Saturday, June 23, 2012

Faith and Hope in 1972

I was too young to have any memory of Tropical Storm Agnes roaring into the Corning-Painted Post community in June 1972. But I grew up hearing all the stories from my relatives, residents of the devastated Northside. To this day, I cannot comprehend the shock the community must have felt when the Chemung River exploded over its banks. Eighteen people died, primarily because it all happened so fast. And then there were months of recovery - people lived in trailers or with relatives while they salvaged their homes amidst the endless mud. I’ve always been impressed with how they held on to their faith and community spirit in likely the worst time of their lives.

As I attended St. Vincent de Paul’s parish school, I also learned the story of the parish during the Flood of ‘72. On Thursday night, June 22, St. Vincent de Paul’s eighth graders were celebrating their graduation with their families in the school hall. But by 11:00 p.m., Fr. Elmer J. Schmidt, associate pastor, was telephoning parishioners who lived near the dikes, telling them they were welcome to spend the night in the school. About 105 people did.

Imagine the fear people felt when the Corning Glass Works whistle blew at 5:00 a.m. on June 23. Picture parishioners fleeing to the second floor of the school and gathering in the dim corridor for general absolution. Yet in that unreal situation, they were among friends. They could draw strength from each other and from their priests – Fr. Schmidt and Fr. Joseph Hogan, pastor. They were a parish. In the months ahead, they would need each other more than ever.

There is one parting image that Fr. Hogan shared with us students many times. It was his favorite part of the flood story. On Saturday, June 24, it was time to face the damaged church. So he braced himself for the devastation inside and opened the church’s front door. Standing before him in greeting was the statue of St. Vincent de Paul. The water had carried it from its spot in the front, left side of the church (where it still is today), all the way to the back. In that moment, he felt a little less overwhelmed, a little more hopeful. He knew the parish was going to be all right. -- Susan M

Update: You might also want to read another parishioner's experience of the flood here.

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