Woodbridge parish shows its colours in tornado aftermath

  • August 30, 2009
{mosimage}WOODBRODGE, Ont. - Tornados ripped through houses, tore chunks of roof off St. Peter's Catholic Elementary School, heaved the school's air conditioning unit into a ravine, tossed a Chevy up against an electrical transformer in front of the school, spread roofing nails and glass over streets like confetti — but the crazy storm of Aug. 20 hasn't harmed the spirit of St. Peter's parish in Woodbridge.

It's not that St. Peter's isn't hard at work cleaning up the mess. Thirty-six of the most severely damaged homes plus the school are within parish boundaries. Twenty-six of those wrecked houses are the homes of registered St. Peter's parishioners.
According to Capuchin Father Michael Corcione, the problem with the tornado was that "it didn't come with an instruction manual."

{mosimage}"It just said, 'Here's your problem,' " said the pastor. "We'll deal with it. We have a wonderful community — a very caring community."

In the residential streets surrounding the church, parishioners are proving their pastor right in all kinds of ways.

There's the Muslim widow and mother of four who has suddenly discovered her insurance was not adequate. St. Peter's parishioners have volunteered to repair her roof and the hole in her garage door. Neighbours are reporting back to Corcione, telling him how the family is coping.

The Santinis and Tropeanos, who have lived next door to each other for 25 years, are now all living in the Santini house while work gets under way at the Tropeanos.

"I don't think we're doing anything that everybody else isn't doing, said Paolo Santini.

For the Santinis there wasn't a moment's hesitation about putting up the five Tropeanos, including Andrea Tropeano and his girlfriend Lucrezia Cattanei visiting from Italy. And everybody is taking care of Penny, the Tropeano's dog, who is a bit shook up by all the confusion.

"The shelters are empty. What does that tell you?" asked Santini.

It is a close knit community — about 80 per cent Italian from Calabria, Sicily, Frioli and even a few from Abruzzo region east of Rome. People instinctively know how and when to help each other out, said Corcione.

{mosimage}When an earthquake hit Abruzzo earlier this year, St. Peter's came together to send money through ShareLife. Every year dozens of St. Peter's parishioners travel to the Dominican Republic to help build schools, repair homes and help out in any way they can. Those who can't go to the Dominican Republic chip in to fill shipping containers with medical supplies, school supplies, clothes and other necessities.

Helping neighbours next door is easy and obvious for St. Peter's parishioners, said Corcione.

"They knew what to do," he said.

By the third day after the storm, St. Peter's had a special fund for tornado victims. The parish continues to collect the names and phone numbers of people who might need help.

St. Peter's is also getting help from its neighbours. The neighbouring parishes of St. Padre Pio and St. Clare of Assisi have put on second collections for Aug. 30.

As time passes, the scope of the problem is becoming more manageable. The City of Vaughan has downgraded the number of severely damaged homes to 38 from 44. The cost of the city's clean-up is yet to be determined.

St. Peter's Catholic Elementary School won't be open the first day of school Sept. 8, and so far the York Catholic District School Board is unable to say when students and teachers will be back in their own classroom. The academic year will start with St. Peter's students and teachers split between two neighbouring Woodbridge schools — St. Francis of Assisi and Immaculate Conception.

The school will have to be inspected and undergo environmental testing before re-opening, said director of education Susan LaRosa in a news release.

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