Catholic Charities and Office of Education Extend Aid to Hurricane Victims

Victims of Hurricane Maria who have relocated to the Diocese of Allentown and are receiving tuition assistance through the Office of Education to attend Holy Infancy School, Bethlehem are, from left: Juan, fourth grade student; Dianna, pre-kindergarten; and Jandiell, kindergarten. (Photo by John Simitz)

By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer

Three months since Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster on record to slam Dominica and Puerto Rico, two Diocese of Allentown offices are assisting in efforts for people who have relocated to the Diocese to recover their lives.

Catholic Charities (CC), Diocese of Allentown, which has received generous donations from the faithful and parishes, has been able to provide assistance to an estimated 50 families who have sought refuge or are unable to return to their homes in Puerto Rico.

In addition, the Diocesan Office of Education has extended tuition assistance to young people displaced by the hurricane, including three students at Holy Infancy School, Bethlehem and one student at St. John Vianney Regional School, Allentown.

According to Rob Nicolella, CC Berks County supervisor, the agency is working in collaboration with a larger network of organizations that are responding to the major humanitarian crisis.

“Most of the families we are helping are through other city and Hispanic agencies within the community and the local schools. The number of families in need is increasing on a daily basis,” he said.

Through special collections at parishes and private donations, Nicolella said, CC has provided rent assistance, gift cards for clothing and food, and household items and food from the agency’s food pantry that has seen an uptick in donations since the disaster.

“Our food pantry has been wonderfully increased due to local parishes and groups providing support this time of the year,” he said.

While some of the victims fled their homes before the storm made landfall, other victims used all their financial resources to flee the island that is still is suffering from the deadly storm.

Diane Bullard, secretary of the Secretariat for Catholic Human Services, said she is working with Father Gibbons, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Allentown, and other Diocesan parishes who have new parishioners who have relocated due to the disaster, to organize assistance days based at the parishes so people will feel more comfortable when seeking help.

“We are also planning a special reunion party that is being organized to help people connect with others who have relocated to the area due to the hurricane. All of the parishes we have approached have been incredibly supportive and anxious to partner with us on these helping efforts,” she said.

In addition, Bullard said Diocesan staff and volunteers have been designated at parishes to help spread the word that CC is accepting and providing assistance, and has established the Catholic Charities Relocation Assistance Line: 610-435-1541, ext. 286

“I have been overwhelmed at the incredibly generous and loving response of the people of Allentown to this horrific disaster,” said Bullard.

“So many people have reached out to us wanting to help and support the people who have relocated to the Diocese. Children’s groups, parish service groups, individual families and schools have all contacted us to learn about ways that they can help relocated people to feel welcomed and loved,” said Bullard.

“It has been heartwarming to see people reaching out to help others and rising up with willing hands and feet to implement the social mission of the Church,” she said.

As CC reaches out to hurricane victims, the Diocesan Office of Education is intensifying efforts to welcome hurricane victims and to keep educational needs of students on track at Diocesan schools.

“Because of the tuition costs involved, there can be a misperception that Catholic schools are not a viable option for families from Puerto Rico who have relocated to our diocese,” said John Bakey, chancellor of Catholic education.

“The Office of Education and our Catholic schools across the Diocese are working with families to provide financial assistance to make the gift of Catholic education become a reality at any of the Diocese’s 33 elementary and six high schools.

“Our strong academic reputation and Christ-centered environment within our school communities can uplift the spirits of students and families who have been devastated by Hurricane Maria.”

Marjorie Manasse, principal of Holy Infancy School, and Father Andrew Gehringer, pastor of Holy Infancy, said the school was honored to welcome three students to their school family.

“We graciously take on the task of providing quality education in a caring environment.  As our diocesan theme states ‘All

Are Welcome in Christ’ – we fully embrace our families,” she said.

“We are so happy to welcome these new children from Puerto Rico into our Holy Infancy School family. In such a difficult time after Hurricane Maria, we pray that being received into our family environment with many other children of Hispanic heritage, especially from Puerto Rico, will bring these and other new students the comfort of feeling at home,” said Father Gehringer.

To make a donation for local relocation efforts, call CC 610-435-1541; visit; or mail donations to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Allentown, Relocation Relief, 900 S. Woodward St., Allentown, PA 18103.

To make a tuition assistance donation, call Office of Education, 610-866-0581, or contact the parish or parish school.