By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
When students from Fontbonne Hall Academy in Bay Ridge suffered the destruction of their homes and the loss of their belongings in Hurricane Sandy in October, they got a helping hand from thousands of miles away from teenagers who knew exactly what they had gone through.
Students from Cabrini High School, a Catholic school for girls in New Orleans, had lived through Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After Sandy hit, they held bake sales and other events to raise money for the Fontbonne students, many of whom live in Breezy Point, Queens, and a neighborhood that sustained some of the worst damage of Sandy. The New Orleans residents also sent shipments of socks, scarves, and toiletries north to Brooklyn. The shipments arrived on a regular basis, even months after the storm.
On March 27, a group of girls and teachers from Cabrini High School visited Fontbonne Hall Academy on Shore Road, where they were showered with thanks and praise by grateful students, teachers, and administrators. Like Cabrini, Fontbonne is a Catholic high school for girls. They also took part in a pre-Easter prayer service organized by Jennifer Uzzi-Silverio, the campus minister.
“I can’t tell you what it means to us,” Sister Dolores Crepeau, Fontbonne’s principal, told the southern guests during the prayer service in the school gymnasium. “Our words would never be adequate to express our gratitude. We will always be grateful to you and you will be in our hearts forever,” she said.
Eighty-four Fontbonne families were affected by Hurricane Sandy, according to Gilda King, the school’s vice principal. “As you know, pictures don’t tell the whole story. It’s like a war zone in the communities where the hurricane hit,” she told the Cabrini contingent during a stop in the school library prior to the prayer service. In addition, five faculty members also had homes that were flooded in the super-storm, she said.
Sandy was one of the most deadly storms ever to hit the East Coast of the US.
Fontbonne senior Gabrielle Mineo, vice president of the student council, said she and her fellow students were touched by the generosity of their southern benefactors. “It’s a shock that people from so far away would care about us so much. It’s amazing to see,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The Cabrini students - Sarah Heraty, Katie Gaffney, Alexis Hedting, Morganne Lerch, Gabby Cabelleros, Alessandra Nuccio, and Shelby Vasquez – were grateful for the Brooklyn-style hospitality.
“When we heard about what happened up here, we wanted to help. It was a no-brainer,” Nuccio said.
Hedting said she felt for the Sandy victims because Katrina was a frightening experience and she imagined it was the same. “I was in the fifth grade. We got our before Katrina and couldn’t get back into New Orleans for more than two weeks,” she said, adding that her family stayed with relatives in Dallas. The levees had broken and the entire city of New Orleans was flooded. “We didn’t know if our house would still be there when we got back,” she said. When they finally did get back, they were relieved to find the house had suffered minimal damage.
Denise Heriot, chairman of the Religion Department at Cabrini, said the New Orleans school is a sister school to Cabrini High School in the Bronx. “When Hurricane Sandy hit, we called up there to see if everything was okay. They told us, ‘We’re fine, but there’s this little school in Brooklyn called Fontbonne that needs help.’ So we got to work,” she said.
“The only thing that is certain is that the world around us can change in an instant,” Fontbonne student Marie Magliore said at the start of the prayer service.
The service included a play depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as seen through the eyes of his mother Mary, Saint Peter, Mary Magdalene, and others around him. Fontbonne students Ugonna Nwabueze , Mary Jane Andersen, Catalina Gaya, Francesca Frasca, Ashley Kelly, Michela DeVito, and Nicolette Shin played the Biblical figures. Another student, Cathy Giordano, read Bible passages to the audience.
The service ended with Uzzi-Silverio and the performers bringing out a five-foot-high wooden cross and inviting everyone in the audience to take pins from them and place them into the cross as a way of turning their problems and troubles over to Jesus Christ to handle. One by one, everyone filed to the front of the gym, took, a pin, and put them in the cross while soft music played in the background.
Heriot presented Crepeau and Uzzi-Silverio with T-shirts bearing the name of Cabrini High School and revealed that the T-shirts were being sold back home in New Orleans. “The proceeds from the sale are coming back to you,” she announced. She also presented Crepeau with a notebook filled with handwritten prayers from Cabrini students.
Following the prayer service, Fontbonne treated the visitors to brunch. Uzzi-Silverio offered a power point presentation to show the damage Hurricane Sandy caused. “We just want to thank you for thinking of us and for helping people you don’t even know,” she told the girls from New Orleans.