SAN DIEGO — Feb. 5 was like a second “First Day of Class” for the students and faculty of St. John of the Cross School.
Two weeks after a day of record rainfall led to the flooding of its Lemon Grove campus, the school made a temporary home on the campus of St. Michael Academy, a parochial school in Paradise Hills that closed three years ago.
As cars pulled into the parking lot to drop off students, they were greeted by two teachers who waved and danced to upbeat songs like “Celebration” and “I’m a Believer,” while holding a sign that said, “Welcome Crusaders!”
At a morning assembly, Principal Greg Krumm acknowledged the unique situation in which the school community has found itself.
“It’s not going to be the same … but let’s look at it as an adventure,” he told the 150 students gathered inside St. Michael’s parish hall.
“It’s still St. John of the Cross, we’re still Crusaders, and we’re doing all the same things we would’ve done at the other building,” he added.
He later told The Southern Cross that he had expected the first day at St. Michael’s to be “more chaotic,” but “everything fell into place.”
“We’re excited to be together again and get back to a regular routine,” he said.
It remains unknown how long it will take before St. John of the Cross School can return to its own campus.
The principal said that the school could finish the year at St. Michael’s “if necessary,” but he hopes that they might be able to move back by Easter break.
Jan. 22, was the fourth wettest day on record in San Diego County, which received 2.73 inches of rain that day.
Among the 10 Catholic parishes and schools that were damaged in the diocese of San Diego John of the Cross School was the hardest hit and the only one that had to be evacuated.
Rachel’s Promise, a 40-bed shelter for homeless women in downtown San Diego operated by Catholic Charities, was also flooded. Its residents were forced to evacuate to Rachel’s Women’s Center, another Catholic Charities facility located across the street.
Krumm recalled the Jan. 22 storm.
“We had a flash flood like we’ve never had before and, in a matter of minutes, it inundated the entire school – every single classroom, every single office space.”
Seventh-grade teacher Amanda Hodges said it was a “very intense” situation.
“I think it started raining at 10:30 in the morning and, by 10:45, we had water almost across my entire classroom. … By the end of it, I think it was like almost 2 inches of water inside the classroom,” she said, adding that they couldn’t open the door without letting in more water.
By noon, most of the children had been picked up by their parents, Krumm said. Efforts to remove the water and mud began in earnest that same afternoon.
On Jan. 24 and 25, the school’s Facebook page posted photos of flooded corridors, muddy classroom floors and water-damaged ceilings. In one particularly striking image, a statue of the Blessed Mother stood in the midst of the sea of muddy water that had been the schoolyard.
Within a few days, it was clear that the damage was extensive and not something that could be solved simply by letting the classrooms dry. There were health risks related to mold and contaminated floodwater.
Krumm estimates that repairs could cost $300,000 or “probably more.”
The school transitioned to distance-learning during the week of Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 – something Krumm said they never thought they’d have to do again after COVID – while an urgent quest began to find a suitable location for in-person classes to resume.
Ultimately, the vacant St. Michael Academy campus, which is only about a 15-minute drive from St. John of the Cross School, was identified as a perfect fit.
St. John of the Cross held a staff meeting at St. Michael’s on Jan. 31 to familiarize themselves with the campus. Then, on Feb. 2 and 3, with the assistance of school parents, they readied the site for the students’ arrival the following Monday.
“We’re just grateful to have a place to call home for the time being, instead of being separate from the kids,” said Hodges. “And they miss their friends, they miss being together; they do better in person.”
She added, “I think it’s going to be – I don’t want to say ‘seamless’ – but it’ll be fun.”
Krumm described the arrangement, which was facilitated by the diocesan Office for Schools, as “a communal effort by two parishes … who came together quickly to make sure the kids don’t lose any more in-person instruction.”
He spoke appreciatively of the hospitality that the St. Michael’s community has shown to his school, noting that St. Michael Preschool even gave up half of its space to accommodate St. John of the Cross’ own preschool, which is scheduled to return on Feb. 7 for its first day since the campus’ evacuation.
“We’re so overjoyed and so blessed that the St. Michael’s community has opened their arms to us,” said Krumm, who said that he has received many phone calls and emails from Catholic elementary and high schools throughout the diocese offering their assistance.
“We had a terrible catastrophe happen to our school, but it’s a new beginning,” he said. “And, in a way, it’s a blessing, because now we will be able to rebuild our school and also touch bases with all these other … Catholic communities who have reached out to us. And it just shows how close-knit we are and how willing we are to help each other out.”
Donations to assist in the rebuilding of St. John of the Cross School can be made online at stjohncross.org.
The Diocese of San Diego asked its pastors to consider holding a second collection in the days to come to assist storm victims.