Sanibel church damaged as recovery begins

Sanibel church damaged as recovery begins

Staff Report Oct 27, 2022

The Diocese of Venice edition of the Florida Catholic has a cover story relating to the impact of Hurricane Ian on St. Isabel Parish in Sanibel, Florida.  Unfortunately, the report contains inaccuracies as an objective contribution to the situation.  The article seems intent on portraying damage to the “Sanibel church” as damage that can be repaired by engineers, contractors, and landscapers.  What it misses completely is the damage done to the people who make up the church, damage that has been inflicted on the parish by Bishop Frank Dewane and his functionaries for the past six years.  To highlight this problem, the text is reproduced here with indented commentary following each paragraph. The purpose of the commentary is not to belittle the apparent significant damage that has been done to the buildings and grounds of St. Isabel Parish but to make it clear that far more important to address are the damages that have been done to the spiritual lives of the people of the parish both by Hurricane Ian and by the attacks on the people by the parish administration and the neglect of their need for spiritual enrichment.  By neglecting the toll taken on human beings when their place of worship is damaged, the article fails to understand the true damage done to the church.

The lush tropical setting of St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel Island is now a stark landscape that has lost its colorful and tranquil beauty in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. It was on Sept. 28, 2022, when the Category 4 storm, with winds of 155 mph and a massive storm surge inundated the entire island.

The colorful beauty of the parish grounds is due to the extensive plantings that Fr. Christopher Senk encouraged using donations from parishioners of St. Isabel following Hurricane Charley in 2004.  This beauty was indeed tranquil until Bishop Frank Dewane removed Fr. Senk as pastor, without cause, six years ago.  Since that time, the life of the parish has been anything but tranquil as the administrators have engaged in verbal attacks on individuals, the presence of armed guards in the narthex and parking lot, the use of police to ban elderly women from the parish grounds when they came to join other parishioners in prayer, and other efforts to destroy what was a parish whose “colorful and tranquil beauty” was evidenced in the many people who joined together there in prayer and community.  That real essence of the parish was destroyed by Bishop Frank Dewane and his minions.  Hurricane Ian was only able to destroy plantings and buildings.  

St. Isabel Parish, which is located on a high point toward the east side of the island, had major damage. The church and parish hall are intact but had extensive water damage. Unfortunately, the Parish rectory was not so lucky. There is extensive damage with holes in the roof, as well as impacts from the surge that filled the entire building.

The preceding paragraph would be correct if it noted that St. Isabel Parish grounds are located roughly at the midpoint of the east-west island toward the north side.  The parish did indeed suffer damage as many people found that their homes suffered from roofs being blown off, water intrusions that flooded their homes, and damage to the structural integrity of their dwellings.  These people were most certainly unfortunate.  It seems strange that a simple building, the rectory, might be called “not so lucky.”  Buildings do not have inherent good or bad luck.  Many on the island who own buildings were indeed unfortunate as their homes and possessions were destroyed by Hurricane Ian. 

Father Edward Martin, Pastor of St. Isabel, evacuated to a home on the mainland and visited the Parish property on Oct. 24.

Father Edward Martin is well-known for not living in the rectory or even spending much time on the parish grounds.  He lives in Fort Myers in a gated community.  He “evacuates” himself from Sanibel on essentially any day that he comes to the parish to offer Mass.  The fact that it took him almost a month to visit the property and that no outreach has taken place to parishioners who may have suffered due to the hurricane is yet another scandal that has infected St. Isabel Parish.   

“It was shocking to see the devastation on the island and then to the Parish property,” Father Martin said. “The church and hall are intact. There was no damage in the sanctuary and the roof is intact. So, we might have to remove some pews that were sitting in water and a few other things, but otherwise we are going to leave everything. This means they can be fixed, and we will be back.”

This is a totally self-absorbed statement.  After being absent from the community for almost a month, Fr. Martin can only comment on damage to the physical property.  No evidence is given that there was concern expressed for the people who are broken, the people who are the real church.  Many of them have been working through the last month on the island, helping neighbors, mourning the deaths of friends, and wondering whether they “will be back.”   Of course, the funds for the structure will be extracted from those same struggling individuals. 

The water intrusion to the church and hall was from the pressure of the surge, but no actually flowing water came into these buildings as doors and windows held fast even though water on the sides of the building reached three feet. The height of the surge was actually much higher as the church and hall are five feet above the grade of the nearby road.

In fact, this is speculation and untrue.  Water moves by flowing.  The pictures of muck and the presence of sediment in the buildings is evidence that water indeed flowed into the building.  The statement that the surge was higher than the water level on the walls of the structures is false. 

Father Martin said he expects to either set up a tent outside for Mass in the coming weeks, or that the hall can be repaired quickly to accommodate the Liturgy. 

Sounds like idle speculation from an absentee pastor.

Inside the church and hall, even a month after the storm, was standing water and muck (a congealed mix of water, sand, dirt and other debris). Contractors hired by the Diocese to dry out both buildings were working in the church and hall by Oct. 25.

Indeed, the muck and standing water are left over from the water that flowed into the premises.  It is unfortunate that the Diocese of Venice under the leadership of Bishop Frank Dewane waited almost a full month before beginning cleanup.  This delay certainly allowed additional growth of mold and damage to the premises incurring costs that will have to be borne by the people of the parish. 

The challenge for recovery on Sanibel is that the causeway, a three-mile bridge and island system from the mainland, was destroyed and only recently reopened. Traffic is being limited to residents, first responders and contractors. However, there is no power or running water on the island and no clear estimate as to when it will be restored.

This is overly simplistic.  There is not a single challenge.  Indeed, the causeway is a complicating factor, but the lack of effort by the diocese and the parish administration is the major factor in delaying recovery.

Khristy Sheer, parish business manager who has been a resident on Sanibel for 33 years, also evacuated and returned to the  island by boat, once to see her home, which  had surge through the second floor and roof damage allowing water into the top floors. Her personal losses are extensive and heartbreaking.

This narrative is appalling.  First, the last name of the business manage is spelled “Scheer.”  Second, to insert the personal activity of an individual who happens to be an employee whose salary is paid by the people of the parish as a major portion of a report on the church grounds is selfish and further implies the lack of concern for other people.  Personal losses for so many people are more “extensive and heartbreaking” than those of Ms. Scheer.  Indeed, parishioners have died shortly after leaving the island.  Others have lost jobs as well as homes.  Many with personal losses that are “extensive and heartbreaking” are reaching out to help the suffering, not just bemoaning their personal fate. 

Her next trip to Sanibel was to visit the Parish with Joe Rego, Diocesan Building Manager, and insurance adjustors. They  found the devastation there to be extensive but were feeling blessed that it wasn’t much worse.

It is difficult to understand why Ms. Scheer and Mr. Rego were feeling “blessed.”  It is clear these were individuals just doing their jobs after they tended to their personal agendas.   

One of the reasons the damage wasn’t worse was attributed to the fact that the church had a major renovation and upgrade after Hurricane Charley ripped the roof off in 2004. A similar upgrade took place in the Parish Hall in 2016. All this held back the worst of the winds and most of the water.

This is mostly irrelevant.  Whenever work is done on a structure, it should help the integrity of the structure.  The fact that there was maintenance done on the buildings is good.  Whether or not this held back the “worst of the winds and most of the water” is speculative.  What is important is the actual state of the structures.  

The landscaped grounds are a jumbled mess, but the main bronze statue of St. Isabel, as well as a statue of St. Bernadette and Mary next to a cross, were unscathed.

This is an incomplete statement of the statuary and does not provide correct information about the statues or of the fate of all of them.  All landscaping on the island is essentially destroyed.  To make a statement that the grounds of St. Isabel are a jumbled mess sounds as if this is an attempt to imply a situation at the parish that is unique.

“God was sitting with us,” Sheer said. “This island and this Parish are important in my life. Just like the island we will get the Parish up and running as a place of peace for everyone.”

This is a sad statement.  Ms. Scheer is known to be a divisive figure in the parish.  She is known for cavorting in the middle of the night with the parish administrator who was under the influence of alcohol.  She is a polarizing figure who has called on police to have people removed from the parish grounds.  The parish has not been a place of peace for everyone for six years. 

While seasonal visitors and residents are reaching out to come and help right now, Sheer explained that now is not the time, as the recovery of the island and the Parish will be a big job that takes time.

The truth behind this statement is questionable.  It is not clear how many have reached out.  Further, although “Sheer[sic] explained that now is not the time,” this has not deterred the parish from posting on its web site asking for money with no description of the actual damage or of the goal for any fundraising activities.  Of course, this has been the pattern at St. Isabel as collected funds are typically understated perhaps in an effort to make greater inroads into the resources of “seasonal visitors and residents.”

“We are determined to move forward, shoulder-to-shoulder and we will come back strong,” she said.

Unfortunately, because of the scuttling of the parish by Bishop Dewane, Ms. Scheer, Fr. Martin, and other minions, the was weakened far beyond what Hurricane Ian accomplished.  Many have been praying and taking action for years seeking the strength of the parish whose membership has declined by over 30%, but it seems that buildings are more important. 

The Parish has set up a Rebuilding Fund for the church, hall, rectory and grounds which can be supported at https://www.wesharegiving.org/app/giving/WeShare-2150

Unfortunately, the absence of responsible and transparent stewardship by Bishop Dewane, Ms. Scheer, Fr. Edward Martin, and the parish finance council make it impossible to endorse this request for support that provides no information on the damage done, the cost of repairs, insurance coverage, or how the money will be used. 

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