Fr. Arthur Roraff is the co-pastor, with retired Archbishop Roger Schwietz, of the hardest hit parish church in the recent Alaska 7.0 earthquake. As you read Fr. Roraff’s first-hand account of the quake and aftermath, keep in mind that Fr. Roraff is no fool when it comes to business and strategic planning. He was a successful business entrepreneur heading up a thriving event planning company when he discerned his priestly vocation, a vocation he ultimately confirmed thanks in part to the friendship of a mentor with whom he now shares. pastoral duties at St. Andrew’s.
Most importantly, Fr. Roraff’s previous business expertise honed his leadership and management skills. As a result, he writes the following piece not only with a pastor’s heart but also with a smart business sense. No dollar goes to waste when he’s in charge. That’s why we especially recommend this letter to you. – editor
At 8:29 am on Friday, November 30, 2018, The Feast Day of St. Andrew, a 7.0 earthquake rocked South-central Alaska. Our town of Eagle River was hardest hit, being just 10 miles from the epicenter. St. Andrew Catholic Church in Eagle River, the parish home to more than 1,000 families, suffered the most severe and extensive damage of any Catholic parish in the greater Anchorage area.
Chandeliers crashed to the floor, statues smashed, stained glass shattered, whole pieces of sheetrock cracked and fell, furnace boiler pipes separated and spewed glycol all over the floor, the roof drain pulled away from the wall causing water damage in the office area, and a 3/4-inch crack opened up the floor in front of the sanctuary and running across the entire nave of the church.
It does not seem coincidental that this quake occurred on our patronal feast day, the feast of St Andrew the Apostle. As the Most Reverend Paul Etienne, Archbishop of Anchorage, said two days later when he celebrated Mass for our devastated little community, “It seems providential that St. Andrew Catholic Church would bear the brunt of the earthquake on its patronal feast day.”
Despite substantial damage to our beautiful church building, the church’s structural engineer determined that the structure was still safe to occupy, so we continued with our St. Andrew’s Day Mass that evening. However, we were forced to move to the narthex due to the debris from fallen chandelier lights, broken stained glass, broken statues, and pieces of drywall littering the nave.
It was a beautiful Mass, held by candlelight since the electricity was out following the quake. People kept on their winter jackets during Mass because the furnace was not yet working.
But even amid all the devastation, we had so much for which to give thanks to God: There were no fatalities or major injuries resulting from this dramatic earthquake.
Every little bit will make a big difference – in hope as much as anything else
At this time we are still assessing the damages, but it appears that the repair costs will exceed our insurance deductible of about $650,000. We are asking for assistance so that we can repair our beautiful church. [Learn more or Donate now]
Our parish church was completed just 12 years ago.
The current St. Andrew church building was dedicated in 2006 by the Most Reverend Roger L. Schwietz, OMI, the Archbishop of Anchorage at the time. (now retired and the co-pastor of St. Andrew’s)
The previous church building, located about half a mile from the present church, was hand-built in 1981 by the people of the parish. That church served the parish well and the parish community continued to grow and flourish.
After more 20 years the parish outgrew the original building so significantly that by 2003, five Masses were celebrated each weekend to accommodate the community.
Although it was a difficult decision for many to leave the beloved original structure with its storehouse of wonderful memories, we eventually made the decision to build a larger church on 12 acres of nearby property that had been donated to the Archdiocese [of Anchorage].
The location of the donated property was on a prominent hill next to a major highway where it could be seen by people driving by. A building committee was established with the goal to build a beautiful church that was modern yet retained traditional elements. The result was a stunning church.
Effects of Hurricane Katrina extend to St. Andrew’s in Alaska
Construction of the new church began in early 2005, just prior to the destructive Hurricane Katrina that hit the Gulf Coast that August. Katrina’s wake of destruction and heartache was felt throughout the nation, including in Alaska.
Beyond shared empathy and many prayers we offered for those suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, our new St. Andrew church construction project experienced an unanticipated impact from Hurricane Katrina well. Material costs for the new church soared due to demands for steel, drywall and other construction commodities throughout the Gulf Coast.
As a result of the suddenly inflated material costs we put on hold our original plan for a parish hall, classrooms, kitchen and other important, but not vital elements. Even so, the inflated construction costs resulted in a much larger debt than we had originally intended. Through the dedication and generosity of our parishioners and the Archdiocese of Anchorage – and this cannot be overstated – we have been diligent in paying down our debt from just over $12 million 11 years ago to under $5 million today.
And then there was an Earthquake
And then on November 30th, 2018, at 8:29 am, the earth shook and caused significant damage to our beautiful church, as described above.
What wasn’t mentioned above was that our regular morning Mass had already been cancelled on that day since it was the feast of our patron saint, Saint Andrew. We had cancelled morning Mass in order to encourage all of our community to attend our Solemnity together, at 7:00 pm. that evening.
If our regular morning Mass had not been cancelled, many more people would have been in the church at the time of the quake, greatly increasing the possibility of injury or worse.
As you can see, the Holy Spirit works in amazing ways even in scheduling matters!
The following morning, Saturday December 1st, more than 100 parishioners came to clean up the church and make it safe so that we could return to our normal weekend Mass schedule.
The electricity had been restored by the end of the evening on the day of the earthquake and thanks to the dedication and experience of an excellent plumber, our heating system was repaired just as the Saturday Vigil Mass was concluding, nearly 22 hours after the earthquake hit.
As we continue restoring order and estimating damages, it has become clear that we face a great financial challenge.
In addition to our remaining original construction debt, we now face hundreds of thousands—and perhaps as much as a million dollars—in damages to repair.
We are still working with our insurance company and with estimators to determine exact amounts. We do have earthquake insurance. Even so, the deductible is $650,000.
In conclusion, I am asking for your prayers for our parish community as we face this challenge, that we may have renewed trust in God to provide for us, continued perseverance in faith, and a renewed commitment to our mission to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
I would also ask you to prayerfully consider if you are able to help us financially with these unforeseen costs for repairs to our beautiful church. Any amount would be helpful and greatly appreciated.
Fr. Arthur Roraff