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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications, Published November 05 2012

GF church aids NJ church hit by superstorm

GRAND FORKS – When news of the terrible Red River Valley Flood of 1997 reached the East Coast, members of one New Jersey Catholic congregation took note that the flood had caused more than $4 million in damage to St. Michael’s Catholic Church and School in Grand Forks.

The following Sunday, the people of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Long Branch, N.J., took up a special collection for their namesake church.

St. Michael’s sits just a block off the Atlantic Ocean shoreline, and last week another major natural disaster – Hurricane Sandy – caused extensive damage and disruption there. So this Sunday, a second collection is planned at each Mass here.

“Once we saw that the whole Jersey Shore was blown out, we felt like we had to do something,” said the Rev. William Sherman, a retired priest who was at St. Michael’s in Grand Forks in 1997.

“We ended up with

$4.5 million in damages back then,” Sherman said. “Just days later, I got a phone call from Long Branch, from St. Michael’s there. They asked me to come out and tell them what happened. They said, ‘We’ll fly you out,’ and they did.

“I flew out and gave a pretty emotional talk. I told them I’d seen earthquakes and I’d seen the world destroyed in Europe when I was with the Army in World War II,” but what the flood had done to the region and especially to his church had taken a heavy toll.

“I came home with a check for $12,000,” he said.

Long Branch is a resort town of about 31,000 people on the north end of the Jersey Shore and was hit hard by Sandy, according to news reports.

St. Michael’s Church in Long Branch was built in the late Catholic Gothic style in 1886, according to the church website, and sits in an open area on a rise above the ocean, but it’s unclear how much damage was done.

Phone calls to the church and its pastor were not answered Monday.

Sherman took his idea for a return gesture to the Rev. Gerard Braun, pastor at St. Michael’s in Grand Forks, who embraced it and contacted the Rev. Charles Weiser, the pastor in Long Branch, who managed only a brief conversation.

“He said the parish is under generation power,” Braun said. “And he thanked us for our thoughtfulness.”

It’s payback, Sherman said. “All the money (raised here) will go to provide a sort of ‘Thank you’ for their help some 15 years ago,” he said.

Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald