Hurricane-like Nor’easter wreaks havoc on St. Michael School

By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor

FALL RIVER, Mass. — It’s ironic that in the window of a classroom on the second floor of St. Michael School in Fall River is the word “Precipitation,” surrounded by snowflakes and raindrops.


Just above that window are buckles in the flashing where a large portion of the roof was torn away by Winter Storm Riley, which dumped inches of rain accompanied by hurricane-force gusts across southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands on Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2.

Late Friday afternoon the school and parish received a phone call from neighbors advising that the roof of the school was “flapping in the wind.”

Overnight, the classroom where St. Michael students were learning about precipitation, was swamped by inches-deep puddles of dirty brown water that had flowed through the roof.

It wasn’t only that classroom that sustained damage. Two-thirds of the school’s top floor was flooded when the roof could no longer contain the large amounts of water on its surface, drenching the insulation and ceiling tiles.

One of the saving graces of the disaster was that no students were on the second floor at the time and no one was hurt.

“During the day there were a few leaks, but after the students had left, the leaks increased and we called some parents who are active in the parish and they came to help mop, Shop-Vac and put buckets down,” Father Jay Mello, pastor of St. Michael and St. Joseph parishes in Fall River, told The Anchor. “We worked at containing the leaks and went out to dinner. When we came back, the buckets were overflowing and we had to call SERVPRO to come and pull down the tiles and insulation, and begin mop up.”

“Friday after school we went to the second floor to lock classrooms for the weekend and discovered one leak in the hallway,” school principal Pamela Leary told The Anchor. “We placed barrels under to catch the rain and reported the issue. Before leaving the building, we took one last walk up and discovered a second leak on the other end of the hallway. By early evening, the classrooms began to leak and it was clear this was a bigger problem. Father Jay, along with some help, worked hard through the night to remove water and minimize damage. They did a fantastic job.” 

When the top layer of the roof blew over, it folded over, blocking drains.

By then water saturated many of the second-floor classrooms.

On Monday, March 5, Father Mello met with diocesan Superintendent of Schools Steve Perla and Deacon Tom Palanza to discuss the immediate and long-range future of the school building.

“We met to see what has to be done,” said Father Mello. “We have to ensure we don’t let people in until everything is safe, that includes the structure and air quality.”

One of the top priorities was to seal the roof again because other storms were forecast for Fall River on the Wednesday and the upcoming weekend.

Father Mello also met with the faculty and staff. “They were very sad and horrified at what happened to the school,” Father Mello told The Anchor. “This is a second home to them. We discussed what the future will look like. If it is going to be a long-term repair process, we do have the option to use the currently vacant former St. Joseph School behind St. Joseph’s Church on North Main Street. We are blessed to have that.”

Father Mello told The Anchor that he compared the current St. Michael School situation to when Saints Peter and Paul Church in Fall River burned down in 1973. “It was before my time, but I was a parishioner at that parish and I heard the stories of how the parishioners rallied together and helped one another through the tragedy,” he said. “For more than a year, Masses were celebrated in the school basement, and some people said those were some of the best Masses they ever attended. It was a bonding time and the parish, instead of falling apart, became stronger and more unified.

“I told the faculty and staff at St. Michael School that this could be a blessing in disguise; a time to grow stronger together as a team and a family. Out of this tragedy can come something good. I said the school was more than a building, it was the faculty, staff, students, parents, parishioners and volunteers.”

“The SMS faculty are a true team,” Leary told The Anchor. “They’re focus is on the return to classroom and are eager to do whatever it takes to ease the difficulty of this situation. Throughout this time, they’ve shown their dedication to their students, their school, and to their profession.”

Father Mello was also touched by the outpouring of support so soon after the flooding. “I heard from the mayor of Fall River, from Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fall River, and from principals of other Catholic schools in the diocese; all offering support. The outreach has been tremendous.”

“The outpouring of support and offers to help from the St. Michael community and from our friends throughout the diocese and neighboring dioceses has been truly heartwarming,” added Leary. “We are blessed that this happened after school and that we have so many to help us during this time.”

As of press time, it appears that the majority of the damage was structural, mostly concentrated on the roof and ceiling. A decision was made late on March 5 that a temporary roof would be installed prior to the forecasted March 7 storm, and a new roof will be installed in June. School was canceled for the entire week following the flood, based on more strong weather to come.

Water fell on the desks and some equipment, but none appear to have been damaged beyond use. The loss was in books and supplies.

“It appears that insurance will assist in most of the renovations and cleanup, but the loss of books and supplies may cost the school,” said Father Mello.

He also said that a few parishioners and friends have already donated money to help St. Michael School get back on its feet. “Anyone who would like to help, their generosity would be greatly appreciated,” said Father Mello. 


Those wishing to assist St. Michael School can send donations to the parish at St. Michael Parish, 189 Essex Street, Fall River, Mass., 02720.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts