Tag Archives: Jeff Smith

Hurricane Sandy

Dozens of Legates in the Northeast rely on faith through devastation and rebuilding . . .


When Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Atlantic Seaboard last October, Stephen Antaki and his family fled their Massapequa, N.Y., home, fully expecting to return the next day.

“We figured we would go, come back and be fine,” said Antaki, a member of Legatus’ Long Island Chapter. After all, in 2011, despite dire warnings about Hurricane Irene, their neighborhood and others emerged unscathed.


This time, however, the Antakis and thousands of other New York and New Jersey residents returned home to devastation.

“Two-and-a-half to three feet of water came in — just enough to ruin everything,” Antaki said. For four months, while their home was being restored, he and his wife and sons stayed with his father in a 1,200-square-foot retirement home — a space smaller than the first floor of their own house. They finally moved back in March.

“The worst part of the restoration, believe it or not, was dealing with my own ignorance in this type of matter,” said Antaki, an accountant who said he was accustomed to pushing paper, but not managing a construction project. “I didn’t know what to do first.”

Superstorm Sandy, which barreled into the northeast coast on Oct. 29, was the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, causing $71 billion in damage. It was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, with winds spanning 1,100 miles in diameter.

Other Legates in New York and New Jersey — along with the Legatus’ Northeast Region director — had similar experiences.

After what seemed to many like an overreaction to Hurricane Irene in 2011, Jeff Smith, president of Legatus’ New York  City Chapter, wasn’t about to vacate his Manhattan apartment — even though it was in the city’s largest evacuation zone. At the last minute, he decided to go to Harlem where friends were having a hurricane party. He ended up staying a week.

“The hurricane came and the water, I’m told by my neighbors, was chest high on our street — and high enough that it blew out a nearby power station,” Smith recalled. “The electricity was out in our neighborhood for a week.”

From his outpost in Harlem, Smith used his connections with the New York archdiocese’s young adult outreach program  to help his neighbors in a high-rise public-housing complex across the street by organizing teams to ferry food and water to the residents — many of whom are seniors.

“They were stuck in these buildings with no power and no water and it’s not like they could walk down 25 flights of stairs,” he said.

Families in trouble

Bernard & Marion Berry

Bernard & Marion Berry

Meanwhile, in Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J., Bernard Berry of the Jersey Shore Chapter also heeded the warnings and evacuated his home, returning to find his basement filled with water that had pushed onto the first floor, destroying the floors, walls and mechanicals. He also found beams from one of the New Jersey boardwalks in his backyard.

Although he described his neighborhood after the storm as a “war zone,” Berry and his family were unable to live in their house for seven weeks. He said his is a good-news story compared to what others experienced.

“The number of people who came to help was incredible,” Berry said. He and his wife were assisted by family members, local teens who helped remove debris, a neighbor who sent workers from his company to pump out the Berrys’ basement, a friend who offered use of his construction crews for the rebuilding, and another friend who allowed the Berrys to live in his second home while theirs was being restored.

“I love the expression from Les Misérables that ‘to love another person is to see the face of God.’ We saw the face of God in all of these people,” he said.

Antaki, the Legate from Long Island, said he also was fortunate. The paperwork with his insurance company went fairly quickly and he was able to cover the lag time between receipt of start-up money and subsequent insurance checks, which came several months later. “If you didn’t have enough of a network or a 401k or family to borrow from, you were in trouble,” he said.

Many people similarly affected by the storm have not even started restoration, Antaki said. “Most of the places in my neighborhood have come back to life, but a lot of houses in neighboring towns are in serious trouble.”

“We’re the exception,” added Berry. “We were inconvenienced and we’re blessed. The tragedy is that the poorest of the poor get hurt the most.” Many, he said, are being permanently dislocated because they cannot rebuild.

Permanently displaced

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Indeed, the chaplain of Legatus’ Jersey Shore Chapter says that’s the situation for many of his parishioners. Monsignor Leonard Troiano is pastor of St. Pio Parish in Lavallette and Normandy Beach, N.J., which is still dealing with the aftermath of the most destructive storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season.

St. Pio is predominantly made up of retirees and seniors who are now grappling with what to do because many will not be fully compensated for their losses and thus may not be able to rebuild. New construction requirements imposed because of the storm have added to costs, and those who lack sufficient funds have little choice but to sell their property at a time when they’re unlikely to find buyers willing to pay what it’s worth.

Monsignor Troiano said outsiders often assume that by now everything has been rebuilt or is back to normal. “It’s far from normal,” he said.

No one knows that better than he. In late May, he was still displaced from his rectory and offices while continuing to oversee repairs in Lavallette and damage estimates at the parish’s summer campus in Normandy Beach.

Although St. Pio has resumed holding Sunday Mass, Monsignor Troiano said the average attendance has declined by two-thirds because so many parishioners are no longer in their homes and some have relocated permanently, resulting in a nearly $250,000 loss of income for the parish.

Monsignor Troiano said the Trenton diocese has been helping his parish with the restoration and, despite his own hardships, he is most worried about his parishioners’ lives. To help with such needs as paying rent and buying clothing, the parish has been putting money it receives into the St. Vincent de Paul Society account and distributing it accordingly.

