the now-closed
Epiphany elementary school and divert it to new school construction at Our
Lady of Prompt Succor school in Chalmette and Mary, Queen of Peace school in
The Chalmette school was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina and is now
the only remaining Catholic elementary school in St. Bernard, where there
were once four. The Mandeville school has experienced a post-storm surge of
students who moved to St. Tammany after the 2005 storm.
Epiphany also is in a neighborhood badly damaged by flooding from Katrina.
The church parish was closed after the storm. As a result of an archdiocese
reorganization directive, Epiphany's parishioners merged with nearby Corpus
Christi, creating a parish with a compound name.
Archdiocesan officials said they had no plans to reopen Epiphany school
because it served an area that had lost Catholics even before Katrina. They
said under FEMA rules they stood to lose the money altogether, unless they
used it for school construction elsewhere.
But former Epiphany parishioners, as well as public officials such as City
Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, strongly objected to church's request to
shift federal compensation money out of their neighborhood.
They also said that moving FEMA money to the suburbs violated, at least in
spirit, the archdiocese's assurances that the economic value of parish
assets would follow them to their new parish.
About 50 letter-writers unanimously urged FEMA during a public comment
period to deny the church's request to let it use the money in Chalmette and
"I have heard your questions and your hopes, " Hughes wrote Sunday. He said
the church will ask FEMA to allow it to use "as much as is necessary" of the
$8 million coming from Epiphany to build the new center at neighboring
Corpus Christi, about a mile away at 2022 St. Bernard Ave.
The community center would occupy the parish's now-closed elementary school.
Reopening the Corpus Christi school isn't under consideration.
Parish leader Mercadel said that before the announcement parishioners were
already searching for money to open a parish-run community center in the
She said parishioners hope to recapture some of Corpus Christi's legacy. The
church and school were once a major cultural center in the 7th Ward, a
neighborhood that nourished generations of French-surnamed Creole Catholic
merchants, artisans and musicians with deep roots in New Orleans.
In the meantime, archdiocesan spokeswoman Sarah Comiskey said the
archdiocese is still committed to building the new school facilities in St.
Tammany and Chalmette.
"We still see them as critical needs of archdiocese. We'll be working with
FEMA to see if we can find money in other places, and see if we can shift
timelines in other projects, " she said.
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