Cardinal Blase Cupich Cardinal Blase Cupich 

Catholic schools in Puerto Rico still damaged after 2017 hurricane

Cardinal Blase Cupich laments that four years after catastrophic Hurricanes Irma and Maria 30 Catholic schools in Puerto Rico still remain damaged and unusable for lack of federal funds.

By Lisa Zengarini

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has expressed disappointment that Catholic schools in Puerto Rico have yet to receive federal funds needed to repair the severe damages caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. The prelate, who is the Chancellor of Catholic Extension – a national fundraising organization that supports and strengthens poor mission dioceses across the United States - is on a visit to Puerto Rico to assess the recovery efforts on the island.

30 Catholic schools still damaged

Sharing an update on the situation since the two hurricanes and the following earthquake in Puerto Rico in 2019, he said that while there has been substantial progress in the rebuilding process, there remains still a lot to be done. He remarked that more than $2 billion in federal funds are already earmarked and being spent to repair public schools on the island, but 30 Catholic schools remain damaged. "We're disappointed that the same priority wasn't given to the Catholic schools," Cardinal Cupich said.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Hurricanes Irma and Maria, both Category 5 storms, devastated the northeastern Caribbean, reaching some areas of the southeastern continental United States, in September 2017. Hurricane Maria, in particular, is regarded as the worst natural disaster in recorded history to affect the area. The total death toll was an estimated 2,975 in Puerto Rico alone. Both hurricanes caused severe damage to the infrastructures, including many churches, Catholic schools and other Church buildings and properties.

The US Church's support in Puerto Rico

The Catholic Church in the United States has been on the frontline in supporting recovery efforts in the aftermath of the disaster. In December 2020 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions awarded Catholic Extension a $1.5 million grant covering the start-up expenses of the six Catholic dioceses in Puerto Rico to rebuild properties still left damaged from hurricanes, while waiting for additional funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  

The grant allocation was funded by donations to special collections called by USCCB to assist with recovery efforts after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. This was in addition to the $3.3 million provided directly to five dioceses in Puerto Rico that requested support from the USCCB special collections. The effort seeks to ensure that the Catholic Church in the island nation has adequate and resilient facilities for its pastoral activities in the future, especially those serving the poor and vulnerable.     

30 October 2021, 13:01