In addition to material losses, Monsignor Troiano and his parishioners are also suffering from post-traumatic stress. After the initial shock, he said, they set about rebuilding.

“Now,” he said, “the reality is starting to set in that this is going to take a lot longer than people anticipated.”

Stephen Connolly, Legatus’ Northeast Region director, whose home and those of 10 family members in Howard Beach, N.Y., sustained severe damage from Sandy, said that even though the experience has been very emotional, adversity has given people a sense of what is most valuable.

“It’s almost like a little purging of the soul as well, getting down to what is really important — cleaning out the old and bringing in the new,” he said.

JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.

How you can help

Legates can help the ongoing recovery effort by making contributions to Catholic Charities in the following dioceses:

Archdiocese of New York

Diocese of Trenton

Diocese of Brooklyn

Diocese of Rockville Centre

St. Vincent de Paul Fund, St. Pio Parish, Lavallette, N.J.

St. Vincent de Paul Fund, Howard Beach, N.Y.

In addition, a bill that would allow houses of worship to obtain disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — H.R. 592 — is in the U.S. Senate and in need of support.


Culture changers

Legatus’ annual conference in the nation’s capital encourages pro-lifers . . .

Despite the federal government’s growing assault on religious liberty and the political clout of Planned Parenthood, Legatus members who attended this year’s pro-life conference are confident that the right side is winning.

Kathleen Eaton, CEO of Birth Choice Health Clinics and a member of Legatus’ Orange Coast Chapter, says the event was a hands-on opportunity to learn how to build the culture of life in America more effectively.

“I think everybody in this room has taken away information dealing with pro-life issues and our call to stand up for our faith,” she said. “Our speakers gave us hope that we are winning this battle — hope and tools to ignite the movement within our own communities.”


Ken Cuccinelli

Eaton was one of 21 Legates from across the country who gathered in Washington, D.C., for Legatus’ 11th Culture of Life Conference from May 2-4. The conference kicked off with Mass, followed by an address from Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, who discussed the Supreme Court case against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) which should be decided in June. Cuccinelli filed a suit in federal court just 35 minutes after President Obama signed the bill into law.

“We have an opportunity to protect our Church and its institutions,” he said. “It’s a necessity.”

Legates visited The Heritage Foundation where they learned about the conservative think tank’s work to develop public policies that promote free enterprise, limited government and traditional values. Other speakers included Rep. Virginia Fox (R-NC); James R. Nolan, president of Crossroads; Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America; and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).

Smith, who co-chairs the House pro-life caucus, talked about his conversations with Chinese pro-life activist Chen Guangcheng, who has since arrived in the United States. Smith also assured Legates that his fight for religious liberty and the lives of the most vulnerable would continue as the fall elections draw near.

Rep. Chris Smith

“America is at a crossroads,” he said. “This election is critical.”

Jeff Smith, president of Legatus’ Manhattan Chapter, said the speakers and discussions that followed were remarkable.

“There are insights here that seem to be on the cutting edge,” he said. “There are conversations here that I don’t think are going on anywhere in the country yet. There were a lot of startling facts presented, but at the same time a lot of hope.”

Legatus Board of Governors member Mike Faricy, Colorado Springs Chapter, said the conference touched on a broad array of issues. “What I learned here will be a benefit not only to my chapter, but also to my diocese,” he said. “This kind of education is invaluable.”

Taking action

Legates heard from Legate Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, and a panel of experts who discussed how the abortion agenda has taken over medicine in the U.S.

Former Kansas attorney general Phill Kline also spoke. In 2005, Kline began investigating child rape cases, but found more than he bargained for as he dug deeper into the records of Kansas late-term abortionist George Tiller and the local Planned Parenthood affiliate.

Phill Kline

“The evidence I found is not unique,” Kline said. “It’s just that no one is looking.” As his investigations deepened, both the judicial system and media turned on him. Planned Parenthood poured millions into defending itself, he said, because a conviction would mean the loss of $350 million in federal taxpayer funds.

Not only were Legates fed by excellent speakers, but more importantly by daily Mass, the rosary and the opportunity for Confession. Father Paul Schenk, chairman of the National Pro-Life Center, celebrated all three Masses for delegates.

“We are blessed to have excellent priests like Father Schenk working for the cause of life in our nation’s capital,” said Legatus’ executive director John Hunt. “He inspired all of us to defend women and their children actively.”

Eaton says her chapter is whipping up support for the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight of Freedom” campaign, a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4.

“We’re going to ignite our California chapters to join us to pray, fast and maybe even go out on the street corners and hold a sign,” she said. “We’re called to be the John the Baptists of our world today. We don’t have the luxury of sitting in our comfortable homes. We are called to be ambassadors, to get out there and witness to the truth.”

“The conference once again proved a valuable experience for the attendees,” said conference director Laura Sacha. “It’s always a joy to spend time with members and I continue to be inspired by their continuing commitment to Legatus.”

Patrick Novecosky is Legatus magazine’s editor.