Rivers flood in diocese

OTTAWA — A third major flood of 2008 has impacted the Diocese of Peoria, this time brought on by heavy weekend rains that swelled the Illinois River and other waterways to historic levels, especially in the LaSalle County area.

Among the Catholic properties sustaining damage was Gould Stadium, the football field at Marquette High School, which had just been reconditioned after a similar flood a year ago.

On Monday, the field was under more than 10 feet of water from the Fox River, which joins the Illinois in Ottawa.

The water on the field “could have been as high as 15 feet or more,” said Ron Spandet, principal, noting it was over the bleachers on the visitors side of the field. Spandet announced all remaining Marquette “home” football games — including the scheduled homecoming game against St. Bede on Sept. 26 — will be played at Woodland High School in Streator.

Floodwaters entered hundreds of homes and businesses and closed bridges and highways in several river communities including LaSalle, Spring Valley, and Utica — where the Knights of Columbus Hall was accessible only by boat on Wednesday with 30 inches of water inside.

“We’ve cancelled CCD for the coming weekend,” said Msgr. James Swaner, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, noting that religious education classes take place in the hall. The high water came within a half-block of the church itself.

“I’ve been saying ‘thank yous’ to the persons who built this church at the highest point in downtown Utica,” said Msgr. Swaner.

In January, following a snow thaw and heavy rain, the Vermilion River spilled out of its banks and caused widespread damage in Pontiac, which was declared a state disaster area. In June, residents of towns along the Mississippi River on the diocese’s western border acted to save their property and farmland from flooding that followed heavy rains, particularly in Iowa.

While saddened that the work of so many to restore the football field at Marquette after last year’s flood has to be repeated, Spandet said those volunteers “have already offered to help again.” The school itself was not affected, he added.

“We’re very fortunate compared to what others have lost,” said Spandet.

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