Category: Archive

Lines of fire

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The winds fanned the wildfires that resulted in loss of life and property in and around both Los Angeles and San Diego.
But they spared Our Lady of Malibu church in what could be viewed as a fortuitous act of capricious nature. Or maybe even a miracle.
Either way, Msgr. Sheridan, who hails from County Longford, is finding reason to give special thanks this Thanksgiving holiday.
“It was quite bad this time but we can’t complain,” Fr. Sheridan, who has worked at his Pacific coast post for 42 years, told the Echo.
“It’s almost a miracle,” he said.
“The embers were flying around everywhere and the wind was damnable,” he said of the recent fires that raced through nearby canyons right down to the Pacific shoreline.
Our Lady of Malibu is a complex that includes the church, a school and a convent. At one point during the height of the fires it was completely encircled by flames.
“We were very vulnerable,” said Msgr. Sheridan.
Just as the situation seemed hopeless, however, the wind named for a saint shifted and this allowed firefighters to get a handle on the situation in the area of the church.
“The fire people did an excellent job,” said Sheridan.
Nevertheless, Our Lady of Malibu did not entirely escape unscathed. The flames badly damaged the school’s new computer lab.
And they completely destroyed a nearby Presbyterian church perched atop a hill.
“It was a very beautiful church,” added Sheridan who said that Our Lady of Malibu was now providing accommodation and facilities for its Presbyterian neighbors, including the church’s suddenly homeless youth group.
The two churches enjoyed a “very wonderful” relationship, the priest added, one that had now been forged anew by fire.
Sheridan, who will be 92 next month, said he had seen many fires over the years but this year’s had been particularly bad.
As a result, he said, Thanksgiving with a church that was still intact was something to deeply appreciate, especially when so much had been destroyed nearby.
“We will be giving extra thanks this year,” the feisty monsignor said.
So too will Fr. Michael Tracey.
The County Mayo-born pastor is familiar to readers since his church, Our Lady of the Gulf in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, was hit with the full wrath of Hurricane Katrina just over two years ago.
Fr. Tracey is about to spend his third Thanksgiving in what is officially dubbed a FEMA modular home.
His parochial house was destroyed, not by fire, but by wind and water.
Tracey is awaiting the final go ahead from his diocese before he can begin to rebuild.
In the meantime, the two schools attached to Our Lady of the Gulf are set for expansion because of the closure of another school nearby.
But even as recovery work continues, the number of volunteers turning up to help has all but dried up, according to Tracey.
“Those that are still coming are working with Habitat for Humanity. There are fewer independent groups as there were in the months immediately following Katrina.”
Still, Fr. Tracey holds to the view that even the worst calamities can have silver linings.
“After what we went through you really do appreciate the simple things and want to give thanks for them. And there’s additionally the bonds forged between people that may have never happened if only for extreme adversity.”
Like his colleague in California, Fr. Tracey will be contemplating those silver linings this Thanksgiving with a little extra fervor.
And just as John Sheridan asked in his interview to pass on Thanksgiving wishes to a fellow priest who had faced nature’s wrath, so too did Michael Tracey send his best westwards to a parish that had survived fire and a wind that was every bit as ill as Katrina’s, despite its hallowed appellation.

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