The same will be true for our Church, facing the challenge of rebuilding the Catholic infrastructure along the Gulf Coast.
In an extraordinary measure, three inland dioceses in Mississippi and Louisiana are “adopting” the three dioceses most directly affected by the storm. The Diocese of Baton Rouge has adopted the Archdiocese of New Orleans; the Diocese of Jackson the Diocese of Biloxi; and the Diocese of Lafayette the Diocese of Homa-Thibodaux.
In addition to office space, the adopted dioceses will receive office equipment, computers, telephones, housing, and the help of local diocesan staff.
Archbishop Hughes of New Orleans has already set up a chancery in an empty elementary school in Baton Rouge. He expects to be there at least four months.
On Wednesday, a communication went out to all the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge to be prepared to double their class sizes. They are planning to take in the students from the Diocese of New Orleans. They are also offering housing to displaced families.
What about the damage done to parish structures and schools?
Pat O'Meara is managing director and founder of O'Meara Ferguson Kearns in Reston, Virginia, a firm specializing in financial advisory work for the Catholic Church. He has firsthand knowledge of the cost of building Catholic schools and parish churches.
O'Meara said, “A tremendous challenge left by this storm is that the renovation and rebuilding of the Catholic infrastructure in New Orleans alone could easily run into the hundreds of millions.” O'Meara has ties to the Gulf coast, having worked for the Archdiocese of Mobile before going into the financial world.
O'Meara explained that the average cost of rebuilding a high school could be between $15 and $25 million; a grade school between $6 and $10 million. An inexpensive parish church costs somewhere between $5 and $9 million, and “a more elaborate or historically significant structure that needs to be restored could cost up to $20 million or more. And the parish center next door could run between $1 and $5 million.”
O'Meara's estimate is corroborated by the basic math. Consider that the Archdiocese of New Orleans has 142 parishes, 103 Catholic schools, 23 high schools, and 83 elementary schools serving 43,434 students. If half of the diocesan Catholic schools have to be replaced, the cost would be approximately $287,000,000. That does not include the damage to parishes.
Much of the money for repair and rebuilding will come from diocesan insurance coverage. Catholic Mutual covers all the dioceses hit by Katrina.
Based in Omaha, Nebraska, Catholic Mutual is the largest mutual self-insurance fund of the Catholic Church in North America. It provides property and casualty coverage to 111 dioceses (out of 195) in the United States, as well as 250 religious orders and other Catholic institutions (catholicmutual.com).
As a mutual self-insurance fund, Catholic Mutual is owned by the dioceses it insures. The level of exposure for Catholic Mutual is significant.
The insurer will not cover one aspect of rebuilding, however. Many times Catholic entities insure their buildings for the replacement cost of the structures above ground. Katrina will have left the ground of many structures completely unsuited for new construction. Extensive refilling and regrading as well as infrastructure below ground will have to be done. In most instances, this work is not covered by insurance carried for Catholic dioceses.
The way to recovery from Katrina is being exemplified by the adoption of the one diocese by another. The fact that the Catholic schools of Baton Rouge are prepared to take double the number of students is a breathtaking act of charity. No doubt there will be many more.
Deal Hudson is the head of the Morley Institute for Church & Culture.